All electrical installations must be earthed to make them safe, and as water and electricity don’t mix this is especially the case with outdoor wall lights.
Outdoor wall lights in both old and new houses do have to be earthed. Although the process of doing this is relatively simple, if you have zero electrical experience or don’t feel confident about it, then we always recommend hiring a professional electrical contractor to carry out the work.
Disclaimer: Although in this article we give information on grounding outdoor wall lights, if you do not have electrical experience then we always advise hiring a professional. Do not undertake electrical work if you don’t know what you’re doing.
Do Metal Outdoor Wall Lights Need Grounding?
Definitely – yes! In fact, master electricians recommend that every single light fixture inside or outside should have a ground.
We’ve all had small shocks in the house. And while startling, they weren’t like in the cartoons – our arms, legs and hair didn’t stick out and our bones didn’t glow (like, at all).
But we were lucky with just small shocks. Electricity can be dangerous. Electrical shocks sneak up on you when you are careless. Maybe you’re tired and the breaker box is just too far away. Or maybe you go outside to the breaker box and come back in with wet shoes.
A human body is made mostly of water – 60% – and water is a super good conductor. Your body can easily complete an electrical circuit. And if you become part of an electrical circuit, IT CAN KILL YOU.
The good news is that, ever since Carl August Steinheil discovered grounding in 1837, there is a safe, cheap, and easy way to avoid electrocution.
An earth, or ground, is a material that can infinitely absorb an electrical charge. Grounding (or earthing) is the process of transferring excess electricity to an earthing material via low resistance wires.
The idea is to let excess electricity (like a surge) travel easily over highly conductive wires to something that simply absorbs it. Our planet is one of the best absorbers, which is why it’s used so often as a ground.
Routinely grounding wiring in your house can make the electrical circuits in your house more efficient and stable. But the most important reason to routinely ground electrical currents is that it protects you, your family, friends, appliances, giant expensive TV’s, computers, and all your devices from electrical surges.
Electrical surges happen. Your power may go out due to weather. Then, when the power company turns it back on, it can surge through your house.
Routinely grounding light fixtures is easy and it’s a good habit. In addition to grounding outdoor lights, consider waterproofing them.
Does Plastic Outdoor Lighting Need Earthing?
Experts say that, for metal fixtures in metal fittings, you need a ground. For fixtures with some plastic and some metal, you need a ground. But for 100% plastic fittings, an earth is not required.
If you have a new light fixture, read the instructions. Fixtures that need grounding are plainly marked.
For some plastic fixtures, the instructions will tell you they are not required to be earthed. Some are 100% plastic, and some have double insulation. If the fixture did not come with a means to earth it (wires, green screws), then you should be fine.
Be sure to protect the ground wire coming from the house with a cap or electrical tape. Wind it into a tidy spool and carefully push it into the box.
How Do I Know if My Outdoor Light Fixture is Already Grounded?
In old houses, there may not be a ground wire included in the house’s wiring. If you want to install a new fixture, there will only be two wires coming from the house wiring to use.
The old house is most likely grounded. But if you want to test it, the best way to tell if your outdoor light fixture is already grounded is with a voltage tester and a circuit tester.
To do this, you will have to have access to the wires and the light will have to be ON. Unscrew the fixture to expose the wires. Have a helper hold the fixture up. Find the black (hot) wire using the non-contact voltage tester. Do not attempt this is you have zero experience though – in this context it’s always better to hire a professional electrical contractor.
Then, using a circuit tester, touch one end to the black wire and the other to the box. If the box is grounded, the circuit will be closed and the light on the circuit tester will light up.
If you have a new house, the house wiring will have three wires: black, white, and ground. To check if an outdoor light fixture is grounded, simply unscrew the fixture from the mounting bracket and take a look.
For new fixtures in new houses, there will be a bare copper or green wire coming from the light fixture and attaching to a bright green screw on the mounting plate.
What Happens if An Outdoor Wall Light is Not Grounded?
If an outdoor wall light is not grounded, it will still work. If its 100% plastic, then it will be fine. But the outdoors is a wet place. If someone were to touch a metal fixture that was not grounded while standing in a puddle, they’d get a shock. Sure, might not happen, but what if it did?
Even if you don’t have guests standing in the rain touching your metal light fixture, if a power surge comes, you have a problem. If a power surge comes, everything in the outdoor wall light’s circuit can be blown.
New houses have strict safety codes. All house wiring for light fixtures will have a ground. The house wiring fits through the junction box and will have three wires: black, white and green (or bare copper). It’s the same with modern light fixtures – three wires.
If you have an older house, you might discover that the house wiring has no ground wire. You’ll know when you uninstall an old light fixture. The old house wiring will have only two wires: black and white. No green or bare copper wire for the ground.
If you have a modern light fixture to install in your old house, it will have a bare copper or green wire to connect, but the house wiring won’t. Experts say to cap the ground wire coming from the fixture, then coil it up and stow it inside the fixture. Don’t cut the wire. You can also put a grounding screw onto the box yourself, here’s how.
Chances are you’ll be OK with this solution; the old house is likely grounded somewhere. But to be safe, have an electrician install a GFCI device along the circuit. A GFCI (ground-fault circuit interrupter) device will act as the safety net. It will trip in the event of a power surge.
How Do You Ground An Outdoor Light Fixture? (Simple Steps)
Here are the steps to ground a brand-new fixture, installed in a modern house. Here’s a great video to show the process. Again – if you are in any way unsure about this process or have zero electrical experience – then DO NOT attempt this. Hiring a professional electrician is the safer course of action in this context.
- First, read through the instructions on the new fixture.
- Take a look at the fixture. It should have three wires sticking out: black, white and green (or bare copper).
- Go to the circuit breaker panel, find the breaker you need and turn it off.
- Double check that you have no electricity flowing by using a non-contact, handheld voltmeter.
- When you are sure that there’s no current flowing, ask a helper person to hold up the new light fixture so you have two hands. Sometimes duct tape works as well or propping the fixture on a ladder.
- Look at the wires coming out from the house. There should be three wires, black, white, and green or bare copper.
- Match up the ground wires – green to green or copper to copper.
- Twist the two copper wires together at the end.
- Then screw a green (green=ground) cap over the two bare copper wires.
- Check that the two wires have good contact and that the cap won’t come off.
Summary: Should I Ground My Outdoor Lights Myself or Hire An Electrician?
Although we are die-hard DIYers at Take a Yard – we do have limits.
So if you haven’t ever done any electrical work before – or don’t feel confident you know what you’re doing – then we always recommend hiring a licensed electrician to do all of the work mentioned above. It’s much safer and is a worthwhile investment.
Homeowner and property investor Larry Jones founded Take a Yard in 2020 to bring you the very best outdoor living content, based on his years of experience managing outside spaces. Read more >