Should I Install a GFCI Receptacle or a GFCI Breaker?

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The question is often asked, whether it is better to install a GFCI receptacle or a GFCI breaker. While both are ways to add ground fault protection to the circuit being served, there may be some requirements that must be met and to which an electrical inspector may voice his or her opinion on the matter. There are many factors that may weigh into this decision, so let's take a few minutes to examine the possibilities of each.

There has long been discussion, for lack of a better word, about whether the National Electrical Code says that you need to install GFCI outlets or just have GFCI-protected circuits. I and some electrical inspectors have discussed this in detail in some cases. One even told me that his interpretation of the rule is that you cannot feed off the load side of the GFCI and count that regular outlet as a GFCI-protected outlet. 

As you can see, the interpretation of the NEC by the electrical inspector can be the final decision You can challenge his or her ruling by asking them to show you where it says that in the code book.I will just say this though: remember that the electrical inspector has to green light your home so tread lightly.With certain changes in the electrical code, it may be better to follow the guidance of the inspector and get your home up to code without making waves. Checking with the inspector in advance as to his or her recommendations for needed updates can save you agony when the inspector comes calling.

GFCI receptacles are a great choice in areas like bathrooms, kitchens, exterior receptacles, and those around water. However, that can also be said for GFCI breakers for these areas. The thing to consider is what may be connected to the GFCI protected circuit if connected to the breaker. If the circuit is only for protecting the receptacles in that area, then maybe a breaker is the better choice.

The GFCI breaker could be protecting many outlets, which would then be a cost saver. However, if there is going to be receptacles that don't need to be protected on that circuit, maybe a GFCI receptacle is the better choice.

Now, let's consider the location of the outlets and how accessible they are. Let's take a basement, where the electrical panel just happens to be located. If the GFCI circuit breaker trips, you can easily walk over to the panel and reset it. However, if the protected outlet is on the upper floor of the house or outside, the inconvenience may not be worth it. In that case, I'd choose a GFCI receptacle.

GFCI receptacles have a test and rest button right on the face of the receptacle and these are easily accessible. Because of these buttons, their physical size is much larger than that of a standard receptacle. This issue comes into play when you are dealing with physical room within a junction box. With a standard sized box and the wiring within, the space is cramped or nonexistent. Larger boxes may be required with this installation, so a GFCI breaker may be the choice here.

As you can see, there are many factors to consider before making the decision of which is best for you and your situation.

There is no right or wrong answer here, only the one that makes the most sense and works in the location needed.