Election Section

Ask Matt

Friday December 23, 2005

Dear Matt, 

I have recently dismantled an improvised system of outdoor power outlets installed by a previous owner of my house. What kinds of outdoor power outlets are safe, serviceable and economical to install?  

Martin Kramer 


Dear Martin, 

What a great question. I’m glad you dismantled the improvised power outlets and I’m glad you didn’t get shocked (I assume you’d have told me if it had happened). As far as economics, I don’t know if I can help much, since I’d recommend that a licensed electrician do the new installation, but here are a few suggestions as to what you’ll want installed. The first and most important thing is that these new outlets be “GFCI” or ground fault circuit interrupters (sometimes called GFIs). These can sense a person getting shocked and stop the flow of power. Amazing but true. These have been required in new construction (or remodeling) for quite a few years when outlets are installed in bathrooms, kitchens, basements, garages or outside. What all these places have in common is that you are more apt to be grounded—literally, connected to the ground either by touching it or by touching something that connects to the ground (such as a concrete slab or a pipe or a faucet). Outdoor outlets should be installed using outdoor-type wiring, junction boxes and special covers, especially for outlets.  

The covers I like the best have a large plastic shell with notches at the bottom. This allows you to plug something in, close the shell and leave it plugged in, protected from the rain. This is especially good for things like sump pumps, outdoor lighting devices and the like. 

The one cost-saving measure I can suggest is that you install outlets at the perimeter of your house where there is a crawl space or basement on the opposing side. This way, the wiring can be kept cheaper by running lower-cost wiring from interior junction boxes to the exterior wall and only the fancy exterior junction box or cover will be needed. You can probably put in several around your house for a few hundred dollars. If you need power further from the house it’s best for it to be buried in a PVC conduit with a firmly mounted post or wall for it to arrive at and connect to. Make sure the outlet is installed well above ground to stay dry. 

Best of luck, 

Matt Cantoro