Common Questions About GFCI Code Requirements

Common Questions About GFCI Code Requirements

Anthony Barnes

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A lot of people have been talking about GFCI’s and how important they are as a safety feature in your home. GFCI stands for ground-fault circuit interrupter.

They are designed to quickly turn off the electric power if there is a ground fault and they can act as fast as 1/40 of a second.

GFCI’s are easily identifiable- they are attached to a socket in the wall, they have a label that says ‘GFCI’, and they have a test button and a reset button.  

Despite their importance, a lot of homeowners still don’t have a GFCI or don’t know what it does. 

If you want to know more about GFCIs, what they do, and why they are important then keep reading. We have put together this helpful guide to tell you everything that you need to know. 

What Are GFCIs, And What Is Their Purpose?

Ground fault circuit interrupters, or GFCIs, are an important safety device. They monitor the flow of electricity around the home at all times to check for ground faults.

If the flow of electricity is lower coming out of the device than it was going in, this is an indication of a ground fault. 

In the event of a ground fault, the GFCI will trip to turn off the electricity. This helps to prevent serious issues and will keep the property safe, as well as the people inside it. It does this incredibly fast. 

What Is A Ground Fault?

A ground fault occurs when electricity is escaping from the insulated wires that it is supposed to be traveling along. This could be because the wires have been damaged, frayed or cut.

If the electricity is no longer being contained by the insulated wires then there is a serious risk of electric shock or electrical fire.

Electric shocks can cause serious injury and excruciating pain. They can even be fatal.

You might be surprised at how many electrical shock accidents happen every year in the USA – over 30,000. And this includes at least 2000 children being hospitalized due to injuries caused by an electric shock.  

Are GFCIs A Legal Requirement?

GFCIs were initially used in 1971, predominantly for outside areas and swimming pools.

Over time, The National Electric Code (NEC) has expanded to increase the requirements for using GFCIs as they are so important for electrical safety. 

According to The NEC, wet areas should be protected by a GFCI. This includes bathrooms, laundry rooms, kitchens, and any rooms with a sink, garages, outbuildings, swimming pools, spas, hot tubs and jet tubs, crawlspaces and basement areas.

These areas can cause serious danger if there are loose sparks of electricity, as water conducts electricity.

If you are standing on a wet patch or in a damp area and it comes into contact with electricity, you could be electrocuted even if you are nowhere near the spark. 

Under the current NEC regulations, the GFCI should be in an accessible place.

This means that you should not have to move any appliances or large items out of the way in order to get to the GFCI. It should be easy to reach without needing to use a ladder.

This is because you need to be able to press the reset button if you need to.

Some homes have the GFCI behind an appliance like the washing machine, but the reset button for the GFCI is in the electrical panel box on the circuit breaker so it is still easily accessed. 

Why Is The National Electric Code So Important?

The National Electric Code is a set of requirements that sets the standard for electrical wiring and installation to ensure that it is safe. It is created and published by the National Fire Protection Association.

They also regularly review and revise the code to ensure that it is relevant and in line with modern construction techniques and developments in technology.

The National Electric Code is part of the National Fire Code, which is designed to prevent fires and save lives. 

The National Electric Code is used across the United States. Electrical work usually requires permits, and the permit will not be issued if the proposed work does not comply with the National Electric Code.

This means that any construction work that includes an element of electrical work must also comply with the National Electrical Code. 

If your property does not comply with the National Electrical Code then it could cause issues when you try to insure it.

A lot of home insurance policies will require that your home is compliant with the National Electrical Code before they will provide you with cover.

If a fire or an injury occurs as a result of electrical wiring that did not comply then you might not be covered for the damage or injury. 

It can also cause complications when you come to sell the property. Your house may be less appealing to potential buyers as they will have to carry out the work to bring the electrics up to standard.

Their mortgage company might refuse their mortgage if the survey highlights electrical issues and shows that the house does not comply with the most recent requirements of the National Electric Code. 

If you own a property that you rent out rather than live in, you still have a duty to ensure that the property is compliant with the National Electrical Code.

As a landlord you need to be vigilant and carry out any rectification work as soon as possible to make the property safe for your tenants. 

Is It Easy To Install A GFCI Outlet?

Working with electrical wiring can be very dangerous. If you are not experienced in this kind of work then it is best to hire a professional to install the GFCI outlet for you. 

If you have previous experience working with electrical wiring then you might be able to do it yourself. It is not considered a difficult task for most electricians.

You will need a circuit tester so you can check if the receptacle is receiving the correct amount of power. You will also benefit from a GFCI tester so that once the GFCI is installed you can check if it is working properly. 

You will need to start by choosing the receptacle that you are going to be working on. Then you need to find the circuit breaker that is supplying the flow of electricity to this receptacle.

It is very important that this circuit breaker is switched off before you attempt to open the receptacle or do any work on it.

Failing to switch off the circuit breaker could result in electrocution which can cause serious injury or death.

You can check if the receptacle is safe to work on by using the circuit tester to check for an electrical current. 

If your property is quite old then you might have an issue with the size of the receptacle box.

The older ones tend to be quite small, which means the GFCI outlet won’t fit. You might need to make the space deeper, which can make it much more complicated to install the GFCI. 

When you are installing the GFCI, you need to make sure that all the wiring is correct. If the wires are mismatched in any way this can cause reversed polarity which is a serious safety risk.

The wires also need to be secured in place with the screws that are on the receptacle. If the wire connections are loose this could cause an electrical fire. 

Can You Install A GFCI When There Is No Ground Wire?

Some older properties might have electrical receptacles without a ground wire.

These receptacles can be upgraded using a GFCI receptacle or by using a GFCI breaker on the circuit. You will need to label the receptacle to show that it is not grounded for future reference. 

But will the GFCI still work if there is no ground wire? The GFCI will monitor the flow of electricity through the hot wire and the neutral wire, so it will still work as it is meant to. 

How Can You Check If A GFCI Is Already Installed?

If you are new to a property it might not be clear whether a GFCI has already been installed. As long as the receptacle has been wired ‘downstream’ of a GFCI in that particular electrical circuit, then it will benefit from the protection of that GFCI. 

Common Questions About GFCI Code Requirements

To check if this is the case, find a GFCI outlet and press the ‘test’ button. This will trip the circuit.

You can then use a circuit tester pen to check the electrical current running to various receptacles to see which ones are benefiting from the protection of that particular GFCI. 

What Is A Tamper Resistant Receptacle?

Tamper resistant receptacles, also called TRR, have an extra safety feature on them which helps to prevent electric shocks in the event that the receptacle is tampered with.

If an object is placed into just one of the slots rather than all of them, then the shutters inside the plug socket will not open.

This is particularly useful if you have small children who are curious and try to shove items into plug sockets! 

Tamper resistant receptacles are much safer than the receptacle caps that you can buy that are usually made from plastic.

The caps are designed to block the plug socket, but a lot of children can easily remove the cap. 

If you want to make sure that the GFCI outlets you are installing in your home are tamper resistant, make sure that you check the packaging as it should specify whether, or not, it is tamper resistant. As of 2008, tamper resistant receptacles should be used in all residential homes. 

What Does The NEC Class As An Outlet?

Before we delve into any further questions about GFCIs, it is important that you understand the term ‘outlet’ as set out by the NEC. This term comes up a lot in the most commonly asked questions about GFCIs. 

Article 100 of the NEC defines an outlet as:

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

Do You Need A GFCI Outlet For A Refrigerator?

Since the NEC was revised in 2008 all commercial kitchen refrigerators have required GFCI protection.

In a residential property, you don’t need GFCI protection for your refrigerator unless it is within 6 feet of your kitchen sink. As stated in The NEC:

Refrigerator receptacles do not require GFCI protection unless they are installed within 6 feet of the edge of the sink.

If you do need a GFCI for your refrigerator then the reset will likely be in the electrical panel box. 

Do You Need A GFCI Outlet For A Dishwasher?

According to 210.8(D) of the NEC regulations regarding kitchen dishwashers:

GFCI protection shall be provided for outlets that supply dishwashers installed in dwelling unit locations. 

This is because if the dishwasher malfunctions there is a risk of latent electric shock.

This applies to dishwashers that are hardwired and those that use a plug. In more modern homes, the GFCI reset for the dishwasher is often found inside the panel box. 

Do You Need A GFCI In The Bathroom? 

Since 1975, it has been an NEC requirement to have GFCI protection in your bathroom for all receptacles that are 15 or 20 amps with 125 volts.

This is because there is a high level of moisture and humidity in the bathroom, so if a ground fault occurs then there is a massive risk of electrocution.

It is particularly important if the electrical receptacle is within 6 feet of the bathtub or shower. 

Do You Need A GFCI Outlet In The Laundry Room?

The previous NEC guidelines were focused more around the positioning of appliances in relation to sinks. 

As of 2005, any laundry room where the washing machine was within 6 feet of a sink would need a GFCI outlet.

These requirements were revised in 2014 to advise that all laundry rooms need a GFCI outlet to protect against malfunction of the washing machine, dryers or any other appliances in the room. 

Do You Need A GFCI Outlet In The Bedroom?

You are not required to have a GFCI outlet in bedrooms as they don’t tend to be wet or damp areas.

This means that they are more low risk. The only exception to this is if a master bedroom or suite has a vanity unit with a sink. 

Any electrical receptacles within 6 feet of the sink would need GFCI protection as per the NEC requirements. However, this is not a common feature, so most bedrooms will not have GFCI outlets. 

Do You Need A GFCI Outlet In The Basement?

Whether, or not you need a GFCI outlet in the basement depends on the basement itself. If the basement is ‘unfinished’ then it will need a GFCI outlet.

For example, if you do have flooring laid down, or there is no plaster on the walls. This is because there are no moisture barriers, so it will likely be a damp area. 

Some people choose to leave their basements unfinished as they don’t use them. If you do finish your basement space then it doesn’t need a GFCI outlet.

However, if your finished basement includes a kitchen area, a bathroom, or toilet, or any kind of wet room then this changes. Any kind of wet area will always require a GFCI outlet. 

Do You Need A GFCI Outlet In The Attic?

There are currently no NEC requirements for attics to have a GFCI outlet. This is because they tend to be dryer than other parts of the house – warm air rises which means the attic is usually the warmest part of the house.

This helps to keep it dry and prevent issues of damp arising. However, if there has been a roof leak then there could be moisture in the attic.

Most attics do not have a lot of electrical appliances present, but it is something to look out for. You should always check the requirements in your local area as some state regulations vary. 

Do You Need GFCI Outlets In Crawl Spaces?

Crawl spaces are a big risk in terms of electrocution in the event of a ground break.

They are very prone to damp, and even to flooding, so there is likely to be a lot of moisture in a crawl space. This means that a GFCI outlet is required. 

A lot of people use dehumidifiers or vent fans in their crawl space, so it is important that the electrical receptacles are properly protected.

The outlets are not easy to access in a crawl space so the GFCI reset will need to be located in the electrical panel. 

Do You Need GFCI Outlets Outdoors?

A lot of outdoor spaces like yards, balconies, and decking areas have electrical receptacles.

These areas are also difficult to keep dry when it is raining. This means that in the event of a ground fault there is a serious risk of electrocution as the surface water will conduct the electricity. 

For this reason, any electrical receptacles in these areas must be 6 and a half feet above the ground. They must also have GFCI protection which has been the case since 1975. This also includes outdoor pool areas. 

Do You Need a GFCI Outlet In A Garage?

Garages often have issues with damp and mold, especially as they do not usually benefit from the central heating or air conditioning that operates throughout the rest of the house.

This means that they are a high risk area for electrocution. 

For this reason, the NEC has required that electrical receptacles in garages have GFCI protection. This requirement has been in place since 1978.

The only exception to this is if the electrical receptacle for a power operated/automatic garage door is located on the ceiling, as there is little risk of surface water there. 

Do You Need A GFCI Outlet For a Jet Tub?

Jet tubs and other related items like jacuzzis, hot tubs, whirlpool tubs ad hydro massage tubs, pose a big risk. They hold a large amount of water and are supplied with electricity.

For this reason, they must have a GFCI outlet. This requirement has been in place since 1987, which is in line when these items became more popular, more accessible and more affordable.

The motor of a jet tub is not always easy to access. If this is the case then the GFCI reset will be located in the electrical panel box. 

It is also a requirement that any electrical receptacle within 6 feet of a jet tub also have a GFCI outlet. 

Summary 

GFCI outlets are an extremely important safety feature which can help to prevent electrical fires and electrocution. This means that they prevent serious injuries and save lives.

They do this by tripping the circuit in the event of a ground fault. GFCIs are not just a useful thing to have in your home, they are a legal requirement as per The National Electrical Code. 

The NEC sets out certain specifications for which rooms require GFCI protection.

The focus is on wet areas, as they pose the greatest threat. Water conducts electricity, so any electric sparks in these rooms will have a more devastating effect and are more likely to cause harm.

These areas include kitchens, bathrooms, basements, and outdoor spaces. 

Installing GFCIs is not a challenging task in general, though it can be significantly more complicated in older properties.

It is not recommended that you attempt to install a GFCI yourself unless you have previous experience working with electrical wires. 

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By Anthony Barnes

Anthony Barnes is the founder of Water Heater Hub and a second-generation plumber by profession. Before developing Water Heater Hub, Anthony Barnes was a full-time plumber, and he has undertaken a wide variety of projects over the decades. As a second-generation plumber, it was easy for Anthony to get used to the technicalities of all from a tender age