Outdoor circuit. Where do you draw the line for DIY?


Old 08-07-06, 08:27 PM
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Join Date: Mar 2006
Posts: 7
Outdoor circuit. Where do you draw the line for DIY?

I have a straight forward question. When is it ok vs not ok for a homeowner to work on his/her electrical system? I assume its based off local code and/or law, but where's the line.

This questions come with a point. I plan on adding and outdoor outlet for some low voltage outdoor lighting, and also a light post at the end of my drive way. (which will be switched)

Here's my check list and what I know about this situation, let me know if I'm missing anything.

My house is old and doesn't have gounds on the original outlets, so this task will require a new GFCI circuit. (for the light post and the outside outlet)

I've got a 20 amp GFCI breaker.
12 gauge wire rated for outdoor with plenty of PVC to run it underground (at least 12 inches deep)
For the outdoor outlet, I have an "always in use" water-tight covered outlet, but will not put a GFCI here since its at the breaker.

The swith for the light post will go by the front door, and will run down to the junction box under the house. There will be one wire from the switch to the junction box, so I will be using the neutral wire to carry the load back to the box, and I know it will need to be wrapped in black electrical tape to show this.

I know that you work from the outside in, and install the breaker last, with the main power off of course.

I feel comfotable doing all of this myself, but my main concern is will I be breaking any laws. I have replaced switches, outlets and fixtures before with no problem.

What shoudn't I do myself if any?
Is an ispection required for this task?

Thanks in advance for any help.

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Old 08-07-06, 08:58 PM
nap's Avatar
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It actually dpends upon your locality. In my state and area, I am allowed to do anything I want as long as proper permits and inspections are taken care of.

You would need to call your local building department to find out if you are allowed to perform your own work or if it must be done by a licensed electrician.
Old 08-07-06, 09:12 PM
Join Date: Nov 2005
Location: Las Cruces, NM -Zone 8
Posts: 289
... and in my area a home owner needs to take a "qualifying" knowledge test in order to do any electrical work/repair on the home. Otherwise an electrician must be called for anything.

I didn't ask if there was a limit to the nature of the work performed by the owner or if changing a bad switch or outlet was under those conditions.
Old 08-08-06, 05:30 AM
Join Date: Sep 2003
Location: Central New York State
Posts: 13,973
Generally speaking, homeowners can do their own work. Usually an inspection is required after the work is done with a permit required first.

Several comments.

You do not need conduit if you are using direct burial cable. If you do use conduit, instead of UF cable, use THWN individual conductors inside the conduit.

Twelve inches is not deep enough. Go at least 18, preferably 24.

Do not refer to the white wire as a neutral. When it carries return current it is the neutral, but when it carries hot current it is a hot wire, not a neutral.

In a switch loop, the white wire (re-identified with colored marker or tape) is used to carry unwatched current to the switch. The black wire is used to carry switched current from the switch.

I would not use a GFCI breaker, but would instead use a GFCI receptacle for the low voltage lighting and install a GFCI receptacle or faceless GFCI somewhere ahead of where the post light wire exits the house. You may want to tap this circuit for something else later, and having a GFCI breaker can be a hassle.
Old 08-08-06, 09:08 AM
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Join Date: Aug 2001
Location: Maryland
Posts: 695
Depth of bury GFCI protected residential 20 Amp circuit

Twelve inches is not deep enough. Go at least 18, preferably 24.
The key here is that the circuit is GFCI protected. The US NEC; Table 300.5 Minimum Cover Requirements; specifically allows a twelve inch depth of bury on "Residential Branch Circuits Rated 120 Volts or Less with GFCI Protection and Maximum Overcurrent Protection of 20 Amperes."
Old 08-08-06, 09:23 AM
Join Date: Sep 2003
Location: Central New York State
Posts: 13,973
The NEC requirements were not my point when discussing depth. I know what it says. I was going from a practical standpoint. Twelve inches is not deep enough if someone is likely to be digging in the general area of the cable. People put in all sorts of landscaping and gardens around a house. I'd hate to see the wire get damaged by someone putting in, or removing a bush.

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