How to Install an Outside Outlet for Christmas Lights

By Vernon Trollinger, December 18, 2017, Energy Efficiency, Home Improvement, Save Money

Installing an outdoor outlet can make decorating for the holidays easier and safer!

Welcome to the How Do I Do This? series from Bounce Energy. Each month, we’ll dive into what you need to know to shop for, install, or repair those things in your home to keep your life affordable and convenient. Plus, you’ll (hopefully) learn some useful tips for other projects along the way.

How Do I Install An Outside Outlet For Christmas Lights?

Putting up holiday lighting on your home is a lot of fun. It transforms your home’s appearance into something that dazzles your children and neighbors, and it brightens the long winter nights. But if you’re running extension cords through partially open windows or improvised (probably unsafe) connections to outside light fixtures, then you probably know that you’re not only letting in drafts and driving up your heating cost, but you might also be increasing your home’s risk for fire.

The best way around this is to simply install an outside outlet. Of course, if you’ve never done electrical work before, installing an outside outlet for holiday lighting sounds extremely complicated. It’s not, but with any home improvement project, you’ll need to get the right materials and install them the right way. We’ll help walk you through the process.


What’s the Best Location for the Outdoor Outlet?

The most important thing about installing an outside outlet for holiday lighting is deciding where the best place is for the outlet to go. This depends on two things:

  • What location is safest for an outdoor outlet??
  • What location is the most convenient for how you plan to use the outlet?

In our example, I chose to mount the outlet on a post on the front porch. This location provides some protection for the outlet against rainfall, is located close to the front door, and is also the closest location to a circuit that ties into the circuit breaker panel. Any place the wire goes through a hole is sealed with silicon caulk.

To make the connection, a hole was drilled through the banding joist beneath the front porch. Inside the crawlspace, a hole was drilled upwards through the bottom plate of the exterior wall directly beneath an existing outlet (the breaker for which was turned off). That outlet was dismantled and the box removed from the wall. The wire from the outside was pulled up and run into the box. This inside outlet was then reassembled and the new wire connected to the indoor outlet terminals.

Because the circuit for the indoor outlet and outside outlet is 20 amps, we need to make sure our total amperage on this circuit will be less than that 20 amp rating or the circuit will keep shutting down.

Use Durable Wire for Outlets Outdoors

The correct wire to use for outside projects is Type UF-B wire. It’s sunlight resistant, water resistant, and resists interaction with the soil. Because of that, the insulating plastic covering is a huge pain to strip off. However, there is a practical way to do it.

How Do I Install An Outside Outlet For Christmas Lights? | Bounce Energy BlogStep 1— About 3 inches down from the end, use a utility knife to carefully score around the wire casing.

How Do I Install An Outside Outlet For Christmas Lights? | Bounce Energy Blog

Step 2— Use a pair of wire cutters to cut a notch on either side of the grounding wire in the middle of the casing.

How Do I Install An Outside Outlet For Christmas Lights? | Bounce Energy Blog

Step 3 — Using the grounding wire as a guide, use the utility knife to slice down either side of the grounding wire. Cut all the way to where you scored around the wire casing. Splay the wire sections apart.

Step 4 — Use the utility knife to shave the casing from one side of the black and white wires. Once that’s done, you should be able to pull the casing away from the wires and cut the casing off.

Mounting the Outlet Box

How Do I Install An Outside Outlet For Christmas Lights? | Bounce Energy Blog

We decided to mount our outlet about 3 inches up from the porch deck surface. To protect the wiring from being accidently kicked or snagged, we decided to run the wire through a 6 inch long piece of schedule 40 PVC conduit connected to the bottom of the outlet box. For the conduit to work, we drilled a 7/8 inch diameter hole through the deck board. After that was done, we attached the outlet box to the post with some coated deck screws (uncoated screws will decay due to chemicals in the treated lumber).

Again, before you begin working on an electrical circuit, make certain that circuit has been turned off at your home’s breaker panel!

How Do I Install An Outside Outlet For Christmas Lights? | Bounce Energy Blog

Next, we threaded our UF-B wire up into the wiring box and used a pair of needle nose pliers to pre-bend the wire ends so they would slide right into place on the outlet terminals.

How Do I Install An Outside Outlet For Christmas Lights? | Bounce Energy Blog

After that, we connected the wires to the outlet’s screws. The white or neutral wire connects to the silver screws (left side) on the outlet. The black or load wire connects to the gold screws (right side). The bare wire or ground connects to the green screw at the bottom.

A quick safety note: Why use GFCI outlet fixtures?
In this example, I used a plain 15 amp weather-resistant outlet. While a few local electric codes still allow this, all outside outlets really should be Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI) outlet fixtures! The reason is that GFCI outlets add an extra layer of safety against electrocution in the event of a short circuit —which can occur outside and especially if the outlet is located where it can get wet. While there is no difference in connecting one outlet to an outside run of wire or the wire box, you will need to buy a faceplate that will match a GFCI outlet. If the area where you plan to install the outlet tends to be wet, then you’ll want to use an outlet that has a built-in weather protector.

How Do I Install An Outside Outlet For Christmas Lights? | Bounce Energy Blog

Once the wires are connected, mount the outlet in the wiring box and secure it in place with screws. After that, cover it with a water resistant foam gasket and then attach the weather proof cover.

How Do I Install An Outside Outlet For Christmas Lights? | Bounce Energy Blog

Now, turn on the breaker and carefully test your lights.

TIP— Using an inexpensive waterproof timer to control your holiday lights can help you save money and avoid headaches by controlling your lighting display for you!

Outdoor outlets provide a safer and more energy-efficient way to display outdoor lighting. If you need help evaluating your outdoor outlet potential, call a licensed electrician.

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A native of Wyomissing Hills, PA, Vernon Trollinger studied writing and film at the University of Iowa, later earning his MA in writing there as well. Following a decade of digging in CRM archaeology, he now writes about green energy technology, home energy efficiency, DIY projects, the natural gas industry, and the electrical grid.

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