05:22PM | 01/31/99
I am installing new outlets in my bathroom. I have been told that I need to update my old breaker with a GFCI Breaker. What is the differance between doing this and just installing GFCI Outlets instead? It sounds easier to install different outlets rather than replace a breaker.


06:55PM | 01/31/99
Essentially, both a GFCI breaker and a GFCI outlet can protect one or more outlets, be it receptacle or light fixture, but it’s all in the design and setup of the wiring. I would think it best in your situation, given what you have stated, to simply put in GFCI receptacles in each bathroom. But here’s a little more information to help you better understand the differences.

The concept behind a GFCI is simple: create a circuit that is highly sensitive to overload, to use in areas where water is present, so that the circuit will trip before harm is done. Normal circuits, fine in dry environments, may not trip in time when in situations like a hair dryer and running water. GFCI’s will trip in something like ¼ second. Now, there is much more to them than this, but I just wanted you to get the general idea.

A GFCI breaker goes in your circuit panel, and protects everything on that branch circuit from the breaker out, including receptacles, light fixtures, and even the wire. A GFCI receptacle, on the other hand, can protect itself alone, or, if installed inline, all outlets and wire downstream of its location. When building a new home, a builder can choose either method to achieve the desired coverage because they can run the wire easily from one location to the next, through unfinished walls. The combinations can be endless. For example, my last home had one GFCI receptacle controlling all the kitchen outlets, another for all the bathrooms, and one in the basement controlling there, the garage, and all the outside outlets. My current home is older, so to bring it up to code, I installed a separate GFCI receptacle at each outside outlet and bathroom. By luck, I was able to put one in my kitchen, which is positioned in its circuit such that it covers all kitchen outlets.

Your situation is different. Your house is already finished, and the wires are where they are. Installing GFCI receptacle at each bathroom location would be the simplest, and should meet code requirements in your area. The breaker versions are more expensive, and you probably would not be able to get away with one since each bathroom is no doubt on a different circuit. Also, since your home predates GFCI’s, the company that made your circuit panel may no longer be in business, or if they are, they may not manufacture a GFCI breaker. Even worse, you home may still use fuses. GFCI receptacles are much more universal, and can even accommodate older wiring.

Sorry to be so long-winded, so I’ll close with this: There are many different situations that can occur, and since I have never seen your home, I can only approximate and guess. The best advise I can offer is for you to get a professional opinion, unless you are really, really, really sure of what you are doing. A good source for recommendations is your local municipality.

Good luck.

Joe Tedesco

10:27AM | 09/29/02
Member Since: 07/27/02
140 lifetime posts

[This message has been edited by Joe Tedesco (edited April 09, 2003).]

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