Local fire departments responded to an estimated average of 44,880 home fires involving electrical failure or malfunction each year in 2012-2016, according to the NFPA. And let’s not forget about electrocution.
Some folks focus so heavily on electrical safety tips for the inside of their home, they forget about the outside! Yet, your landscape can pose its own unique set of risks if not properly managed.
Here are eight tips for improving the electrical safety of your front and backyard:
1. Routinely inspect your outdoor power equipment.
When it comes to caring for your property, you likely use a few pieces of electrical equipment: mowers, weed whackers, chainsaws, generators, etc.
While your lawn mower doesn’t have cord, some tools like hedge trimmers or edgers do. Before plugging in these devices, always look for damage to cords, plugs, and wiring to prevent sparks from flying. This type of wear can occur naturally with age, from rodent or pest damage, moisture, etc., so be sure to check your equipment's condition before each use.
2. Improve your electrical equipment storage.
Look for more than just cord damage if you store power equipment in a shed vs. a garage, which is more susceptible to intrusion from Mother Nature.
- Watch out for moisture. Inspect your entire structure for signs of water damage, like warped flooring, dripping ceilings, or moisture build-up, etc. which could render your tools useless or increase risk of electrocution or fire next time you try to start them.
- Beware the heat. Always read the storage safety measures on your landscape equipment. Living in Florida, you know how high the heat index can get. Some power equipment may be better suited for storage in a temperature-controlled environment to avoid overheating risks.
- Unplug your devices when storing. Be sure any unused battery chargers are unplugged and stored properly. Same goes for really any item you won’t be immediately using!
3. Never leave power equipment unattended.
You know to keep chainsaws with sharp blades out of reach of children, but don’t forget to consider equipment that could cause electrical problems if overheated or excessively operated.
That portable generator your teens plugged in out back to power their electronics could cause an outdoor fire if left unattended and running for hours on end. Or that portable fan that’s not rated for outdoor use could have electrical issues if left outside and on in the rain. If not present, power down and unplug.
4. Check that you have GFCI outlets outside.
Do you know the difference between a GFCI and grounded outlet? You can tell a GFCI receptacle apart from a regular, unprotected receptacle by looking for the two red and black “Reset” and “Test” buttons in the center of the outlet. If you break the circuit, these buttons can be pressed in to reset the power to the outlet, without having to worry about going to a breaker to do so.
This extra safety feature is perfect for high-risk moisture environments, and is why The National Electric Code requires GFCIs in bathrooms, garages, kitchens and outdoor outlets. Double check that all our outdoor outlets have a GFCI setup, as some older homes may not.
5. Inspect your outdoor outlets.
Walk around your property and take a hard look at your outlets.
- Look for visible and functional damage. Replace any broken or missing face plates and plug in cords to ensure no plugs are falling out of loose outlets. If you notice any visible wires or falling-out-prongs, it might be time to call an electrician for an outlet replacement.
- Test your outdoor outlets. Even if you don’t see visible issues, when was the last time you tested your outdoor outlets (if ever)? Test your outlets with a voltage tester or hire a professional electrician to check them. If you find any outdoor outlets not working, here’s our article on troubleshooting faulty outlets.
6. Understand how to properly use extension cords outside.
Extension cords are never meant to be used as a permanent solution, so if you have items permanently plugged in using these cords outside, that could be an electrician safety issue.
- Exhibit caution, even with “for outdoor use” ratings. Even cords rated specifically “for outdoor use” are only meant to be plugged in while performing a task or while you are within reach of the cord. If you have string lights on an extension cord setup, for instance, only plug them in while lounging on your lanai.
- Don’t forget to inspect It’s important to routinely examine your outdoor rated extension cords just like you would your electrical equipment cords. Check for damage before use and keep away from water.
7. Perform regular property clean-sweeps.
Electric fires grow when there’s something around to feed the flames. Because of this, maintaining your property is a great way to avoid the start or spread.
- Keep outlets clear and clean. Be sure to sweep dry leaves or debris away from your outdoor outlets, power cords, lighting, etc. to avoid this risk.
- Watch out when trimming. When doing routine tree or bush pruning on a ladder, watch out for overhead power lines.
8. Think before doing outdoor construction or renovations.
We understand that you may have a big vision for transforming your front or backyard, but be cautious when it comes to breaking ground or making major changes to your outdoor property.
While planting a new tree or installing outdoor landscaping or hardscaping may seem harmless, it’s always best to remember to “Call Before You Dig.” Simply dial 811 before you start and the utilities company will come and mark where any underground lines are so you can avoid bursting pipes or damage to your house’s plumbing systems. This is also crucial to consider for backup generators with fuel tanks underground.
This same applies to additions to your garage, installing a lanai, etc. Always consult an electrician beforehand to ensure you’re meeting all safety requirements.
More Electrical Safety Improvements
We hope that these outdoor electrical safety tips have inspired you to make some improvements to your landscape.
Looking to ditch the extension cords and install new outdoor outlets? Or maybe you are ready to install some landscape lighting?
We’ve got your covered, and are here to help with whatever other electrical installation or updates you need for your outdoor space. Explore our Residential Electrical Services here.
Got it all covered yourself? Great. Continue your safety improvements inside by downloading our free Homeowner’s Easy Electrical Maintenance Toolkit.