I bought a house from an older lady last summer with a pretty elaborate backyard. I noticed in the evenings, lights would turn on around the perimeter and shine on some of the trees. Then after a few months I noticed they stopped coming on. I recently went out to investigate and found all the lights lead to a few boxes mounted to the fence with an extension cord powering the boxes. I followed the extension cords to an outlet that was by this time completely buried. I dug it up:

enter image description here

There was no protective sheath around the outlet so I presume rain water made its way in and tripped the GFCI breaker but I don't really know. So my questions are:

  1. How do I determine exactly what happened and fix it?
  2. How do I protect the outlet so it's safe and this doesn't happen again?


  • 2
    This pic definitely needs to be submitted to one of those "home repair disaster" web sites :-) . I'm surprised it went this long without blowing! Mar 31 '16 at 12:31

Sounds like your assumption that water penetrating the box is correct no need to figure out any more than that. These boxes are not made for direct burial. (Pretty amusing actually. I will be using your picture as a teaching tool.)

The conduit and wiring the box is attached to needs to be extended upward I would say a minimum of 12" above grade. It also needs to be attached to something to support it. It cannot "free-float". Perhaps you could attach it to that pressure treated post in the corner of your picture.

Extending the conduit, if it is PVC, is just a matter of gluing more conduit on to the existing. However, extending the wiring will involve pulling new wire from the last existing junction box or the panel. Wire cannot be spliced inside the conduit.

If these lights are temporary, such as holiday lighting, they can be cord connected. The receptacle needs to be GFCI protected either by a GFCI breaker or receptacle. Also, the receptacle needs to be weather resistant and tamper resistant. Finally the cover needs to be an "extra duty, in-use" cover to protect the connections while the cords are plugged in.

If these lights are permanent, (and it sounds like they are: landscape lighting and accent lighting) then a permanent wiring method should be used instead of cords. So, you could still extend the receptacle for a convenience receptacle, but you should hard-wire all the outdoor lighting.


  • Depending on your personal level of comfort with electrical work, you might be better off just hiring a licenced electrician. Most home insurance policies won't cover homeowner work if something goes wrong. Mar 31 '16 at 12:32
  • Thanks. This will be a bigger job, as I've actually found 2 other outlets along the perimeter that are similarly buried. Is there any danger in leaving them there until I'm ready to take this on? Any fire hazard or something else?
    – Cameron
    Mar 31 '16 at 15:28
  • 1
    @Cameron without knowing everything that is out there I don't think anyone can tell you for 100% certain that it is safe. That being said, if the house hasn't burned down by now then it appears the GFCI breaker is doing what it is supposed to and you should be OK. Mar 31 '16 at 16:06
  • I haven't fixed this yet but I did find the GFCI switch for the outlet, which got it operational again. Can someone tell me how bad an idea it would be to just dig out the area surrounding the outlet and encase it in a valve box? I'm sure that's technically wrong but wouldn't it be much better than what I've got today? Would it keep out enough moisture to safely and reliably operate?
    – Cameron
    Jun 23 '16 at 20:22

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