Keep the “ZAP” Out of Your Backyard Power Use

Most of us are pretty vigilant about how we use electricity inside our home, where a fire or stray spark can have catastrophic results. But how much attention is paid to those light switches, outdoor plugs, extension cords and electric tools used outdoors?

There are some common sense rules of thumb, such as not using metal ladders near electrical lines and turning your power off at the fuse box before working on any electric switches, light fixtures, wiring or other electrical components. But there’s a lot more to outdoor safety.

A key component of averting an electrical mishap is a GFCI – a Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter. A GFCI, or GFI, is an inexpensive electrical device that can either be installed in your electrical system or built into a power cord to protect you from severe electrical shocks. Consider having GFCIs installed in locations required by the National Electrical Code, such as kitchens, bathrooms, garages, unfinished basements and near laundry tubs or wet bar sinks.

Here are some more tips (and a great checklist!) from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission to avoid electric shocks or fires:

  • Have GFCIs installed or plug in a portable GFCI when you use an outdoor outlet. GFCIs are sensitive to moisture and should be protected when used outdoors.
  • Have weatherproof covers installed and keep them closed on unused outlets and switches. If outlets must be used in wet weather, install a “weatherproof while in use” cover.
  • Use extension cords marked specifically for outdoor use, and be sure they are three-pronged and plug into a three-prong outlet. Without a ground prong, GFCIs won’t work and you become the grounding rod! Check for cracks or exposed wires and discard any cords that are defective.
  • Avoid using power tools in damp or wet locations. If a tool gets wet, unplug it before touching it. Let it dry thoroughly, and if it was immersed, have it tested at a qualified repair center before using it again.
  • Use battery-powered tools if possible.

To learn more about how a GFCI works, check out the short video from the Electric Safety Foundation International (ESFI).

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