I'm working on adding several outdoor outlets in the eaves of my roof for holiday lighting. I have a switch in my garage for these outlets right next to the garage light switch. Thing is, I keep flipping the switch for the holiday lights instead of the garage light switch when I want the garage light.

I was planning on adding an inline GFCI, but now I'm thinking instead of installing the inline GFCI, I could just replace the holiday lighting switch with a no-outlet-GFCI, which would function equally well as a switch (using the test and reset buttons), but harder to unintentionally trigger, and provide the necessary short protection.

The only thing I'm concerned about is if the GFCI is wouldn't hold up to (admittedly) infrequent "switching" or if this would violate code somehow. I'll string my holiday lights in early November, but not turn them on until the day after thanksgiving, similarly I'll turn them off after new years, but might not take them down for a few weeks, so the switch will only get used a few times a year.

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    I'd just use a switch guard – Tyson Jun 15 '17 at 17:29
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    "... GFCI ... and provide the necessary short protection." - A Ground Fault Circuit Interruptor protects against current flowing to ground (potentially through a person). They help prevent electrocution. They do not, in general, protect against live-neutral shorts, which are a different class of faults that are the domain of fuses/breakers. Maybe your particular device also acts as a breaker, but please check that before assuming you're protected from shorts. – marcelm Jun 15 '17 at 22:35
  • And have it say so on the plans? Probably not. If this was already installed, could you 'use' it as a switch? YOU can do whatever you want. I have exactly this for a gutter melter, and I 'test' it twice a year. – Mazura Jun 15 '17 at 22:51
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    All this because you can't remember which perfectly functional switch does what job? Why not add a holiday light switch cover? – J... Jun 16 '17 at 10:37
  • @J... if it's dark and the switches are close to each other it's not hard to grope for and hit the wrong one by accident. – Dan Is Fiddling By Firelight Jun 16 '17 at 19:01

This is a great question.

Of course the answer is no, but the NEC does not say you can't verbatim. You have to consider the intent of the code. To do that we have to look at Article 100 Definitions and what is a definition of a switch and what is the definition of a GFCI and what is the definition of a receptacle. Then you also have to reference NEC Articles 404 Switches and 406 Receptacles.

The point is switches and receptacles are two separate types of devices and it never states otherwise. You might argue that "it doesn't say I can't". But you have to look at Article 404.11 Circuit Breakers as Switches. It identifies that you can use a circuit breaker as a switch if it meets certain parameters.

So the "intent of the code" is that if it isn't defined in 404 that it can be used as a switch, then it can't be used as a switch. We could probably get this written into the code if we submitted it to the committee. Then it would get it written in within the next 6 to 9 years if they found it relevent.

If this answer doesn't convince you then consider this question. If I have and incandescent lamp inline with some other devices can I use it as a switch by screwing and unscrewing it. The NEC doesn't say I can't.

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  • I agree the o.p. was talking about a no outlet gfci , I use these for spa tubs , but it still is not listed as a switch device so I belive using as a switch would be a code violation. + – Ed Beal Jun 15 '17 at 19:36
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    I don't see how it could be a violation unless it was used in place of where code requires a switch. Code has no purview over the end-user. – Mazura Jun 15 '17 at 21:01
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    @Mazura -- its more that deadfront/receptacle interruptor devices are not rated for switching duty – ThreePhaseEel Jun 15 '17 at 22:31
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    @ThreePhaseEel - So then it wouldn't be the best practice to do so, just like hooking up lights in series is, which RME says code does not forbid. Installed knowingly with what the user intends to do would be a gray(ish) area IMO. As the work (and only the work) was explained and so far as I understand, the install itself would meet code. 'Best practices' is a different question, and if all this is, is Why do GFCIs suck?, than it's a dupe. – Mazura Jun 15 '17 at 22:45
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    Love the comments, this is why I thought it was a great question. – Retired Master Electrician Jun 16 '17 at 12:38

Leviton actually makes a GFCI switch that may meet your needs. I wouldn't use the Test button as a switch

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  • This looks like a good way to do what the OP wants in a safe and sane way; and as long as it's a different type of switch than the garage one (ie assuming the garage lights are on a vertical switch vs horizontal here) should minimize the risk of accidentally flipping the wrong one. – Dan Is Fiddling By Firelight Jun 16 '17 at 13:28

Install a timer instead. This will allow you to turn your holiday lights on/off automatically, and will also make it more difficult to turn on accidentally.

Something like this would work.

enter image description here

To answer the question you actually asked... It's not a code violation, since code typically deals with installation, not usage. However, since the device is not designed to be operated in this way, it will likely cause it to wear out faster.

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    I think I would take the opposite side on this. The device needs to be used within its listing or it is a code violation same as a circuit breaker can't be used as a switch unless listed for such use. – Ed Beal Jun 15 '17 at 19:28
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    @EdBeal - The device just needs to be installed to code. If a user could jeopardize themselves by inadvertently misusing a device that's installed to code (by pushing a button), then code needs some work. Also, when code says 'use', I'm pretty sure they mean, the thing you're going install, not usage/operation. And if the user does this once a month, they're actually following the instructions. It's not a code violation +1 – Mazura Jun 15 '17 at 23:07

There's all kinds of light switch covers you can get on Amazon that prevent you from accidentally hitting the switch, while still allowing you to use it when you need it.

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  • Neat, I've never seen those (the link is to Decora switch covers). – Mazura Jun 16 '17 at 23:13

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