Electricity in the garden

Electricity is often used to power lawn mowers and hedge trimmers, along with providing power for outdoor lights, pond pumps, heated propagators and greenhouse heaters. This source of power is obviously useful for gardeners; but care must be taken to avoid shocks, fire and electrocution.

Electric propagator. Credit: RHS/John Trenholm.

Quick facts

Keep safe in the garden
Use an RCD device with any plug-in devices
Don't use electrical equipment in rain
Keep cables behind you when using hedge trimmers or mowers
Always use a qualified electrician when installing new sockets

Suitable for...

Electricity is used as a power source for a lot of gardening equipment. Outdoor lighting systems and automatic irrigation may require electricity, along with electric mowers, hedge trimmers, strimmers, shredders and other power equipment used for garden maintenance. Pond pumps, heated propagators and some greenhouse heaters also need to be plugged into an electric socket.

There are restrictions on the installation of electrical equipment (see providing sockets and wiring in appliances below), and safety checks should be carried out regularly, plus all equipment should be used with care to avoid accidents.

Safety for plug-in devices

Many electric hedge trimmers, mowers, strimmers and propagators, simply plug in. However, it is worth taking some extra precautions. Mains equipment, including transformers used with low-voltage appliances, should be used with a RCD (residual current device) which detects some electrical faults and disconnects the supply before harm results. Ideally, add an RCD to the main switchboard (often refered to as the fuse box) or to the actual socket used for garden purposes to ensure protection. Failing this, use a plug-in RCD. Be sure to use the test button on the RCD to make sure it works and investigate for faults if it trips. Replace ones that trip often for no apparent reason.

Other things to be aware of include:

  • Even with well-installed systems, it is sensible not to wash electrical equipment with water, use them in the rain or drag cables over wet hedges or grass
  • In the greenhouse, avoid wetting heaters as this could lead to shocks
  • Remember that cables fray and plugs become loose, so checking is important
  • Avoid cutting cables when mowing or hedge trimming by keeping cables behind you and cutting away from the cable
  • Unplug equipment before making adjustments, clearing blockages or untangling flex
  • Wearing rubber footwear will reduce electrocution risk, although steel-toecap-boots are advisable when mowing or strimming 
  • Where mains-voltage equipment is used, avoid running very long extensions from the house as this can cause overloading and potentially lead to fires

Providing sockets and wiring in appliances

In the past it was possible for those with DIY skills to install their own sockets and electrical systems but, since 1 January 2005, Building Regulations Part P requires that, in England and Wales, only qualified electricians carry out new electrical installation work, or that work is certified by a professional when completed (special waterproof fittings must be used, even in greenhouses and sheds, as the inside of these structures can get damp). However, it is legal for those who are competent to identically replace damaged sockets, switches and light fittings, or the cable for a single circuit if it is damaged.

Although you cannot wire in electical installations yourself, special kits that just plug into an indoor socket can be used.  Plugged into an indoor socket, such kits contain a length of armoured cable (which is less likely to be damaged if accidentally struck with digging tools) with a waterproof socket and switch, already attached, at the other end. This can be attached to a convenient place outdoors. Ideally, bury cables 60cm (2ft) beneath the ground and place warning tape 15cm (6in) above any buried cables.

Problems

Problems should be avoided by following the advice above. However, if you have any queries, contact a qualified electrician. These can be found through the organisations listed below:

Links

Electrical Contractors Association
NICEIC - The electrical contracting industry’s independent voluntary body for electrical installation matters throughout the UK

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