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Home Inspection and Safety Blog

Evaluating a home, and special interest info for home owners

By Philippe Heller | Home Inspector in San Diego, CA

When and Where are GFCI Receptacles Required?

Saying that disagreements can arise over a home inspection is an under-statement. One item that can cause frustration is the Ground gfci_receptacle2Fault Circuit Interruptor, or GFCI. A GFCI is typically a receptacle with small buttons on it that usually say “Test” and “Reset”. It can also be built into a circuit breaker that is installed in an electric panel.

Home inspectors test the operation of GFCI’s as part of their evaluation. They may also recommend the installation of GFCI receptacles near plumbing fixtures. But they weren’t always required. So how can you resolve disagreements about the presence or absence of GFCI receptacles? Let’s first talk about safety, then the requirements.

What is a ground fault circuit interruptor (GFCI) anyway?

A “ground-fault” is an unintentional flow of electricity between a source of electrical current and a grounded surface. Without protection, electrical shock can occur if a person comes into contact with an energized part. For example, if a person is holding a damaged electrical cord from a hair dryer and touches a plumbing fixture, they could be electrocuted. They would certainly get a painful shock. 

A GFCI receptacle constantly monitors an electrical circuit. If it detects even a slight flow of electricity to a grounded item, it immediately shuts off the flow of electricity. This protects people from electrocution. It is particularly important to protect people where they could come in contact with exposed grounded items such as plumbing fixtures.

How is a GFCI different from a regular circuit breaker or fuse? 

Overloaded ReceptacleIf too much electricity flows through a wire, it will get hot. Sometimes it can get hot enough to start a fire inside the walls of a house. Traditional circuit breakers protect your house from fires by shutting off the flow of electricity to a wire when there is too much demand for electricity. This can happen when too may items are plugged into a circuit. That’s why a power strip can be dangerous if there are too many electric items plugged into it.  Circuit breakers do not protect people from electrocution. Their purpose is to protect you from a fire.

When and where are GFCI receptacles required?

GFCI receptacles were required in houses starting in 1971. Originally they were only required at the exterior of the house and by swimming pool equipment. Over the years, GFCI receptacles have been required in more locations such as garages, bathrooms, kitchens, etc. The following table applies to most municipalities, but some local codes may be different. Please check with your local building department.

GFCI location Chart

GFCI location Chart

In an older home there may be no requirement for GFCI’s to be installed. The seller is not required to upgrade the receptacles unless the electrical system has been modified. So if the kitchen in a 1950’s house has been remodeled, and receptacles have been added or moved, they must be upgraded to GFCI receptacles if they are within 6 feet of a plumbing fixture. This applies to bathrooms too. So when your home inspector suggests upgrading certain receptacles to GFCI receptacles, please know that he has your safety in mind. The seller may not have to upgrade the receptacles, but you should do it for your family’s safety. 

Note: The refrigerator receptacle should not be a GFCI receptacle.

Philippe Heller
President
The San Diego Real Estate Inspection Co.
www.sdinspections.com

Comments

By Bathrooms,  Tue Aug 17 2010, 04:58
You couldn't step out to the side for a GFCI Receptacles Required and a look at.
Bathrooms
By Philippe Heller,  Tue Aug 17 2010, 05:20
Bathrooms,

Can you please clarify your question/statement?
By Atticquestioner,  Mon Jun 20 2011, 16:16
Is a GFCI required in an attic?
Your table does not cover this.
By Daisy,  Mon Apr 2 2012, 19:41
This response is written by a Connecticut E-2 electrician. No, GFCI's are not required in an attic of a dwelling unit that is unfinished. However, if the attic of a dwelling unit has a bathroom, a boathouse, a garage, swimming pool,a kitchen countertop, a laundry, utility or wet bar sink, then a GFCI would need to be installed in those locations. The 2005 NFPA 70 National Electric Code does not mention attics in relationship to GFCI's. Go to NFPA 70 Article 210.8 for the GFCI requirement of dwelling units.
By Ender Berett,  Wed Jul 11 2012, 08:24
To install any of these, would I have to have a home inspection done first? At my old home, we didn't have any of these around, and my kid was playing with a butter knife near the computer wires, and got electrocuted. If these have a chance of improving your safety, I would love to have them installed.
By Philippe Heller,  Wed Jul 11 2012, 10:10
Ender, GFCI receptacles might have helped. However they are only required on some circuits. What you may want to research are the new "TR" receptacles. They have little covers built into the openings. You cannot insert something (such as a butter knife) into just one opening. Here is an article about them from the NFPA National Fire Protection Agency. http://www.nfpa.org/itemDetail.asp?categoryID=1508&itemID=36117&URL=Safety%20Information/For%20consumers/Causes/Electrical/Tamper-resistant%20electrical%20receptacles&cookie_test=1

These are now required in new construction.
By Lynda Cadieux Ferland,  Fri Nov 2 2012, 12:46
Am I to understand that this rule is a national standard? And if a property has been taken down to the studs the new product must comply with current standards? I'm assuming in this instance to get a certificate of occupancy the trade inspectors must sign off on each area? The contractor is responsible for complying with code to receive sign offs.
By Philippe Heller,  Fri Nov 2 2012, 17:58
On such an extensive remodel, you will have to comply with current building codes. These requirements are from the National Electric Code, but local jurisdictions may have additional requirements.
By Delgrande,  Sun Nov 25 2012, 07:40
We purchased our new home in 1979. We are in the process of selling it. The home inspector claims we have to change all the receptacles in the bathrooms and garage. We have not done any remodeling and the house was built with standard receptacles in 1979. Are we required to change them? the inspector claims this is a code violation.
By arazuacf,  Wed Feb 13 2013, 13:22
Can you please correct "plumbing fixture" to "sink". That's what 210.8(A)(7) requires.
By scott walker,  Sun Mar 10 2013, 15:23
I had my house appraised for re-finance and the appraiser said I needed to replace 3 kitchen outlets with GFCI outlets. I did the work this weekend and contacted the appraiser for them to come back and look at GFCI outlets. The appraiser informed me that he would report his findings from the first appraisal to Quicken Loans who would contact me then re schedule him (the appraiser) to return to my house. Does this mean they are going to charge me for another complete appraisal? the first appraisal cost about 500.00.
By Philippe Heller,  Mon Mar 11 2013, 06:36
It depends if there have been any remodeling to your kitchen. If your house was built prior to 1987, and there were no GFCI's installed, they are NOT required. The NEC (National Electric Code) is grandfathered...unless you have moved receptacles or remodeled the kitchen (over $1,000). Have him explain why you need to upgrade the electrical system. (We do recommend them for safety, but they are not required in most cases on older homes).

I would challenge the appraiser and refuse to pay for another visit. And he will likely charge you to go back to the property.
By Greg Hammes,  Fri May 3 2013, 08:23
I have a new construction home and i do not see any GFCI outlets in the house. The panel looks like it has 15a GFI breakers however they are only on 14/2 wire wheres the outlets in the kitchen and baths are on 12/2 and in the panel those are just on 20a breakers. I didn't think this would pass code. I live in Illinois if that helps.
By wirenutis,  Thu Jun 6 2013, 09:41
Greg where GFCI is required on a circuit it can be either a GFCI breaker or a GFCI receptacle at the first location on the circuit. Most electricians use the receptacle because it is much cheaper
By dennisdouglaspe,  Thu Jun 20 2013, 09:06
Make sure you explain to me that you're going to preserve this up! Its so very good and so critical. I cant wait around to read much more from you. I just feel like you know so a lot and know how to make men and women listen to what you have to say. This website is just as well amazing to be skipped. Great things, really. You should, You should keep it up!
By marksmith649,  Sun Jul 21 2013, 03:39
a G.F.I is required within two feet of a water source
By Rose,  Sat Jul 27 2013, 10:01
My house was built in 2000 and I'm noticing that the master bathroom does not have a gfci but two standard ones and this applies to our hall bath also, just standard. The bathroom on the main floor does have gfci and our kitchen has three outlets around the sink area and only one is a gfci. . Now, 15 ft. away from the sink above or desk in the kitchen has gfci receptacle. Our garage does not have a gfci but standard. The one outside the front door is gfci. Our circuit breaker has a switch for gfci receptacles. A little back ground on this, I've suspected my husband had tampered with these to accommodate spyware. The electric outlet in our garage does not work nor does the gfci receptacle outside our front door. My question is could these outlets have been tampered with.
By Philippe Heller,  Sat Jul 27 2013, 12:34
Dear Rose,

Thank you for your email. Please be aware that a GFCI receptacle can protect "down-circuit" receptacles. So the one GFCI receptacle at your kitchen counter protects the other counter top receptacles. This is the same with the bathroom circuit. It is likely that the GFCI receptacle in the bathroom on the main floor protects the receptacles in the other bathrooms. There is a simple way to check this. Simply get a lamp or other item that uses electricity (be sure the lamp is turned on). Then, trip the GFCI by pressing the small button that says "test". Plug the lamp into the other receptacles and there should be no electricity until you reset the GFCI.

The garage and exterior receptacles should all be GFCI-protected. They may be on the kitchen circuit which is not technically correct, but test it. There may be another GFCI at an exterior plug that you are not aware of.

As far as your husband manipulating these for spyware; that is a problem I cannot help you with. That may require a restraining order.
By rwelchh,  Thu Aug 8 2013, 13:35
it's interesting, I just spoke with the local municipality - Sunnyvale, CA, inquiring if my 1989 condo, with laundry bib for hot/cold but no sink provision would require today, if new construction, GFCI ... and they indicated NO, it would not... that makes no sense to me. How often do people put their hands in the tub of a washing machine - it the chassis was not properly grounded and there was a ground fault on the unit - not good!
By rjhunner,  Fri Aug 9 2013, 14:11
We have a 1960's condo in San Diego for sale, we upgraded the counter tile to newer tile ONLY. Our contractor friend suggested we replace the 3 electrical outlets to GFI. The inspector said we need to install a seperate breaker for the fridge because Code requires it. Is this true, it's an expensive fix. Did we create this mess by updating the outlets to GFI's? If so, can we "undo" it?
By Philippe Heller,  Fri Aug 9 2013, 15:18
Dear rjhunner,

If you only replace the tile surface, without relocating any receptacles, you do not have to upgrade the receptacles at all. However, it is a very easy upgrade and a big safety improvement. There is no re-wiring involved, only installing the proper GFCI receptacle(s). Why would you not do it?

The inspector, whether it is a City building inspector of a private home inspector, is dead wrong about making you install another circuit if you did not relocate the fridge. While newer houses do have a dedicated circuit for refrigerators, nothing forces you to bring an old house "up to code" by today's standards.

Having said that, it is a good idea to have the refrigerator on its own circuit rather than a circuit shared by all of the appliances and counter top receptacles. This is to avoid losing all of your food if the breaker trips which is very likely if you have the dishwasher, refrigerator, a coffee maker, and a microwave on at the same time.

I challenge the "inspector" to show you where it is written that a new circuit is required.
By Philippe Heller,  Fri Aug 9 2013, 15:28
rwelchh, the receptacle serviing the clothes washer and dryer is not required to be GFCI protected. That is because this receptacle is not one which is accessed very often. It is unlikely that you would get shocked from a bad cord here. However I agree with you that you could get shocked otherwise. It is what it is.
By Mom,  Tue Aug 27 2013, 08:02
Great info here! Thank you VERY much. My query - Have lived in our 1975 home for 26 years. Recently found all outlets on breaker #14 (GFCI) are hot/neutral reversed. All plugs work - even the furnace. Now we're nervous that this should be corrected asap. Do we begin by checking the breaker panel, as it seems an odd "coincidence" that only those outlets on that particular breaker are hot/neutral reversed? Also, none of our garage outlets are GFCI. Should we replace them? If so, does this require a GFCI breaker replacement in the panel, or can we just change the outlets?
By Madaleno.jorge,  Tue Aug 27 2013, 12:51
checked for gfi at three feet of hose bib connection has one,but at fire hose connection in bldg outlet not gfi,what gives,shouldnt it be within 6ft of water wether inside or outside?
By Edmund510,  Sun Oct 6 2013, 20:13
Hi Philippe,
I am purchasing a 1951 home in Oregon. I understand GFCIs are recommended but not required, correct? We will be installing a softub spa. Is a GFCI required, or recommended only? Am I likely to be the one who pays for that?
Also, you recommended TR outlets. I have a two year old. Is that the best option to protect him from electric shock? Thanks.
By bigmanhobday,  Sun Nov 3 2013, 09:58
I have an outdoor dryer which is under roof. My question is do I need any type of gfci protectionon this device.
By Philippe Heller,  Sun Nov 3 2013, 10:12
See chart above. ALL exterior receptacles require GFCI protection.
By Hamid.d,  Fri Nov 8 2013, 11:38
Per NEC, all counter tops (at kitchen) receptacles require GFCI protection. no matter the distance from sink or other plumbing fixtures. it is not required for refrigerators or other continence receptacles.
Some Cities (like LA) need the property to have GFCI outlets (or other safety requirements like safety glasses, gas shut off valve ...) prior closing the escrow.
By D,  Mon Nov 11 2013, 01:05
re - retrofitting . GFCI outlets aren't a big deal to install -- they go in exactly the same as other outlets, but about $6 for the outlet rather than $1. The "downstream" effect is important.

re - the laundry. You COULD shock yourself by putting your hands in the tub of a washer,, but you'd have to put one hand in the washer, then grab the (frayed) cable that had (only) the hot exposed. there isn't a likely accidental "zapped by the washer" scenario, since so many things have to happen in the exactly the right order; the ground wire has to be removed, the hot (and only the hot) has to touch something metal in the washer. The neutral can NOT touch any part of the washer, and no part of the washer can be grounded (even the feet of the washer). you however DO have to be grounded (most likely through YOUR feet) ..see what I mean? Unless each and every one of those things happens at the exactly same time or in exactly the right order you don't get shocked or the breaker would flip off the circuit.
In a nutshell, if you get zapped by a washer it's deliberate, GCFI or not.

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