Views, space, a place for seating, and a BBQ are among the top features most deck owners put on their “must have” list. But not many deck owners think about the number one thing that makes a deck a truly livable space – the common electrical outlet. If you spend any time on your deck, you quickly learn that lights, speakers, fans, leaf blower, tech gear, heaters, and even laptops and cell phone chargers are a part of taking your life into the great outdoors. Some of us can spend time on our deck without a lot of gadgets, but if you want to really enjoy your deck, having the comforts of electrical access can be a game changer.
From a place to plug in a laptop or cellphone charger, to a fan or space heater, electrical outlets are not only a necessity for every living space, they are required by most building codes. The National Electric Code requires two outlets, at least one outdoor receptacle in the front and in the rear of the house, not more than 6½ feet from the ground. Balconies, decks and porches that are accessible from inside the dwelling unit must have at least one receptacle outlet installed within the perimeter of the balcony, deck or porch. That receptacle can’t be located more than 6½ feet (2m) above the balcony, deck or porch surface.
There are two reasons to have more receptacles located around your deck, the primary one being safety. We all like convenience, and if there’s not a safe alternative, we’ll use an unsafe one! That’s why if there’s not an electrical outlet in the deck, most home and deck owners will use extension cords to run appliances on large balconies, decks and porches (greater than 20 feet square). Extension cords can be especially dangerous if used outdoors and in wet conditions. Dangers aren’t limited to just getting a deadly shock. Structure fires are the primary concern. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) estimates that extension cords cause 3,300 electrical fires every year in the United States. How extension cords cause fires:
- Overloading. People often buy extension cords based on price and availability, not electrical load ratings. Overloading happens when the wire gauge isn’t large enough to carry the electrical load placed on it. Once that happens it can short circuit, spark, and cause a fire.
- Electrical burns and shocks. It’s safe to say many of us have an old or damaged extension cord lying around. We may not even know they’re damaged because the insulation may be broken, but not visible. The insulative sheathing in some extension cords may tear away and expose the live wires. Extension cords used outdoors are also exposed to Ultraviolet (UV) light, which can quickly weaken the cord’s sheathing, making the cord a potentially deadly feature, especially in damp or rainy weather.
- Tripping. Injuries from extension cords aren’t limited to fires and electrical shock. According to the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors, (NACHI) roughly half of the 4,000 injuries caused by extension cords annually in the U.S. are due to lacerations, sprains and contusions from tripping on the cords themselves.
Many deck owners have outlets near the entrance to their deck. But consider having outlets placed at strategic locations in the deck floor itself. This allows users to plug in laptops, cell phone chargers, reading lamps, even a small space heater for chilly days. If you’re one of the growing number of homeowners going electric, then a place to plug in a leaf blower, power washer, or other device to clean your deck is a plus.
So, when you talk to your deck designer, contractor, or builder, make sure you ask about installing extra outlets along the railings, but also at strategic locations flush within the deck itself. You don’t want to trip on the outlet, so make sure it is truly a flush mount, or that it is mounted in an area where it’s less likely to be tripped over – such as under a table, or near a heater, furniture, or other deck accessories.
Devices That Plug In
Still not convinced you need the extra electrical outlets? Consider the many devices deck owners can use their outlets for:
- Electric throws and blankets (Yes, imagine lying on your deck chair on a chilly day, toasty, warm and comfortable under your electric throw or blanket!)
- Cooking appliances if you have an outdoor kitchen
- Deck refrigerator
- Cell phone charger
- Television monitor
- Holiday decorations
- Hot tubs
- Spa equipment (jacuzzi)
- Power washer
- Leaf blower
There are many models, types, and kinds of electrical outlets designed especially for decks, and more importantly, for the outdoors and harsh elements like rain, snow, and ice. Talk to your contractor about your options. Your lifestyle and how you plan to use your deck will determine whether to have only outlets on the railings, but consider placing at least one or more outlets in the deck itself. You and your guests will appreciate not having to worry about tripping over an extension cord, and the convenience of power at a table or seating arrangement.