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When it comes to electrical covers, you have decisions to make. Really, some of them are made for you. Of course, when choosing indoor covers, it's mostly color, number of devices installed, types of devices installed, and device configuration.

Outdoor Electrical Covers – Inside and Out

Steve Maurer, IME
When it comes to electrical covers, you have decisions to make. Really, some of them are made for you. Of course, when choosing indoor covers, it's mostly color, number of devices installed, types of devices installed, and device configuration.

By configuration, I'm talking about whether standard switches and outlets are used as opposed to the popular decorator style. The decorator style is more or less a rectangular device. Decorator switches and receptacles have the same footprint, so often the plate for one will fit the other.

Additionally, many standalone GFCI units use the rectangular design. But these are, in many situations, used for commercial outlet protection, either outdoors or in commercial washdown environments. Often coupled with waterproof receptacle assemblies, the cover may consist of a see-through latex or neoprene cover, flexible enough to operate the GFCI test and reset buttons.

Many device covers designed for outdoor use can be used in these washdown environments, found in food and beverage processing plants. Anytime damp or wet environments exist, you may need to bring the outside inside as far as electrical covers and boxes are concerned.

Even electrical blank covers must be waterproof or water resistant in these environments, as well as out of doors.

Gaskets are used to seal off the boxes from the weather and moisture conditions. They also protect from dust and similar particles, which can cause explosions if they get into the box and come in contact with hot or shorted wiring.

Another consideration is the intended use of the device protected by the outside electrical cover. For example, if the cover protects an outlet that is used occasionally, but not continuously, a flat, water resistant cover may be used.

These have spring-loaded cover flaps and are flipped out of the way for use. When the cord is removed, the cover springs back automatically, protecting the receptacle from the elements. Sometimes these are used in tandem with switches, with either a single cover or a split cover design.

However, if the receptacle is to be used continuously or for long periods of time, such as for a sump pump or decorative lighting, then a different style of cover should be used. If a normal flip cover is used, the cord connection will be exposed to potential short circuits should rain, snow, or sleet be present.

You have at least two options for what is called an in-use cover. The first is a bubble style cover that fits over the protruding cord connection. This is useful for boxes that are inset into the wall, with the surface of the box flush with the wall surface. They can also be used with wall mounted device boxes that protrude from the wall surface.

The cover fits over the inserted cord, fully covering it. U-shaped holes at the bottom of the cover allow the cord to exit the cover. These can be made of a metal such as aluminum or a clear plastic or polycarbonate. In either case, the cover must be fully closed and latched for complete protection.

Another option is to use a deep box that sets the receptacle back further into the box. The cover will be nearly flush to the wall when installed. This gives the assembly a cleaner look as the "bulge" is no longer sticking out from the wall. This can be extremely important in high traffic areas where people or equipment may bump into it accidently.

These are very aesthetic when used on brick or siding when installed with a trim piece designed for that purpose. As with the first style, provision is made to allow the cover to close fully with a cord installed. That's so important when leaving a cord plugged in for extended periods.

Finally, outdoor rated switch covers ensure that toggle switched for lighting and other purposes are weatherproof, safe from wind and rain.
Photo courtesy of Hubbell Wiring Systems
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