Common Questions About GFCI Code Requirements

Outlet Tester

By now, almost everyone has at least heard of ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) circuits. You can easily distinguish a GFCI outlet by the two buttons (a TEST and a RESET button) located on the outlet. There should also be a label reading GFCI on it as well.

GFCIs are essential safety features for many reasons. Surprisingly, many homeowners and potential home buyers still do not understand GFCIs and their purpose.

Many common questions about GFCI breakers and outlet requirements include what GFCIs are and where they’re needed.

I strongly encourage every future homeowner or homebuyer to explore these requirements.

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Are GFCI Outlets Required by Code?

The National Electrical Code (NEC) requires ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) protection in wet areas, including bathrooms, kitchens, laundry rooms, garages, crawl spaces, and exteriors, to name a few.

What’s the purpose of a GFCI?

Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI) is a safety device that continually monitors the flow of electricity for ground faults.

The GFCI monitors the flow of electricity that goes to the electrical device and compares it as it exits.

If the GFCI detects any loss of current, it will automatically trip. The reason behind this is that this loss of electrical current, more often than not, will signify that there may be a ground fault happening.

Is a Ground Fault Dangerous?

A ground fault is dangerous as this means that the electricity has escaped the insulated wires, which may have been damaged, frayed, or compromised. By escaping from the wires, the electricity becomes a shock hazard.

Electrical shocks can be fatal even if they last a few seconds.

What makes electrical shock dangerous and lethal is the amperage. Even low amperage levels can be hazardous, as 0.01 amps are enough to create an intense and excruciating shock. And anything starting from 0.1 to 0.2 amps can be lethal. (And most of our appliances today use a lot more than that.)

How Do GFCIs Protect Me?

A GFCI, when properly working, will protect us from the electrical shock by immediately tripping when a ground fault is detected.

It works incredibly fast. It can trip in just 1/13 of a second when the GFCI detects a change of 0.004 to 0.005 amps. You will still probably feel a slight electrical shock, but it will not be dangerous in any way.

And the number of electrical shock-related accidents can be genuinely scary (stats).

  • At least 30,000 electrical shock accidents happen every year.
  • More than 2000 children are hospitalized each year due to electrical shock injuries.

What are the National Electrical Code Requirements?

Thus, it may be no surprise that the NEC requires GFCI outlets in any area where water contact is possible.

GFCI receptacle outlets were first introduced and required in 1971.

In the beginning, you only needed them for the swimming pools and outside areas. But ever since then – and with every Code revision – these areas have been continuously expanding.

Where Are GFCI Outlets Required by the Code?

Because of the constant expansion of the requirements, you will find out that almost all receptacles are required to have ground fault protection.

According to the Code, all outlets rated at 15 and 20 amperages and 125V installed in the following areas need GFCI protection.

  • Garages and accessory buildings
  • Bathrooms, jet tubs, pools, and spas
  • All outdoor areas
  • Kitchens and other sinks
  • Laundry areas
  • Unfinished basements and crawl spaces
  • Any wet area

Additional Requirements and Information

Also, since the Code revision in 2020, some additional changes were done stating that the GFCI device needs to be in an easily accessible location.

So what does that mean?

Easily accessible means that you shouldn’t need to move appliances to access the GFCI. (Like climbing a ladder or moving a washing machine)

If you can walk up to the GFCI and press the “TEST” or “RESET” button, for example, then you are good to go.

If the GFCI outlet is inaccessible, the reset needs to be located at an accessible outlet in another room or inside the electrical panel box.

Due to some GFCI protected outlets are not easily accessible, such as behind the washing machine or inside a crawl space. The best location for the GFCI reset is inside the electrical panel box on the breaker.

Common Questions About GFCI Breaker and Outlet Requirements

Let’s look at some of the common questions about GFCI breakers and outlet code requirements in place today.

Are GFCI Outlets Required for Dishwashers?

The NEC in 2020 states that dishwashers in dwelling units require GFCI protection.

210.8(D) Kitchen Dishwasher Branch Circuit. GFCI protection shall be provided for outlets that supply dishwashers installed in dwelling unit locations.

NEC 2020

The NEC added this dishwasher requirement as a natural progression of expanding GFCI protection to protect against potential latent electrical shock hazards when a dishwasher malfunctions.

GFCI protection for dishwashers, including those that are hardwired. The term “outlet” refers to:

A point on the wiring system at which current is taken to supply utilization equipment”

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The GFCI reset for the dishwasher is generally located on the Dual-Function breaker inside the panel box. However, some older homes may only have a GFCI breaker or no GFCI protection at all.

Are GFCI Outlets Required for Refrigerators?

GFCI protection has been required for all commercial kitchens and refrigerators ever since the revision of the Code in 2008. However, GFCI protection for refrigerators is not necessary for residential homes unless it is within 6 feet of the edge of a sink.

All 120-volt, single-phase, 15- and 20-amp branch circuits in kitchens require AFCI protection. Therefore, refrigerators fall under this requirement. All appliances operating at 50 volts or higher are required to be listed, and any specific instructions within the manufacturer’s installation manual must be followed. In some cases, manufacturers require dedicated circuits for refrigerators within their installation manuals. Refrigerator receptacles do not require GFCI protection unless they are installed within 6 feet of the edge of a sink.

NEC, 2020

Refrigerator circuits requiring AFCI and GFCI protection use CAFCI breakers in today’s homes. These breakers have a reset button on the breaker itself inside your electrical panel box.

Are GFCI Outlets Required in Bathrooms?

All 15 and 20 amp 125V receptacles in the bathroom need to be GFCI protected.

Bathrooms are almost always one of the first rooms checked for proper GFCI protection. And this has been one of the first places required to have this kind of protection.

It has been in effect since 1975.

There are usually high amounts of water, moisture, and humidity. All this poses an increased chance for water source contact with electrical appliances, resulting in electrocution.

Bathroom receptacles serving jetted tub motors and any electrical receptacle within 6 feet of the edge of a bathtub or shower need GFCI protection.

Are GFCI Outlets Required in Bedrooms?

GFCI protection is not required in the bedrooms. Bedrooms only need AFCI protection.

Bedrooms are not high-risk areas for moisture. Some rare instances exist in master bedrooms where a vanity with a sink or wet bar. In this instance, any receptacle within 6 feet of the sink needs GFCI protection.

Are GFCI Outlets Required in the Garage?

GFCI outlets in garages have been required since the 1978 revision of the NEC.

Every 15 and 20 amp 125-volt receptacle found in the garage needs GFCI protection.

The exception would include ceiling receptacles for garage door openers.

Are GFCI Outlets Required Outdoors?

The NEC requires all outdoor receptacles to have GFCI protection. The NEC implemented that requirement with the 1975 revision.

This includes all receptacles on the outside walls, balconies, and attached decks.

The majority of these receptacles will most likely be subjected to the elements constantly throughout the year. So they need to have an appropriate water-resistance rating and weatherproof cover.

Additionally, receptacles must be easily accessible at a maximum height of 6 1/2 feet above the walking or ground surface.

It also includes outlet receptacles around pools and pool equipment.

Are GFCI Outlets Required in Laundry Rooms?

NEC now requires GFCI protection on all receptacles (15 and 20 amp at 125 volts) in the laundry areas.

The revision of the NEC done in 2005 requires that all receptacles within 6 feet of a sink or a wet bar need a working GFCI protection installed.

NEC added laundry areas as a whole in 2014. The electrical wiring serving the receptacles, including washing machines, GFCI protection is needed to protect against electrical shock.

As with refrigerators in kitchens, washing machines typically have a Dual-Function Breaker installed to offer GFCI and AFCI protection.

Are GFCI Breakers Required for Jet Tubs?

GFCI protection is needed for any outlet up to 30 amps and 125-volt within 6 feet of the jet tubs.

The NEC requires jet tubes, hot tubs, hydro-massage tubs, Jacuzzi tubs, and whirlpools to have proper GFCI protection. The requirement was introduced with the 1987 revision of the NEC.

Jet Tubs generally have a motor that is at least partially inaccessible. Therefore GFCI breakers are used and located inside the electrical panel box.

Are GFCI Circuits Required in Attics?

There is no requirement from the NEC to have GFCI receptacles in the attic.

Another important thing is to check the local regulations as local codes may have different requirements.

Are GFCI Circuits Required in Basements?

This answer depends on is the basement finished or unfinished. If the basement is unfinished space, yes, GFCI protection is required.

Finished basements do not require GFCI protection unless a wet area like a kitchen, bathroom, or laundry area exists.

Are GFCI Circuits Required in Crawl Spaces?

Yes, electrical outlets located inside crawl spaces are required to be GFCI protected. Electrical outlets inside crawl spaces power dehumidifiers, foundation vent fans, sump pumps, etc.

Since these outlets are not easily accessible, the circuit ideally has a GFCI breaker inside the electrical panel box.

Are GFCI Outlets Easy to Install?

Replacing a GFCI outlet is not too hard. However, when working with electricity, precaution is needed. Always double and even triple-check if necessary. It is always better to be safe than sorry.

Here are some basic principles and tips when installing a GFCI yourself.

A word of caution: If you’ve never done any electrical work before, hiring a professional electrician is recommended. DO NOT underestimate the danger of working with electrical wiring.

One of the first things you need to do is locate the circuit breaker supplying electrical current to the receptacle that you will replace.

Then it would be best if you switched it off. Make sure ALWAYS to have the breaker switched off before opening up the receptacle box or interfering with it in any way. You DO NOT want any electricity flowing while working with the wiring and the receptacle. Electricity is hazardous and can be fatal.

  • One of the first things you will need is a few tools like a circuit tester. A circuit tester is a device that can be plugged into the receptacle, thus checking if the receptacle is working correctly and whether or not it is delivering electrical current.
  • There are also GFCI circuit testers which can check if the GFCI is installed and working correctly.

Electrical testers can confirm if the electrical current is off and that working on the receptacle is safe.

One problem with older properties is the size of the electrical box.

Older receptacle boxes may be smaller, and the newer GFCIs may require more space. Some receptacle boxes may not be deep enough to accommodate the GFCI receptacle, complicating the installation process.

Another thing concerning the wiring is always to make sure you use the screws on the receptacle to tighten the wire in place. If you have loose wiring connections, this is a potential health and fire hazard.

Additionally, the GFCI needs to be wired correctly. Mismatched wires create a reversed polarity that is a safety hazard.

Can GFCIs Be Installed When There Is No Ground Wire?

Some older homes may not have a ground wire on their receptacles. You can upgrade ungrounded electrical receptacles to 3-prong with either a GFCI receptacle or a GFCI breaker on the circuit and label the receptacle as “No Equipment Ground.”

The GFCI will work as intended since it monitors the electrical current through the hot and neutral wires. The GFCI receptacle will trip the circuit in an open neutral outlet because the loose neutral wire connection stimulates a ground fault.

The Electrical Circuits

Depending on the electrical circuit, you can check if there is already a GFCI protection in place.

Sometimes receptacles may be wired downstream of an outlet that already has a GFCI protection installed, which would mean that this outlet provides GFCI protection to the rest of the receptacles down the circuit.

You can quickly test this by tripping the GFCI outlet. By pressing the “TEST” button and checking with a reliable pen-tester or another device to see if the rest of the receptacles down the circuit have running power to them.

Can I Install a GFCI Myself?

Although replacing an outlet is not considered a difficult task – electrical current is dangerous – it doesn’t take much voltage to kill a person.

If you have no prior experience working with electricity, we recommend hiring an electrician to replace an existing outlet with a GFCI outlet.

Are GFCI Outlets Tamper-Resistant?

Tamper-resistant outlets have proven their value, especially in preventing child-related electrical shocks.

So what are tamper-resistant receptacles?

Tamper-resistant receptacles (TRR) are receptacles that have added a safety feature to them. They provide extra protection against electrical shocks from tampering with the receptacles.

The built-in shutters inside the plug holes will not open if an object is placed into just one of the slots, which is especially good to provide proper child safety protection.

In comparison, the plastic receptacle caps are not safe and easily removed by children between 2 and 4.

There are tamper-resistant outlets with built-in GFCI protection (and AFCI protection, too). Look for the appropriate labeling on the outlets.

Are Tamper-Resistant Receptacles required by Code?

An NEC 2008 revision requires the TRR receptacles on all 15 and 20 amp 125-volt receptacles in all residential homes.

Hire an Electrician

Get FREE estimates from licensed electricians in your area today. Whether you need to replace an outlet, hang a ceiling fan, a new electrical panel, or repair wiring, We Can Help!

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Hubert Miles | Licensed Home Inspector, CMI, CPI

Hubert Miles is a licensed home inspector (RBI# 2556) with more than two decades of experience in inspection and construction. Since 2008, he has been serving South Carolina through his company, Patriot Home Inspections LLC. As a Certified Master Inspector, Hubert is dedicated to providing his expertise in home inspections, repairs, maintenance, and DIY projects.