I have long known that the electricians who originally wired my house did some questionable things, one of which is putting every GFCI-protected outlet in the whole house (besides the kitchen) on one circuit protected by one GFCI outlet; this includes two outdoor outlets, one outlet in the guest bath, and two outlets in the master bath. And it's a 15 amp circuit.

I'm now replacing the recessed light in the walk-in shower (in the master bath) with a fan/light combo. Naturally, the electricians did not GFCI-protect that light, so I want to move it to the GFCI-protected line coming into the master bath (the most "downstream" end of that GFCI-protected string). While I'm at it, I want to create a new branch circuit for the master bath (leaving the two outdoor outlets and the other bath's outlet on the original circuit).

My question: does code require that I make that new circuit 20 amps? "Yes" because current code wants 20 amps circuits to baths and I'm doing new work, or "no" because I'm simply splitting an old circuit that (apparently) was compliant at 15 amps?

  • Deleted confusing and irrelevant comments about ceiling fan (as opposed to shower fan/light). Aug 4 '19 at 16:53

GFCI lights and fans

Naturally, the electricians did not GFCI-protect that light, so I want to move it to the GFCI-protected line coming into the master bath

Naturally. Lights and fans don't need GFCI protection. However fans do have a tendency to have minor ground faults. Is there a reason you want to protect them?

Keep in mind there's a side effect; if you feed your lights off the same outlet as your bathroom appliance receptacles, and you have a ground fault in an appliance, it will kill your lights. So you'll be standing there in the dark holding a 400 degree curling iron with no idea of where you can set it down.

Bathroom receptacles must be GFCIs. Nothing else need be, but you might want to GFCI (or convert to low voltage) lights inside showers.

Bathroom circuits, grandfathered

If the scope of work does not allow you to easily replace a wiring run, it should be grandfathered, i.e. you are allowed to keep the old run and do the best you can with it. If the scope of work is large enough to make changing the wire easy, then the grandfathering is broken and you must replace.

installing a new 15A circuit to a bathroom is Right Out, since obviously, if you can install a new 15A circuit, you can install a new 20A circuit just as easily.

Bathroom receptacles must be on ...

A bathroom receptacle must be on a 20A circuit that is shared only with other bathroom receptacles (in any number of bathrooms).

Or, a bathroom receptacle must be on a 20A circuit that serves only loads (of any kind) in this same bathroom.

Take your pick.

That said, there's a big problem with either setup. Almost every heat-making bathroom appliance (hair dryer, curler, straightener) is a 1500W heater. It would be better if they were higher wattage (they are in Europe), but UL caps them off at 1500W. You cannot run two 1500W appliances on a 20A circuit.

So once again, as NEC constantly says, it is a code book of minimum requirements, not a design guide of best practices. So anybody who puts one (1) 20A receptacle circuit in their bathroom because Code tells you to ought to think again. This is exactly where a DIYer should use his powers of DIY to build the system that works for you, not do the bare minimum like a contractor would.

  • Thanks for your detailed answer @Harper. I fear that I've muddied the waters by bringing the MBR ceiling fan (as opposed to the shower fan/light I'm installing) into the conversation. This is all in my MBR suite, where everything, except two GFCI-protected outlets (at the end of that protected string of everything in the house except the kitchen), is on one circuit. The ceiling fan is not relevant to my question, and I shouldn't have mentioned it; I was venting my exasperation, and will do another question concerning it. Aug 3 '19 at 0:43
  • So that one MBR circuit (with everything except the GFCI outlets) also included the old recessed light in the shower. I am replacing that light with a fan/light combo, and I want to GCFI-protect it. As I understand it, NEC does not explicitly require GFCI protection for this fan/light in the shower, but it does require such a unit be rated for "wet" locations, and the unit I'm planning to use (and all the ones I've looked it) state that they're good for "wet" locations IF they are GFCI-protected. Aug 3 '19 at 0:49
  • @RustyShackleford that makes sense. It's also less of an issue if it isn't the only light in the room. By the way, you are totally allowed to put bathroom hardwired loads on bedroom, hallway, whatever circuits. You might leave the legacy 15A circuit there for that purpose. Aug 3 '19 at 0:53
  • So given I need to protect the new shower fan/lite, it's convenient to bring it off the existing GFCI-protected outlets. And given I think it's messed up to have both bathrooms and a bunch of other stuff under the same GFCI, and at that apparently (according to the AHJ) I can't attach the shower fan/lite unless I do it, I intend to run a dedicated circuit for this master bathroom, and to put the existing protected outlets and the new shower fan/light on it. Aug 3 '19 at 0:54
  • Thanks for clueing me to the grandfathering thing, I had no idea. Running a new circuit to the MBR bathroom is easy (patting myself on back for a 25ft long piece of PVC I put in a strategic location 25 years ago). So it can easily be 20 amps. However, once you get there, there is one outlet (one of the outlets previously protected by the house-side GFCI) that will be pretty difficult to re-wire (and currently has 14awg). Aug 3 '19 at 1:02

Talking to the AHJ, he says yes, the new circuit must be 20amps. (FYI, we are now under 2017 NEC).

He also cleared up an ancillary issue I've seen debated inconclusively elsewhere: is it ok to attach that shower fan/light to the same GFCI circuit as the bathroom outlets ? The answer: it is, if and only if the GFCI circuit supplies only that bathroom. Which fortunately is the case, since I'm adding a new circuit for that bathroom.

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