I've been into many new construction homes in 2016 and haven't noticed a single home w/o a GFCI in the bathroom, implying that while GFCI breakers exist, they seemingly are never used.

With a GFCI outlet costing on average $6, and a GFCI breaker often costing $35+, it would require having 6+ outlets on the same circuit before the costs are equivalent. Since GFCI outlets protect everything downstream of the circuit, needing 6+ outlets seems pretty unlikely.

It doesn't appear like GFCI breakers are ever being used that I see by anyone else. So it is safe to conclude that buying a GFCI breaker is a waste of money in just about every situation reasonably imaginable?

3 Answers 3


Blame glitter obsession

This is a matter of philosophy, rather than pure finance, although builders, being the glitter oriented types they are, tend to treat it as if it were the latter.

Why GFCI breakers?

One of the major problems with GFCI receptacles is that a receptacle in a location can control power to a totally unrelated-seeming location. While this isn't a problem for small appliance branch circuits due to the Code keeping unrelated receptacles off of them, garage, outdoor, and basement receptacles suffer from this on regular basis. For instance, an outdoor outlet might be controlled by a GFCI in the garage, or a garage outlet might be controlled by the GFCI for the wet bar in the basement.

The centralization of all circuit protection into the main electrical panel neatly avoids this problem, as now there's only one place to reset a trip, namely the electrical panel. Another edge that GFCI protection at the panel provides, especially for high power appliance circuits such as the kitchen outlet and laundry circuits, is superior fire protection -- glowing connections often induce ground faults, and a GFCI will react to and trip on this secondary failure, shutting off the power (this is why many AFCIs incorporate a ground fault trip calibrated for higher trip levels than a "true" GFCI).

Another problem with receptacle GFCIs is that they aren't applicable in all cases where GFCI protection is desired -- such as when a circuit other than a 15 or 20A, 120V circuit needs GFCI protection. (For instance, protecting a church baptismal font's immersion heater that runs off of 240V, or protecting the 240V outlets for your garage workshop for that matter.)

Why GFCI receptacles?

However, there is an expectation in this day and age that the bathroom GFCI is in the bathroom, and likewise with the kitchen. The use of GFCI breakers for these circuits is often seen as counterintuitive and inconvenient -- many people would look for a tripped GFCI receptacle in their bathroom, but not look to the panel (which is further away, and possibly harder to get to) for a tripped GFCI breaker. Furthermore, the use of GFCI breakers can make a trip condition ambiguous -- did this breaker trip on a ground fault or an overcurrent/short? A related issue is that a GFCI breaker might conflict with an AFCI requirement, such as for the kitchen and laundry circuits; while DFCI (dual-function circuit interrupter) breakers combine the two protection functions, they are only available in single pole, limiting their applicability.

Finally, GFCI breakers can behave counterintuitively when applied to multi-wire branch circuits as leaks on opposite legs can cancel each other out, preventing the breaker from tripping in a circumstance where one would normally expect it to trip. GFCI receptacles can only protect the legs individually and thus force the neutral to be demultiplexed, avoiding this matter altogether.

It's up to you at the end of the day, but my vote is...

While this is up to you as the Code doesn't care where the GFCI protection lives as long as it's there to begin with, I personally prefer the protection-at-the-panel approach, as long as your panel type and available slots allow for it. It's simpler to make modifications to the branch circuits without inadvertently defeating GFCI protection when the GFCI is in the panel, and it also means that there's no risk of sharing or overloading a neutral on a GFCI-protected circuit as the GFCI protection in the panel will catch that right away.


It can make sense when you have a location where you want to install a specialty outlet, but are required by code to have GFCI. I wanted to put a USB outlet in a cubby in our kitchen, but it had a GFCI there. GFCI breaker+ USB outlet was the solution.

  • Pretty interesting example - thanks for sharing! Aug 9, 2020 at 15:53

This isn't a cost matter, but it is one situation where a GFCI breaker is needed. I had an electrician quote me for installing outlet into a brick wall above a countertop. I made the hole in the brick and installed a box which expanded to lock into the hole, but apparently those boxes won't fit GFCI outlets. He had to install a GFCI breaker instead.

  • 1
    Nice example. Definitely an interesting odd-ball situation that could definitely warrant it. I'd feel like this would fall into the 'exceptional/rare' category though. Nov 22, 2016 at 15:28

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