Whether you are installing string lights on your patio or in your backyard, protecting your lights from different kinds of weather, particularly the rain, should be a high priority.
Outdoor string lights can get wet. You need to look at the IP (Ingress Protection) rating of these lights before buying them. The IP rating tells you how well protected your outdoor lights are against dirt and moisture. You also need to ensure that the extension cords are rated for exterior use.
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If you want to know what IP rating you need for outdoor string lights and how to keep your connections safe, read on.
What Is an IP Rating?
The IP rating is indicated by the two letters “IP” followed by two numbers. The first digit in the ranking tells you how dustproof your light is, and the second tells you how waterproof your light is.
The greater the numbers, the more protection your light has. Both numbers hold importance for outdoor lighting. Therefore, you will need to consider both when choosing your outdoor string lights.
LED lights with IP65 rating give complete protection against water jets and foreign objects. Ensure that an outdoor fixture you are purchasing are IP65 rated.
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How to Protect Your Outdoor String Lights
Here are some tips to keep your connections secure and protect your outdoor string lights.
Only Use Outdoor Rated Extension Cords
You should choose the right extension cord for your needs. Outdoor extension cords have vinyl, plastic, or rubber covers designed to withstand rougher and wetter conditions. To confirm if your cord is rated for outdoor use, check the rating code stamped on your cord.
The code is made up of letters and is used to describe the type of cord jacket and where the extension cord can be used. The letter “W” on the cord suggests that the cord can be used outdoors.
Use Outdoor Rated Bulbs
The majority of C7 and C9 bulbs can be safely used in outdoor applications. Additionally, you can use incandescent bulbs outdoors as long as they are not exposed to water. If used outdoors, you should take the lights down instantly after an event.
When and where you can use light-emitting diode (LED) bulbs depend on the safety rating. You can use damp rated bulbs in moist environments. However, these lights should not be exposed to water. On the other hand, you can use wet rated bulbs in an open environment. These lights are designed to withstand direct exposure to water.
Never Use Worn Strings
Use testers to check old string lights for blown fuses, bad bulbs, and broken sockets. Repair lights as required. Do not use strings with weak or worn wires as these lights can be potential fire risks.
Use String Lights Meant for Outdoor Use
Before putting any string light in an open area, you should ensure that the light is safe for exterior use by looking at the safety rating. String lights that you can use outside and inside include Christmas light strings, patio light strings, and rope light. These lights are made with stronger materials that can tolerate weather conditions.
However, it’s worth knowing that some Christmas string lights are rated to be used indoors only. Using these Christmas lights outdoors can cause them to stop working or short-circuit if they come in direct contact with water.
It's best to get commercial grade, heavy duty strings lights that are specifically made for outdoor use.
Avoid Leaving Open Sockets
When bulbs are fitted into the sockets of outdoor string lights, it is difficult for dust and moisture to enter the socket. On the other hand, open sockets cannot prevent dirt and water from entering and causing a short-circuit.
Therefore, don’t leave sockets empty on string lights.
Bulbs that are no longer working should be left in place until there are replacements available. The lights will still work even though a few bulbs are no longer working.
Protect Connected Plugs From Water
It may be essential to plug many string lights together when setting up patio lights. You should wrap connected plugs with electrical tape to make sure they don’t get pulled apart. However, it’s worth knowing that the tape does not offer adequate protection against water. Therefore, you should use cord protectors to protect connected plugs from water.
If you’re using power strips, use cord domes that fit the connections and power strips. While cord domes and cord protectors are resistant to water, they are not totally waterproof. You can place the connections on items like block or brick to keep them away from puddles and off the ground.
Don’t Use Uninsulated Metal Hooks or Staples to Hang String Lights
Don’t use uninsulated metal hooks or staples to hang your outdoor string lights. Metal hooks that do not have a protective vinyl coating can heat up in hot weather, melting the jackets and exposing the wires to the weather. Staples can crush the wires and damage the jackets. You can use plastic mounting clips, cup hooks, and eye screws to install your string lights.
Use GFCI Outlets for Protection Against Electrical Circuit Failure
Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI) outlets cut the power if they sense a problem with the electrical circuit.
According to the National Electrical Code (NEC), GFCI outlets are essential for exterior use. They should be used with care, and they are not fail-safe. You should contact an electrician to install GFCI outlets outdoors.
Also, you should not run extension cords through windows and doors. They can get damaged by being pinched in the window or door and eventually lead to a safety hazard. When used improperly, they can overheat and cause fires.
Do Not Overload Your Circuits
If you draw too much wattage through a circuit, it can cause electrical fires, shorts, and tripped circuit breakers. The circuit in your house can handle either 15 or 20 amps. With a 20 amp connection, you can draw about 2400 watts, while a 15 amp connection affords about 1800 watts.
As with string lights, you should stay below 80% of those amounts. Before plugging in your outdoor string lights, check to see if your outdoor outlets have their own dedicated circuits or are on a shared circuit. To reduce the load, spread the string lights out between circuits as much as you can.
Stay Below the Maximum Wattage
To prevent short-circuiting your string, you should stay below the maximum wattage or number of connections the string light can manage. The maximum wattage is the maximum amount of power an individual string light can manage.
When connecting multiple string lights, the maximum run is the total wattage multiple string lights can handle. The maximum connection is the maximum number of string lights that you can safely connect together. When determining maximum runs from wattage, you should use 80% of the possible wattage.
Store String Lights Properly
Let me start by saying, if you select the appropriate string lights and string light accessories, there is no need to ever take them down. We live in the midwest and use (and LOVE) ours year round – rain, sleet, and snow!
However, some may wish to only leave their lights up seasonally. If this is the case, store your string lights properly.
This will help mitigate many problems later on when you use these lights again. Coil your lights prior to storing them to avoid broken wire and tangles. Storage boxes, particularly for string lights, come with plastic reels for wrapping lights around.
You can also prepare your own storage boxes with clothes hangers, paper tubes, and cardboard pieces. You can also use cord reels for longer patio lights and Christmas string lights.
Outdoor string lights are a great way to illuminate your outdoor space. However, it's very important to be safe and secure whenever using electricity in open areas. Hopefully the tips mentioned above will help you keep your string light connections safe and allow you to choose lights that are safe for outdoor use.
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