GFCI (ground fault circuit interrupter) protection is a modern safety feature designed to help prevent shock hazards and electrocution. GFCI breakers and receptacles (outlets) de-energize a circuit or a portion of a circuit when a hazardous condition exists. GFCI protection is inexpensive and can provide a substantially increased margin of safety.
Where to Install
GFCI protection was first required for outlets near swimming pools and on the exterior in 1971. Over the years, the requirements have expanded to include more locations. As of January 1, 2020, the California Electrical Code requires GFCI protection (for residential dwellings) for 120 volt outlets in the following locations:
2) Garages and accessory buildings that have a floor at or below grade level not intended as habitable space
3) Outdoors (except non-readily accessible outlets for de-icing tapes)
4) Crawl spaces at or below grade level
5) Unfinished basements (except permanently installed fire or burglar alarm systems)
6) Kitchen countertops
7) Sinks – within 6 feet from the top inside edge of the sink bowl
9) Bathtubs or shower stalls – within 6 feet of the outside edge
10) Laundry areas
12) Crawl space lighting
Breakers vs. Outlets
It doesn’t matter if the GFCI protection is provided by a breaker or an outlet, as they both will provide the same protection. It is important to note that sometimes a GFCI outlet may be providing GFCI protection for the downstream outlets. This is common at kitchen counters, as many outlets are needed in this location, and it’s an easy way for builders to save a bit of money.
This is not well known, but GFCI protection should be tested monthly. If you squint at the breaker or outlet, you will see the “fine print” with this recommendation. Over time, the GFCI tripping mechanism can get corroded or stuck – in which case it won’t trip or provide shock protection. Probably time to go to test your GFCI protection!