Living Smart: Accommodating outdoor electrical needs this summer

McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

As summer approaches, homeowners might be giving thought to outdoor kitchens or barbecue islands and other outdoor entertaining options. But these amenities sometimes require power, and you don’t want to be running an extension cord to the backyard. What can you do to accommodate outdoor electrical needs for the summer?

Electricians say adding a new outdoor outlet is a relatively simple task. In most cases, they can piggyback off an existing indoor outlet and simply run another line off the same circuit.

Outdoor power outlets should always contain ground-fault circuit interrupters (GFCI), which automatically cut off power in the event of an energy spike — an important safety feature for any outlet that can be exposed to water. In addition, outdoor electrical outlets should be equipped with a rubber-sealed cover that can be closed when the outlet is not in use.

"You want it to be both GFCI-protected and weather resistant," says Brent Yauchler, owner of The Electrican in Mount Horeb, Wisc. He says if you have existing outdoor outlets that are more than 10 years old, you should take a look and make sure the rubber gasket still gives a good seal when closed.

Wesley Sedain, co-owner of Alley Electric in Fremont, Calif., says he charges between $350 and $400 to install an outdoor outlet, with the price rising somewhat if the existing outlet is an older one without a proper grounding wire, or if no outlet exists where the homeowner wants to install an outdoor one. "In those cases, we need to run a new dedicated circuit," he says.

Yauchler charges about $150 to install an outdoor outlet, but the price goes down if you’re installing more than one outlet, since the price includes a minimum labor fee.

Sedain says he installs summer outdoor outlets for barbecue islands and outdoor entertainment centers, but he most frequently installs outdoor outlets in the fall, in preparation for holiday lighting setups.

OTHER SUMMER ELECTRICAL ISSUES

In addition to outdoor needs, other specific electrical problems develop during summer. Sedain says he often talks to homeowners who run into trouble with portable air conditioners. Portable A/C units tend to draw quite a bit of power, so if you run one in the living room on the same circuit as another electronic device, it runs a high risk of tripping the circuit breaker — particularly since living rooms and bedrooms aren’t equipped with circuits capable of handling as much power as kitchens and utility rooms.

Sedain says the solution for a portable air conditioner is to keep it on one outlet without any other device, and if that doesn’t work, you’ll need to run a dedicated circuit that can handle more power, which will cost about $300. "However, that dedicated circuit will be able to accommodate other high-powered devices, such as running a portable heater in winter," he says.

Yauchler also advises homeowners to consider whole-house surge protection in summertime, if they don’t already have it. This protects against lightning and major electrical spikes, and gives much more protection than surge-protection power strips. He charges about $250 to install one.

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