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I have a new 100W Towel Warmer to be installed in the bathroom. The towel warmer is a plug-in type but can apparently be converted to a hard wired model.

I want to install it within reach of the shower, and control it with an electronic timer near the bathroom door (6' from the shower). Power would come from the GFCI outlet next to the sink to the switch then to the towel warmer.

Questions:

  1. I think the location of the towel warmer being within reach of the shower is code compliant as it is outside the footprint of the shower/tub. Am I correct in thinking that this is code compliant?
  2. Any issues with pulling power from the bathroom GFCI to the electronic timer then to the towel warmer?
  • If the manufacturer states that it can be hard wired then it's OK. – JACK Jan 8 at 0:34
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The code is a bit nit-picky on this, with a likely unintended consequence. First a little clarification of definitions in the NEC, a Receptacle means a receptacle, an Outlet is any point of connection of utilization equipment (fans, wall heaters, towel warmers).

NEC 210.11(C)(3)Bathroom Branch Circuits...at least one 120-volt 20-ampere branch circuit shall be provided to supply the bathroom(s) receptacle outlet(s). Such circuits shall have no other outlets.
Exception: Where the 20-ampere circuit supplies a single bathroom, outlets for other equipment within the same bathroom shall be permitted to be supplied in accordance with 210.21(A)(1) and (A)(2).

210.21 (A)(1) Cord-and-plug-connected Equipment Not Fastened in Place. ...not exceed 80%...

210.21 (A)(2) Utilization Equipment Fastened in Place. The total rating of utilization equipment fasted in place, other than luminaires, shall not exceed 50% of the branch circuit ampere rating...

So you could install a receptacle off the old receptacle circuit, no problem. But when you want to hard wire it then it becomes an outlet, not a receptacle outlet. So then you have to rely on the exception, the circuit has to feed just that bathroom, and total fastened in place can only total 50% of 20A, so 1200w. 100w added load probably isn't a problem.

I think the code writers probably weren't trying to make your 100w towel warmer such an issue, they were probably thinking things like baseboard heaters.

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Your #1 and #2 have a deep relationship so let's answer those together. Your GFCI has a LINE and a LOAD side. The LOAD side is protected by the GFCI. As long as your electrical device is not in an area it would directly come into contact with water (i.e. inside the shower/tub), and is attached to the LOAD side of the GFCI, it is compliant. In other words, it isn't just a good idea to hook it to the GFCI, it is required by code.

Your third part is a bit confusing. The answer stands if you're hard wiring it in, or just adding an outlet the rack can reach. As a matter of course, I would recommend wiring up an outlet rather than hard wiring the rack. If something happens to the rack, you still have a functional receptacle, rather than a strange box with capped off wires and a blank face plate.

  • Thanks for the answer. I removed #3 as it was confusing to me too. I plan on pulling power from the GFCI LOAD side to an in-wall electronic timer. The power cable for the towel rack exits at the bottom right of the towel rack and will be wired to the electronic timer. – MahJohn Jan 8 at 0:56
  • @MahJohn, how will you be bringing switched power out of the wall and to the rack, i.e. is the rack designed to interface with a junction box? When you say the "power cable for the towel rack exits at the bottom right of the towel rack", where will it go then? – Jimmy Fix-it Jan 8 at 2:16
  • Bathroom receptacles are wired to a GFCI breaker at the panel. The bathroom is top floor with attic above. Romex down the wall into the junction box and connect to the receptacle. The other end down the adjacent wall to a timer. The towel rack is wall mounted and can plug into a receptacle, can also be hardwired by cutting the plug end of the cord,sleeve into the wall up and and into the junction box to connect to the timer. It's a cleaner installation than a receptacle and a dangling power cord. There are photos online of this install method by an electrician. – MahJohn Jan 8 at 15:22
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Electronic timer not required

They also make clockwork timers which are simpler to wire. The difference being your wrist powers the clockwork, whereas a neutral wire powers the electronic job.

Regardless, the timer will need to be placed on the LOAD side of the GFCI. That means you need to get hot and neutral correct.

I don't see a problem with the towel rack being outside the shower.

Bathroom receptacles

Any receptacle in a bathroom must be on a circuit that can be either of these two.

  • A circuit that serves ONLY loads in this bathroom (receps and hardwired loads are fine).
  • A circuit that serves ONLY bathroom receptacles in any number of bathrooms, but nothing else.

That rule is going to haunt us, if this is cord-and-plug connected.

Power for it

The towel rack needs to get power from some GFCI somewhere. If it is cord-and-plug connected (not hardwired), the above receptacle rules must be followed.

So the obvious choice is the GFCI receptacle that's right there. And only 100W isn't going to overload the circuit.

If the device is hardwired, then the restrictive bathroom receptacle rules go away. You can power it off any circuit where such a load isn't forbidden. (for example kitchen countertop receps). But a basement or outdoor recep circuit would be a fine choice provided it has GFCI protection.

If you use a circuit that doesn't have GFCI protection, you can fit a GFCI "deadfront", which is a GFCI recep with the actual receptacles blanked out. It's just for this kind of thing.

Power straight to the towel rack

The above rules still apply if you bring power straight to the towel rack from somewhere else. I recommend that source be GFCI protected, so all the wiring is GFCI protected, including the supply wires.

You can then have a "switch loop" going up to the twist-dial or electronic timer, and use /3 cable so neutral is provided. Code doesn't require it, but your electronic timer does.

  • Yours and NoSparksPlease answer seems to contradict one another about whether hard-wire or plug in application could potentially violate code. – clwhoops44 Jan 9 at 13:59
  • @clwhoops44 No, we don't. The problem is, you're expecting to see "Hardwired is guaranteed ok" or "cord-and-plug is guaranteed ok" and it is not that simple. – Harper - Reinstate Monica Jan 9 at 20:26
  • "So you could install a receptacle off the old receptacle circuit, no problem. But when you want to hard wire it then it becomes an outlet, not a receptacle outlet. So then you have to rely on the exception..." "If the device is hardwired, then the restrictive bathroom receptacle rules go away. You can power it off any circuit where such a load isn't forbidden." – clwhoops44 Jan 10 at 13:40
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    @clwhoops44 for why those don't conflict, you have to understand the bathroom receptacle rule. If the circuit serves receptacles in 2+ bathrooms, then hardwired loads are forbidden on it. – Harper - Reinstate Monica Jan 10 at 18:24

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