Are you worried about safety in your bathroom?
Wet and damp surfaces in the bathroom pose significant risks, particularly shock, electrocution, and property damage.
Thanks to the development of ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) outlets, the risk of these incidents is significantly reduced.
What is a GFCI Outlet and why should you install it in your bathroom?
A GFCI outlet is a device installed in an electric outlet with the aim of monitoring the amount of power that flows through the outlet.
A GFCI outlet protects standard 15 and 20-amp electrical outlets and comes with a neutral wire that connects to a bus in the panel.
The primary purpose of the GFCI outlet is to prevent electrical injury to humans.
A ground fault can damage devices in your bathroom such as fans and lights, and it can even kill you. This is because moisture can cause a ground fault, making the installation of GFCI outlets in your bathroom of primary importance.
GFCI outlets come fitted with a sensor that monitors the electrical current flow through the wires, and when it senses a ground fault or power imbalance, its internal switch automatically shuts off the flow of electric current within 1/40th of a second.
The outlet will typically have two push buttons on the face. The top one is the test button. When the breaker trips, it will reset the GFCI.
The bottom push button is the reset button. If the GFCI breaks, it will pop out.
Pressing the reset button twice in a row should reset the GFCI while pressing the stop pushbutton will stop the electrical flow. When you turn on the switch, the GFCI will automatically close.
While GFCI outlets aren’t required for old homes, the law now requires their installation in new home construction. Thankfully, GFCI outlets are made to last up to 15 years. But like anything around your house, GFCI can also fail before this time.
Some GFCI outlets come with the label s “GFCI Protected” on both the faceplate and the electrical box itself, so they should be easy to spot.
What are the types of GFCI outlet protection?
There are two types of GFCI outlet protection: receptacle-level protection and circuit-breaker-level protection.
For receptacle-level protection, a GFCI outlet is installed on an individual branch circuit. This means you can use this type of protection with many loads, including air conditioners, clothes dryers, and shavers.
On the other hand, a dedicated circuit breaker is one that protects a specific appliance or set of appliances by providing circuit-breaker level protection.
This type of protection can protect sensitive electronic equipment such as heaters and pool equipment.
Our Top Picks for the Best GFCI Outlets for Bathrooms
- Best GFCI Outlet: Leviton GFSW1-W Self-Test SmartlockPro.
Fitted with a status indicator light and internal self-check mechanism, this tamper-proof GFCI outlet will keep all your bathroom fittings and gadgets protected.
- Best GFCI Outlet for the money: ANKO GFCI Outlet 20 Amp
Don’t let the minimal price fool you, this inexpensive GFCI outlet is made with advanced engineering technology to provide tamper-proof and weather resistant protection.
- Best Overall Pick: Leviton GFNL1-W Self-Test SmartlockPro.
This GFCI outlet is not only tamper-proof but is also fitted with a backlight, making it easier to detect when the unit fails.
Rules for installing GFCI outlets in your bathroom
Many homeowners do not know that code requires them to go beyond simply installing these outlets in their home or business — there are very specific rules around them, which impact how they’re wired up and put into use.
One of the key factors to understand about GFCI outlets is that they require a dedicated circuit to work properly. So, when a new outbuilding or room gets added to a home, it must have its dedicated circuit.
Where existing wiring can’t be re-routed to accommodate a new circuit, the easiest fix is to add a GFCI outlet into that room or space. This ensures that you still have protection from electrocution and shock, even if your power source fails.
Now let’s talk about these rules.
When to install a GFCI outlet
The National Electrical Code (NEC) requires the installation of GFCI outlets in new home and business constructions where the electrical outlet is close to a water source and on all exterior and bathroom receptacles.
NEC also requires the installation of GFCI outlets in outlets serving kitchen countertops, laundry rooms, and utility rooms.
A licensed electrician should install the GFCI breaker for you in your new home.
The national electric code further states that a bathroom requires one GFCI-protected outlet. The recommendation requires that each bathroom has two of three protected outlets.
There are several location stipulations for GFCI outlets.
Where to install a GFCI outlet
Firstly, in older homes/buildings with no code guidelines governing their placement within a ceiling void, they’re permitted anywhere within six feet of either side of a sink’s exterior.
Secondly, the NEC stipulates that they must be installed within reach of the user.
This means they cannot be over 3 feet 6 inches above the floor in bathrooms and other wet areas and must be within 18 inches of protected equipment.
Thirdly, the code requires GFCI outlets in garages, crawlspaces, unfinished basements, and outdoors (weatherproof enclosures are recommended).
What is the GFCI amperage for bathrooms?
A 15-amp circuit is a minimum, but you could push it to a 20-amp circuit, especially if a heat lamp is integrated. This circuit may even power the vent fan.
You’ll require a separate course for a whirlpool tub or any other prominent fixture or appliance in the bathroom.
Similarly, you may be wondering does a bathroom GFCI need to be on a dedicated circuit?
The fundamental rule of Section 210-11(c)(3) of the NEC requires a 20A circuit dedicated to bathroom receptacle outlets. Notably, it does not require a separate circuit for each bathroom.
One course may supply multiple bathrooms as long as they target only bathroom receptacles.
So, what kind of GFCI do you need for your bathroom?
A 20A GFCI outlet is recommended for the bathroom because of the potential wattage used by hairdryers and other small electrical appliances that use a lot of watts.
There are no restrictions on how many GFCIs they can install in your home — most homes have several outlets protected with the technology from the bathroom power receptacles to the outdoor receptacles.
Just be sure that it is installed correctly.
Can you install a GFCI outlet yourself?
As with all electrical devices, you should never attempt to install a GFCI outlet yourself — contact an electrician for repair or replacement work if it malfunctions.
However, if you consider yourself savvy with electrical gadgets, you can easily replace a faulty GFCI outlet in your bathroom.
You’ll only need a flat head screwdriver, a new GFCI outlet, and an outlet plate.
Start by switching off the power in the household mains.
Then simply unscrew the outlet plate and electrical outlet and follow the simple user’s guide to installing the GFCI outlet. Remember to tighten all connections.
However, in most cases, simply plugging something into the faulty receptacle will reset the device, so troubleshooting it yourself may not be necessary.
Can you place a GFCI outlet on a regular outlet?
You can replace almost any electrical outlet with a GFCI outlet. A correctly wired GFCI will also protect other outlets on the same circuit.
They can wear out with time so that you can switch back to a standard grounded outlet, and wiring should be the same.
It’s important to remember that the NEC does not require the installation of GFCI outlets in bathtubs and showers.
But if you have an exhaust fan above the sink, you will need a GFCI outlet over its footprint.
They should separate the bathroom fans in your bathroom from the shower so that they do not cause the problem.
If you don’t want to buy a new GFCI outlet, check the NEC requirements for your home.
The GFCI test button is effortless to install. Fix the GFCI outlet on the outlet in your bathroom so you won’t have to replace all of your light fixtures if they fail the test.
You could also go the extra mile by ensuring all the switches are GFCI compliant for extra protection.
How to maintain a GFCI outlet
Perform regular checks on your bathroom’s GFCI. At least once a month should be sufficient.
To check for signs of malfunctioning press the “test” button.
The button should pop out when you press “test”. If it doesn’t pop out, you could have a malfunctioning unit, or power may not be passing through the GFCI.
Additionally, a functional GFCI outlet should easily reset when you push the “reset” button.
However, you should note that a faulty GFCI will trip each time you press the “reset” button. In most cases, this could mean there’s a dangerous current leak within the circuit.
If you notice any of these, you should consult a qualified electrician for guidance.