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Take It Outside: How to Run Power Outdoors

outdoor extension cord

When we need electrical power for something inside our homes, it’s easy! Find the most convenient outlet, plug in a cord, and we’re all set. What about when we want to power something outside our homes? Whether you’re up late working on an outdoor project that requires plenty of light, looking to festively illuminate a dinner party in your back yard, or wanting to power a shed or outbuilding, getting electricity outdoors isn’t always simple. The best option will depend on your specific needs. Let’s figure out how to get you up and running!

Short-Term Solutions

If you need power for a short amount of time (from a few hours to a few days), you can get what you need from extension cords.

Here are some important things to remember regarding correct usage of electrical cords for outdoor power needs:

  • Only use cords rated for outdoor use, as they are designed to handle environmental factors like moisture, sunlight, temperature changes, and some amount of foot traffic. Cords for indoor use are not made to withstand these stressors.
  • Make sure the chosen cord is rated to handle the amount of wattage you’ll be connecting to it.
  • Double check the length of cord you’ll need for a project and use a cord that’s an appropriate length. A cord that’s too short obviously won’t do the trick, but a cord that’s too long is a trip hazard — not great if you’re working with power tools or hosting guests for a party. If you must use a longer cord, keep the excess neatly coiled and out of the way. In a party setting where there will be lots of people wandering around, consider securing the cord to the ground or somehow alerting guests to its presence.
  • Make sure the cord is plugged into a GFCI outlet, which protects against shock if the cord is exposed to water.

Can I Leave an Extension Cord Outside?

Outdoor cords aren’t meant to be outdoors indefinitely. They’ll see you safely through a party or a weekend project, but after that you’ll want to bring them back inside and safely store them until next time. Prolonged outdoor exposure can cause materials in the cord to break down, which increases the risk of electrical fire or shock.

Permanent Solutions: Running Outdoor Electrical

If you’re interested in running power to an outbuilding or lighting up your lawn on the regular, you’ll want a more permanent solution — and you’ll probably want to call in your residential electrician, as this type of electrical work isn’t really DIY-friendly. Getting power to your shed, for example, involves digging a trench anywhere from 18” to 30” deep (depending on code specifics), encasing the cable in solvent-welded PVC conduit, and connecting the cable to GFCI outlets at both ends. There’s quite a bit of knowledge needed and a good deal of risk involved, so it’s best to leave this task to the professionals.

So break out the bounce house for the next birthday party, do your lawn maintenance after dark if you want, and keep dreaming up ways you could put that shed to use if it only had power.

Your residential electrician is happy to consult on any outdoor project you have in mind and can provide detailed information on the necessary cost and timeline to get you power where and when you need it.

To consult an Austin-area electrical expert at 1st Home & Commercial Services, feel free to give us a call at (512) 957-2992.

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