Besides tripping a circuit breaker, is there any risk created by a 120V electrical outlet getting wet from the rain?

The outlet was installed on an outdoor patio by the builder, so it was intended to be outside. It is a little under 10 years old.

The outlet does have a flap cover on it, but if you plug anything into the outlet, the flap is somewhat useless.

  • 4
    In addition to the answer from @longneck , you should also replace a regular outlet with a GFI outlet. It's an easy upgrade and will provide a lot of protection. They're typically mandatory in kitchens and baths for the same reason. – John Dyer Dec 12 '14 at 20:17
up vote 22 down vote accepted

Yes, there is a risk. Even a properly installed and protected electrical system can fail to protect you, either because of unforeseen situations or component failure.

There are two types of flaps.

One is watertight only when not in use and closed. This is probably what you have. This type of outlet is only meant to be used temporarily when exposure to weather is not a problem. For example, plugging in a leaf blower. This type of outlet should not be used for holiday decorations.

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The other type is watertight even when you have something plugged in to it, provided you close the cover.

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Fortunately, changing from one to the other is pretty easy: just take the cover off and put the other one on, making sure to follow the directions to maintain watertightness.

Fresh water is nowhere near as conductive as many people believe (salt water is). I used to have a plug for an outdoor sump pump that was frequently completely submerged. Pump ran fine, no one got electrocuted (including the cat), breaker never tripped.

So, unless you plan to use the plug (meaning: insert and remove cords) during a major storm i wouldn't worry about it.

  • Give me a break, man. What is fresh water when you muddy it up a little, dissolving some minerals in it? That's right, it's conductive. SO yeah, PURE water (distilled, for instance) is technically an insulator, but the instant you put dissolved ions in it, it becomes a conductor. How likely is it that you're going to encounter distilled water in puddles on the ground under your outdoor electrical outlet during a storm? ;-) – Craig Jan 19 '15 at 3:50
  • The plug in question was in a 5000 litre underground rainwater tank just below ground level. Dissolved rust, leaves, roof debris etc. all floating about. Pump ran fine for years with the plug fully submerged, the cat never complained. There wasn't enough dissolved ions to conduct a measurable amount of power. – paul Feb 1 '15 at 8:01
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    Well, then, by all means go ahead and design your solution with the plug intentionally submerged in water where somebody isn't expecting that. NO-that was sarcasm. You do realize that you are--in effect--advising people to do this, right? There might be all kinds of factors involved in your particular situation, from grounding to the tank being made out of metal to the actual concentration of the solution in your 1,300 gallon rainwater tank. Maybe somebody else does this with a plastic 50 gallon drum and bad house wiring and someone reaches in there while barefoot and gets electrocuted. – Craig Feb 4 '15 at 20:17

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