What Every Homeowner Should Know before Wiring an Outdoor Shed
It’s the dead of night. Your air conditioning is on the fritz and you can’t sleep for the heat. Unfortunately, your wife stored the box fan in the shed out back. Dying for a little air movement, you grab a flashlight, shining a dim beam at best, and head for the backyard. Just as you unlock the door, the flashlight goes out leaving you in the dark.
Whether you just want a light to help you find your way around in the dark, or you want a fully functional workshop, running electricity to a shed is not as difficult as you may think. You just need some pre-planning, a little know-how, and a weekend or two of your time.
Wiring an Outdoor Shed – Where to Begin
Planning is the critical first step to wiring an outdoor shed. “You will save a lot of money by thinking about it in advance,” said class A licensed electrician Daniel Stoddard with Bendanco Construction, Inc. in Elkton, Virginia.
What is the storage building used for?
The first question to ask, suggests Stoddard, is what you use the building for. The electrical requirements for a storage building are different from that of a workshop.
If you want a simple line, what Stoddard calls a “cord and plug,” the job is a relatively easy DIY project for the weekend. If you want to use your outdoor storage shed for a workshop that includes power tools, a welder, air compressor, or similar juice-sucking devices, you need to do a little more planning.
What tools will you use?
One electrical circuit can only handle so many amps. So if you plan to run tools that require a lot of amps, like a table saw and dust collector, you need to run enough circuits to handle the load. Also, while most tools or appliances run on 110v power, some require 220v. Things like welders, compressors, and air conditioners often require 220v power.
Knowing what you will be using in your workshop will tell you what type of wiring and outlets, and how many circuits, you need to install. Once you make this decision, it’s wise to contact an electrician to make sure your circuits are heavy enough.
Can the house panel handle the extra load?
Most modern homes have a 200-amp service, which should provide plenty of juice to run your household and the added load of a storage building with lights. But if you plan to add a workshop with tools, or have some type of heating and cooling in your building, you want to start counting the amps to make sure you have enough to cover it. The project may require adding a sub panel.
If you are not electrical-savvy, Stoddard suggests taking a photo of your current panel and showing it to an electrician, along with your plans, to see if what you want to do is possible.
“I frequently have folks send me their plans and ask, ‘Is this doable?’” he said. A quick calculation on his part will tell the homeowner what he needs to know.
How will you get the electric power from the house to the building?
For a single circuit, the best way to run power outdoors is to use an extension cord. Since homes built after 1980 are equipped with GFI-protected outdoor outlets, it’s perfectly safe to have a single outlet in the building connected to the house via an exterior-rated extension cord.
“It virtually turns your outdoor shed into another appliance,” Stoddard said.
He cautions homeowners to disconnect and store the extension cord when not in use or, if you want to have it connected at all times, only to use cords labeled for outdoor use.
If you are creating a workshop, with multiple circuits or a sub panel, the best way to run power outdoors is to bury the lines in the ground. Of course, the placement of the shed will influence the feasibility of burying lines. Are other utility lines buried in your path? Is there hardtop or concrete to cross? These are things to consider when you are planning. Your answers will also influence the cost of the project.
How long will the project take?
The planning phase takes the longest. If you plan on wiring an outdoor shed to use as a workshop, some sketches and photos of what you want will help when you get to the hands-on phase. Use this phase to consult with an electrician about the tools you plan to use and the strength of your circuits.
Once you complete your plans, however, you can easily wire a simple “cord and plug” job in an afternoon. If you want a few more receptacles, it could take a weekend. Wiring for a workshop has the longest hands-on phase of two weekends or more, depending on how far your building is from your home.
What else do I need to know?
For any building project, always check with your local government about codes and with your Homeowners Association. You want to make sure you do not need any permits and that you are complying with all ordinances.
I don’t think I can do this, now what?
If you feel confident in your abilities to wire your own shed but need a little education, check out the following books:
- The Homeowner’s DIY Guide to Electrical Wiring
- Black & Decker Complete Guide to Wiring
- Wiring Simplified
But if teaching yourself electrical know-how intimidates you, you have a couple of options. You could hire a licensed electrician. Or, you could purchase a building with the wiring already installed. Byler’s offers several electrical packages to suit your needs. They will also connect the building to your home’s electric service for you. If you already have a building with no room for a new one, consider trading your older model in, or selling it before your new one arrives.
Running electricity to a shed gives you options. It provides light in the darkness. It gets the woodworking tools out of the garage. And it provides a climate-controlled environment for you to pursue your passions.