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Old 02-02-2010, 01:21 PM   #1
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GFCI breakers equivalent to GFCI outlets? Any code pitfalls?


I'm strongly considering replacing a few of my standard breakers with GFCI breakers to facilitate safety and code compliance as I remodel.

I have a 1940's house with lots of ungrounded wiring. Ideally, I would replace this entirely, but I think the effort vs. reward for that project would make it nearly pointless.

Despite the lack of ground, there are a number of 3-prong outlets on the ungrounded circuits. I realize I don't need to bring existing work up to code, but in some cases I am moving outlets, expanding, etc., and for meeting code on this new work, I'm starting to think that GFCI breakers are going to be simpler and cheaper.

I'm looking at 3 circuits in particular. All are 15A. They serve lighting and outlets on my first floor, including 2 bedrooms, living room, dining room, and bathroom. I don't have any sense of upstream/downstream in the wiring or I would just put GFCIs on the first outlet in each circuit.

Are there are code issues I should consider in this decision? I've heard something about the GFCI reset needing to be within x feet of the circuit, but can't find anything about that when I search for it.

Are there any types of lights or receptacles that can't be GFCI protected (fridge is on another circuit)?

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Old 02-02-2010, 01:30 PM   #2
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GFCI breakers equivalent to GFCI outlets? Any code pitfalls?


You might not want to put all your lights on the same GFCI. If it trips at night, you're stuck in the dark.

There is no difference that I am aware of between GFCI breakers and outlets. Outlets are cheaper. If you can find the first one in the circuit, you can easily replace it with a GFCI instead of using the breaker. GFCI breakers are about double the price of the outlet. You also wouldn't necessarily need to walk as far (to the panel) if it trips.

You should consider AFCI (instead of or in combination with GFCI), at least for bedrooms and other living space. I would think Arc Faults are more common than ground faults when you have old wiring.

Some mixed feelings on GFCI and AFCI on the same circuit, but I don't see any harm in trying. If one or both is constantly nuisance tripping, you can just not use it.
Afci & gfci

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Old 02-02-2010, 01:52 PM   #3
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GFCI breakers equivalent to GFCI outlets? Any code pitfalls?


As to GFCI outlets as opposed to GFCI breakers...

-GFCI outlets are less expensive than GFCI breakers.

-In the case of a garage, I don't think I have ever seen anyone park a vehicle in one of these? Rather they fill garages with boxes stacked to the ceiling typically. And then if there is a GFCI outlet which trips, chances are it will be behind a tall stack of boxes! So in this case it might be better to install a GFCI breaker?

-As to the kitchen and bathroom, the outlets are right there, so easy to get to for resetting the GFCI.
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Old 02-02-2010, 02:46 PM   #4
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GFCI breakers equivalent to GFCI outlets? Any code pitfalls?


If you are installing new wiring or reworking existing circuits and trying to meet code, the 2005 NEC requires AFCI protection for all dwelling unit bedrooms. If you fall under 2008 NEC, you pretty much need AFCI's everywhere thta's listed below...

2008 210.12(B):
(B) Dwelling Units.
All 120-volt, single phase, 15- and
20-ampere branch circuits supplying outlets installed in
dwelling unit family rooms, dining rooms, living rooms,
parlors, libraries, dens, bedrooms, sunrooms, recreation
rooms, closets, hallways, or similar rooms or areas shall be
protected by a listed arc-fault circuit interrupter,
combination-type, installed to provide protection of the
branch circuit.

This is separate from the GFCI requirements.




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Old 02-02-2010, 05:05 PM   #5
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GFCI breakers equivalent to GFCI outlets? Any code pitfalls?


In some places where I inspect (ex: Evanston, IL) in some locations (for example kitchen counter outlet circuits) the AHJ does not allow you to feed a downstream receptacle from a GFCI receptacle outlet unless it's in the same box (eg, each outlet box containing a GFCI protected receptacle outlet must have a dedicated GFCI). (I know 'it ain't in da code", but I also know "youse can't fight city hall").
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Old 02-02-2010, 05:37 PM   #6
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GFCI breakers equivalent to GFCI outlets? Any code pitfalls?


Quote:
Originally Posted by Michael Thomas View Post
In some places where I inspect (ex: Evanston, IL) in some locations (for example kitchen counter outlet circuits) the AHJ does not allow you to feed a downstream receptacle from a GFCI receptacle outlet unless it's in the same box (eg, each outlet box containing a GFCI protected receptacle outlet must have a dedicated GFCI). (I know 'it ain't in da code", but I also know "youse can't fight city hall").
Weird...why would they add that restriction?
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Old 02-02-2010, 06:17 PM   #7
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GFCI breakers equivalent to GFCI outlets? Any code pitfalls?


Quote:
Originally Posted by Michael Thomas View Post
In some places where I inspect (ex: Evanston, IL) in some locations (for example kitchen counter outlet circuits) the AHJ does not allow you to feed a downstream receptacle from a GFCI receptacle outlet unless it's in the same box (eg, each outlet box containing a GFCI protected receptacle outlet must have a dedicated GFCI). (I know 'it ain't in da code", but I also know "youse can't fight city hall").
I was curious about why they did this, so I searched the Evanston, IL codes and I could not find it. Evanston has adopted the 2005 NEC, and their published Summary of Code Amendments, the specific amendments to the 2005 code doesn't address any GFCI related requirements.

Is there another city that has that requirement that I might see it in print?
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Old 02-02-2010, 06:55 PM   #8
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GFCI breakers equivalent to GFCI outlets? Any code pitfalls?


Quote:
Originally Posted by Michael Thomas View Post
In some places where I inspect (ex: Evanston, IL) in some locations (for example kitchen counter outlet circuits) the AHJ does not allow you to feed a downstream receptacle from a GFCI receptacle outlet unless it's in the same box (eg, each outlet box containing a GFCI protected receptacle outlet must have a dedicated GFCI). (I know 'it ain't in da code", but I also know "youse can't fight city hall").
Well that would solve the problem of hunting for the GFCI when it trips and you are using a downstream outlet!
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Old 02-03-2010, 02:28 AM   #9
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GFCI breakers equivalent to GFCI outlets? Any code pitfalls?


Thanks for the feedback, guys.

Quote:
Originally Posted by williswires View Post
If you are installing new wiring or reworking existing circuits and trying to meet code, the 2005 NEC requires AFCI protection for all dwelling unit bedrooms. If you fall under 2008 NEC, you pretty much need AFCI's everywhere thta's listed below...

2008 210.12(B):
(B) Dwelling Units.
All 120-volt, single phase, 15- and
20-ampere branch circuits supplying outlets installed in
dwelling unit family rooms, dining rooms, living rooms,
parlors, libraries, dens, bedrooms, sunrooms, recreation
rooms, closets, hallways, or similar rooms or areas shall be
protected by a listed arc-fault circuit interrupter,
combination-type, installed to provide protection of the
branch circuit.

This is separate from the GFCI requirements.




In regards to the AFI requirements, I'm not sure I need to bring the entire circuit up to code. (Or do I?)

All I want to do is gain the ability to move two existing, ungrounded receptacles (a wall was taken out) and do direct replacements of several existing ungrounded receptacles (for cosmetic/maintenance reasons). For the "moved" receptacles, I could easily use GFCI receptacles. Would either of these changes require me to meet the new code as it pertains to AFIs? I believe my municipality is using the 2008 code.
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Old 02-03-2010, 07:24 AM   #10
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GFCI breakers equivalent to GFCI outlets? Any code pitfalls?


If you work on a circuit then usually you are required to bring it up to todays code

An AFCI circuit (I think) needs a ground...could be wrong
But appears not:

http://www.geindustrial.com/products..._technical.htm
Quote:
The only major physical requirement is that the AFCI requires directly wired hot and neutral wires on the circuit you're going to protect.
I know a GFCI circuit does not need a ground
Usually a GFCI outlet is installed to replace a non-grounded outlet
The little label that statles "no ground present" is attached to the outlet
Any outlets that are protected off the LOAD side must alos be labeled

Quote:
6. What is the difference between AFCI and ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI)?
There is a major difference between the functioning of an AFCI and a GFCI (ground fault circuit interrupter). The function of the GFCI is to protect people from the deadly effects of electric shock that could occur if parts of an electrical appliance or tool become energized due to a ground fault. The function of the AFCI is to protect the branch circuit wiring from dangerous arcing faults that could initiate an electrical fire.


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Old 02-03-2010, 06:00 PM   #11
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GFCI breakers equivalent to GFCI outlets? Any code pitfalls?


Quote:
Originally Posted by Scuba_Dave View Post
If you work on a circuit then usually you are required to bring it up to todays code
Well, crap...that's what I was afraid of. So the thing to do would be AFI breakers and add GFCIs as needed.

I think I'll get my kitchen work inspected and see what my inspector would have me do on these outlets. He has seemed like a reasonable person in my dealings with him thus far, so hopefully he won't object to improvements in safety and convenience, even if code is not entirely satisfied.

What's warding me off GFCI breakers is more the thought that if nearly my whole first floor was GFCI protected, I'd be hard pressed to find an outlet I could run my drill, vacuum cleaner, etc. off of without tripping it. Is that likely to be an issue with GFCIs?
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Old 02-03-2010, 06:14 PM   #12
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GFCI breakers equivalent to GFCI outlets? Any code pitfalls?


You can definitely replace devices or breakers without being required to re-wire the whole circuit. If the inspector requires otherwise, I'd be curious what his code justification is.

If you want to put 3 prong receptacles on circuits with no ground the code allows the following:
  • Install a GFCI device at the first receptacle in the chain or a GFCI breaker.
  • Each ungrounded receptacle on that circuit is required to be labeled with two stickers. One says "GFCI protected" and the other says "no equipment ground".
I don't think you'll have trouble with running drills or other devices on your ungrounded GFCI protected circuit....But I haven't tried it personally.
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Old 02-03-2010, 06:32 PM   #13
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GFCI breakers equivalent to GFCI outlets? Any code pitfalls?


Quote:
Originally Posted by Michael Thomas View Post
In some places where I inspect (ex: Evanston, IL) in some locations (for example kitchen counter outlet circuits) the AHJ does not allow you to feed a downstream receptacle from a GFCI receptacle outlet unless it's in the same box (eg, each outlet box containing a GFCI protected receptacle outlet must have a dedicated GFCI). (I know 'it ain't in da code", but I also know "youse can't fight city hall").
Yes. But it must be anchored in the Code. It doesn't go by the whim of the particular Inspector. Besides, there is no discernible benefit to limiting the GFCI protection to the same enclosure. And from a technical standpoint there is absolutely no difference whether the GFCI protection goes to one outlet or 10.!
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Old 02-03-2010, 06:43 PM   #14
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GFCI breakers equivalent to GFCI outlets? Any code pitfalls?


Quote:
Originally Posted by thekctermite View Post
You can definitely replace devices or breakers without being required to re-wire the whole circuit. If the inspector requires otherwise, I'd be curious what his code justification is.

If you want to put 3 prong receptacles on circuits with no ground the code allows the following:
  • Install a GFCI device at the first receptacle in the chain or a GFCI breaker.
  • Each ungrounded receptacle on that circuit is required to be labeled with two stickers. One says "GFCI protected" and the other says "no equipment ground".
I don't think you'll have trouble with running drills or other devices on your ungrounded GFCI protected circuit....But I haven't tried it personally.
Then there's another thing the OP might try. If there is a bare copper wire (not sure if they put that in at the time) in NM cable, or it was run with AC (Armored Cable) the boxes can indeed be brought up to Code. By running the (hypothetical) wire to the box. And with a jumper wire to the Ground terminal of the (new, 3-prong) receptacles. And, obviously connected to the Ground (a/o Neutral) bar in the panel. The kit can be bought at Home Centers to retrofit most panels with a separate Equipment Ground bar!!
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Old 02-03-2010, 07:01 PM   #15
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GFCI breakers equivalent to GFCI outlets? Any code pitfalls?


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Originally Posted by TomServo View Post
Well, crap...that's what I was afraid of. So the thing to do would be AFI breakers and add GFCIs as needed.

I think I'll get my kitchen work inspected and see what my inspector would have me do on these outlets. He has seemed like a reasonable person in my dealings with him thus far, so hopefully he won't object to improvements in safety and convenience, even if code is not entirely satisfied.

What's warding me off GFCI breakers is more the thought that if nearly my whole first floor was GFCI protected, I'd be hard pressed to find an outlet I could run my drill, vacuum cleaner, etc. off of without tripping it. Is that likely to be an issue with GFCIs?
No! GFCIs, whether breakers or receptacles have no issues with Vacuum cleaners, drills or other Spark-generating equipment. Their only mission is to provide protection against Ground-faults --or put another way-- "Leakage Current"! Meaning that where part of the current returning to Ground takes another path than the Neutral conductor. The device will detect an imbalance between the Hot and Neutral and will trip the circuit. Only the AFCI breaker, whose mission is to detect arcing or sparks that are caused by a break in the wires at any point, that may cause a fire, will cut off the power. But the breakers are made to distinguish between normal arcing in motors and faults.!

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