GFCI outlets and breakers are pretty common in households these days due to the sheer amount of safety they provide the user and the electrical appliances. However, do GFCI breakers serve the same purpose as a GFCI outlet? Or, do GFCI breakers replace GFCI outlets?
The short answer is yes; a GFCI circuit breaker provides the exact amount of safety and service as a GFCI outlet. So, you have to choose which to use and when carefully. Because installing both can often be pretty costly.
I will go through all of the pros and cons of both a GFCI outlet and a GFCI breaker, as well as provide you with a clear guideline on the proper use case of both.
How Does a GFCI Breaker Work?
A GFCI breaker is tasked with monitoring the electricity flowing through your circuits. When it senses an imbalance, it will trip to cut power from the circuit. The power is supposed to flow in a closed loop starting from the circuit panel and ending at the grounding point.
However, if electricity is somehow leaking through someplace, it will find a different route to flow back into the earth. This is dangerous as it can be possible to get electrocuted from such a leak, as well as the possibility of fire, is introduced.
A GFCI breaker will only have a TEST button on its face (Fig 1). Instead of the RESET button, it will have a flip switch. Once you press the TEST button, the breaker will trip, flipping the switch automatically. The switch will function similarly to a RESET button.
Can you have a GFCI outlet on a GFCI breaker? Yes, you definitely can. But it is often not required.
So, do I need GFCI outlets if I have a GFCI breaker?
No, you don’t. A GFCI breaker will provide similar services and safety to a GFCI outlet.
Where are GFCI breakers required?
As per the rules of the NEC, GFCI protection is required in any area of the house which is within 6 feet of a water source. These include bathrooms, kitchens, garages, basements, etc.
Do GFCI breakers replace GFCI outlets?
Certainly, as the functionalities are the same.
How Does a GFCI Outlet Work?
A GFCI outlet compares the amount of current going to and coming back from an appliance. It trips when the amount going is more than the amount returning. Basically, it operates on the same basis as a GFCI breaker.
The GFCI outlet monitors the amount of power going to an appliance. If the appliance comes into contact with water, the GFCI detects the interruption in current and shuts off the power by tripping. This is the key difference between GFCI and regular outlets.
A GFCI outlet has both a TEST button and a RESET button (Fig 2), unlike a GFCI breaker. The RESET button can be pushed to cut off the power. The RESET button can then be used to restore power to the outlet.
Do you need GFCI outlets for every outlet? Not necessarily. The NEC has a clear guideline on where you should use GFCI outlets. For example, they are strictly required in bathrooms.
You might ask when were GFCI outlets required in bathrooms? GFCI outlets have been required in bathrooms since 1975 in the majority of the states.
Another common question many people have is, does a GFCI have to be on its own breaker? Nope, there are no such conditions to installing a GFCI.
Which One Should I Use and When?
While a GFCI breaker is interchangeable with a GFCI outlet, they both have their distinct use cases. I will talk about their preferred uses below.
Number of Outlets:
If you use a GFCI outlet, you are only ensuring protection for that one specific receptacle. The others on the same circuit will still remain vulnerable.
But, instead, if you use a GFCI breaker, you can ensure safety and protection for multiple outlets and receptacles with only one breaker.
This is one of the key considerations before choosing a breaker or an outlet.
If an outlet trips due to a short or some other reason, you have to press the RESET button, or flip the switch.
If you are using a GFCI outlet, the task is quite simple, as you don’t have to go through a lot of hassle.
However, if you are using a GFCI breaker, you have to painstakingly go to your main panel, open it up, and flick the switch.
This might be a daunting task if your main panel is somewhere inconvenient.
While a GFCI outlet can cost around $15, a GFCI breaker can cost somewhere around $35 to $40.
If you only want to protect one specific location, you can go for a GFCI outlet.
But if you wish to protect multiple locations, you are better off buying a GFCI breaker.
GFCI breakers protect against ground faults as well as many kinds of overloading, faulty wiring, and short circuits that an outlet will not be able to provide to the entire circuit or system.
So, is it better to have GFCI outlet or breaker? Honestly, it depends on your preference based on the above factors. They are interchangeable. Meaning you can replace a GFCI breaker with GFCI outlets and vice versa.
So, do GFCI breakers replace GFCI outlets? I believe you have gotten your answer. I have also talked about the best use case scenarios for each of these.
I hope this article has answered that question thoroughly and given you a clear concept of both. You will now be able to decide whether you need a GFCI breaker, a GFCI outlet, both, or none at all.