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I am wiring up multiple switched outlets in garage ceiling for the garage lights and i am assuming they all need to be GFCI protected. So my question is must I install GFCI outlets after the switch for each outlet. It would mean two of the outlets would be GFCI and I am installing 2 LED lights to plug into each outlet that only are drawing .4 amps each. It seems kind of ridiculous to install GFCI for switched outlets dedicated to these lights.

  • Can you identify the first outlet or junction box in the circuit feeding these garage lights and outlets? – ThreePhaseEel Apr 3 at 22:41
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    Putting a GFCI on the ceiling is illegal, regardless; they have to be accessible to be able to reset them. – Harper Apr 4 at 5:16
  • All garage receptacles must be GFCI protected there are no exceptions so a breaker or if the lighting is fed from a receptacle that can be reached , the other option would be to hard wire the lights, then GFCI is not required. – Ed Beal Apr 22 at 14:13
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Any GFCI device is capable of protecting any number of loads downline. At extremes, Europeans use one GFCI device for their whole house but this requires compromises that make it a bad idea here. Therefore, it is unusual to need more than one GFCI per circuit. Most of the time, when people fit multiple GFCIs on a circuit, there's a sad knowledge gap there, which is causing them to waste money.

GFCIs are not receptacles. Those things are GFCI+receptacle combo devices. They also make GFCI+circuit breaker combo devices, as well as standalone GFCI (they look like a receptacle, but with no pins, and the slang is "Deadfront"). There is no way to plug in anything to a breaker or deadfront, so their whole point is to protect downline loads. But GFCI+receptacles can do it too.

Regardless, as long as these receptacles are on the ceiling such that they're for obviously lights only and not readily accessible for other loads, ask your local inspector if you can exempt them from GFCI requirements. If you can't, using GFCI receptacles on the ceiling is prohibited. You need to be able to reach them to reset them! This forces you into a downline design. And another factor does too...

Putting a GFCI device downstream of a switch is bad design, and will play havoc with many models. In that case the GFCI needs to be upstream of the switch and feed both hot and neutral of the switch+light section of the circuit, so the GFCI proper is never switched. By nature it must be one GFCI.

  • The handbook has a commentary after 210.8.a.2 (GFCI. Garages) there are no exceptions all 120v 15 & 20 amp receptacles installed in garages must provide GFCI protection, but I agree with your thinking. A hard wired light would not need GFCI. – Ed Beal Apr 3 at 23:30
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  • Ceiling might be exempt

The pros will have to weigh in on this, but I seem to recall that there is an exemption for receptacles truly out of reach.

  • Just need ONE GFCI

Assuming everything is on one circuit, put in a GFCI either at the panel (a breaker with GFCI built in) or put in a GCI receptacle prior to the first of the switches/switched receptacles. Then wire everything else off of the LOAD side and it is all protected.

  • Never put GFCI in the ceiling

Whether or not GFCI is required for ceiling receptacles (which may be up to your local inspector to decide), if you do install GFCI never actually install it in the ceiling. Install it in the panel or in an easily accessible (low on the wall) receptacle. You don't want to have an occasional problem tripping the GFCI and have to climb a ladder to press the little RESET button. Oh yeah, in the dark because the GFCI turned out your lights.

  • Hardwire the lights and avoid the question

If you hardwire the fixtures then you don't need GFCI. There are plenty of LED fixtures available designed to be permanently wired. In my limited experience, I have found them to be of better overall quality than similarly priced plug-in fixtures.


Assumptions:

  • No need to use two separate circuits - lights are low power. In fact, you can put in another receptacle, which may make sense.

  • You don't want to switch to hardwired lights but want to stick, for whatever reason, with plug-in ceiling fixtures. But I still suggest reconsidering hardwired fixtures to avoid the GFCI problem.

  • According to Ed Beal, GFCI required for ALL receptacles in the garage.

Recommendation

  • Run a single 20A regular circuit (12/2, regular breaker). No need for GFCI (you'll put in a receptacle) and no need for AFCI (as I understand it, garages are one of the few areas still exempt)

  • First device on this circuit: 20A GFCI + dual receptacle. Incoming 12/2 goes to LINE. You now have a properly protected convenience receptacle at normal height, which also protects the lighting receptacles.

  • Connect LOAD with 12/2 to both switches. If they are in the same box, pigtail black->switch hot/switch hot, neutral white passes through (just connect white to whites of both outgoing cables). Outgoing cables are black switched hot (2nd screw on the switch) & white neutral (from the LOAD side) to the receptacles for the lights. If they are in different boxes (not clear from the original question), then you have black hot (from receptacle)/hot (to switch)/outgoing hot (to 2nd switch) connected together and the cable to the 2nd switch has its white tied to the other neutral/white wires.

  • Cables up to receptacles in ceiling are now each black switched hot/white neutral. Install ordinary receptacles (dual 15A or dual 20A or single 20A - any will do fine) in the ceiling for your lights.

If your GFCI trips for any reason, the RESET will be conveniently at the light switch instead of up in the ceiling or back at the panel. You've saved money by using only one GFCI device. You've also saved by only using one circuit.

If you decide to go with hardwired lights (now or later) then you use the junction boxes in the ceiling for wiring instead of receptacles and you can then move the LOAD stuff to pigtail off the LINE side instead - which takes your lights OFF of the GFCI protection while still keeping the convenience receptacle properly protected and available for use.

  • Thank you for all the input, My plan was to run 12/3 and use the red wire for one outlet circuit & the Black wire for the other outlet circuit on two separate switches for different light banks in the ceiling. It might be more expensive but i most likely will just buy two GFCI breakers for the box that way the circuits are protected prior to the switches – John1shot Apr 4 at 1:26
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    @John1shot, using two breakers with 12/3 is a problem. Check out this question (written by the other guy that answered you, Harper) for more information. Basically, you can do it, but you need a double pole GFCI breaker. – JPhi1618 Apr 4 at 2:26
  • @JPhi1618 100% correct. And in any case, with a few LED lights (low power as stated in the original question), there is no reason to use 2 circuits. I'll update my answer to clarify. – manassehkatz Apr 4 at 2:29
  • Also, even using a double pole breaker, you run into the issue of loosing all your lights if the GFCI trips as manassehkatz mentioned. One reason lights are on separate circuits are to avoid loosing lights when something bad happens to the outlets. – JPhi1618 Apr 4 at 2:33

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