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Safely Install Outdoor Electricity

A variety of factors must be considered when you offer your clients electricity as a part of their landscapes. Utility lines, children, pets and future construction all impact how you create a safe environment. 

Backyards are more than just pretty landscapes to look at or a place for kids to play. Yards, patios and poolside areas have become more functional as homeowners expand their living spaces outside to relax and dine. Demand for indoor amenities in outdoor spaces is expanding, and it will benefit your business to master the installation of outdoor electrical fixtures.

To help you become more knowledgeable in the area, make the following considerations during consultations with your clients. And always observe the necessary safety precautions during installation.

The Consultation

During your consultations with your clients, determine how they use their outdoor spaces now and how they plan to use them in the future, says James Ryland, an electrician with S&S Electric in Corpus Christi, Texas.

“[It’s important to determine] the needs of the client and any questions or doubts they may harbor,” Ryland says. “The use of the space would impact the location and wiring method of any service required.”

During your consultation and assessment of the outdoor space, make sure you answer these questions:

  • “What is the most direct and safest route to the power source?” Steve Patton, owner of Bass Services, an electrical contracting company based in Knoxville, Tenn., says this is the first question you should ask when starting to map the layout so you know where the nearest power source is located and if anything needs to be avoided.
  • “Are there any underground hazards or utility lines that you might encounter?” Patton says that when digging around these hazards, it’s important to dig by hand rather than machine so you can find underground utilities without causing any damage or harm to workers.
  • “When is the electricity functional, and when is it decorative?” By distinguishing between the two purposes, Patton says, you can make decisions such as how bright lighting needs to be and how it should be controlled, such as by a timer or manual device.
  • “What are the long-term plans for the area?” Ask the clients if they intend to complete any other construction projects in the near future, such as installing a pool. “Assuming you are wiring to a location detached from a main structure, you would most likely bury a conduit and in doing so you should dig a trench around the potential pool area,” Ryland says.
  • “Does the client have any children or pets?” Electricity can be a scary thing if it’s in the wrong hands, which is why Ryland says it’s critical to fully understand the type of environment you’re creating. That way you can make the necessary precautions in child- or pet-proofing your work.

The Installation

According to Ryland, it is necessary to locate and avoid any underground obstructions or hazards such as irrigation or buried utility lines before digging. “Also, determine if the trench would remain exposed and erect a barrier to prevent accidental injury if left unattended,” he adds.

Other safety precautions include:

  • Don’t put too many lights on one line. Rich Clark, the Manager of Landscape Services for the Kansas City, Mo., school district, says sometimes you need to run lines parallel to prevent overloading the circuit.
  • When wiring, test equipment underneath any addition or construction at least twice to make sure it’s not energized. “Verify that your testing devices are working properly, and retest periodically, especially if more than one person is working on the equipment,” Ryland says.
  • Place installations, such as junction boxes, out of reach to protect children. Ryland says you have to take extra precautions with children, who tend to be adventurous in the backyard and who don’t know the potential danger of electrical appliances. In addition, Clark recommends installing only ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) outlets, which are extra sensitive to breaking circuits to reduce electrical shock.
  • Weatherproof your work. Clark recommends that all connections and boxes are weatherproof and that all outdoor plugs have covers on them. Patton says to make sure all fixtures have a National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA) 3R rating, which is specific to protection from outdoor hazards such as sleet or rain.
  • Encourage your client to follow up with you for any additional work or repairs. Alert your client that electrical work is not a do-it-yourself project. Patton says he’s seen huge hazards when visiting sites where non-professionals tried to do the work themselves. Let your clients know they should contact you immediately concerning any additional work because you’re the licensed professional who knows the codes for voltage load, underground wiring, etc.


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