1. Why doesn't NEC require AFCI breakers for bathrooms/lavatories?

  2. Is there a good reason NOT to install AFCI protection on a 15A/20A 120V bathroom outlet? (I.e., use GFCI only.)


6 Answers 6


We're reading tea leaves here to guess at NFPA's intent. National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) writes the "model electrical code" which they offer for anyone in the world to adopt as their law.

But politically, NFPA has been having a big problem. Normally NEC changes are fairly trivial in cost: Pull a neutral wire on switch loops, gosh, you're using the /3 Romex instead of the /2. It's maybe $3 per house. Those increments have been getting bigger, as they've started so snake GFCIs and AFCIs in more and more places.

Mind you, AFCIs started out as a solution for electric blankets starting fires in bedding. However, they discovered that in actuality, AFCIs were catching arc faults caused by backstab connections. Backstabs are a builder favorite (jab a wire in a hole and you're done, instead of having to form a shepherd's hook and torque to spec, times say 200 connections in a typical house). Builders don't want to quit backstabs. (if they fail after closing, who cares?)

Well, in 2014, NFPA was hellbound and determined to require AFCI or GFCI breakers on darn near everything. And a lot of people were thinking "Why not just outlaw backstabs, then?" Anyway, NEC 2014 was adding six hundred bucks to the cost of a house, which was actually going to have a material effect on real estate prices.

Builders were saying "Oh hell no", and telling their Congresspeople to say "Oh hell no". And NFPA had to lobby right back, and influence public opinion. So states adopted NEC 2014 very reluctantly (seven still haven't), and some states still adopted it with some AFCI/GFCI requirements left out.

Anyway, requiring both AFCI and GFCI on a circuit was politically "a bridge too far".

  • This will change with the 2020 NEC... Jan 25, 2020 at 1:33
  • 5
    And those arc faults were caused by beds hitting the plugs, which was caused by uniformly placing receptacles in the middle of the wall instead of nearer the corners, which was caused by the 12' rule... Jan 25, 2020 at 7:35
  • 1
    "as they've started so snake" should that be "to sneak"? If no, what the heck does it mean?
    – FreeMan
    Nov 6, 2020 at 13:40
  • 1
    Also, is $600 really all that noticeable in a $150,000 house? True some houses are less expensive than that, but many are more expensive. According to this (seems like reasonable source, near the top of the search results), the median house price in June 2020 is $278,000. That's 0.2% of the median sales price of a house!
    – FreeMan
    Nov 6, 2020 at 14:32
  • @FreeMan Sneaking like a snake... sneaking makes it sounds like doing something illicit, but it's their job to do that... Nov 6, 2020 at 17:32

NEC doesn't require AFCI because it does require GFCI, and they are not the same. GFCI outlets protect against electrical shock and this is very important around water.

AFCI protects against electrical arcs that come from damaged cords and bad connections. Arcing is super hot, and is responsible for electrical fires.

A combination protection device could be installed in the bathroom, but some people say the combo's don't work quite as well as single purpose GFCI, and arcing fires are generally not a risk in a room filled with tile and other hard surfaces.

  • 1
    GFCIs protect people. Circuit breakers protect the house's wiring. AFCIs protect the house from faulty end-user equipment, in rooms likely to be occupied for extended periods (especially while unconscious) and with high flammability, +1.
    – Mazura
    Jan 25, 2020 at 21:56
  • "some people say the combo's don't work quite as well as single purpose GFCI" Citation Needed.
    – TylerH
    Feb 22, 2021 at 19:05
  • 1
    @Mazura AFCI breakers can prevent in-wall and out-of-wall faults. Both are important.
    – David J.
    Apr 13, 2023 at 0:43
  1. Maybe because arc faults are not more dangerous in those places then in other rooms of a building. The probability of arc faults to go undetected may be even lower in bathrooms, since normally all electric appliances and devices are only switched on if that room is occupied. An arc could be detected by smell, flickering or fume. A fridgerator, A/C unit, laptops and other devices are often running in rooms without a person being present all the time.
  2. No, assuming there is a GFCI and a correct earthing. In that case, an AFCI protection is as indicated as in any other room. In theory, the probability for an arc to occur increases with the water in the air, but a room's air without any water outlet could have a high moisture level as well, dependent on location and weather. Otherwise, a GFCI is very important in rooms with water and electric outlets, independent on local codes.
  • @FreeMan It is one of my hobbies to demand mandatory built-in timers in all suited electric devices like ranges, solder irons, hair dryers (deaf users), dish washers, electric heaters for temporary use, curling irons, toasters (jamming) etc. Only micro wave ovens seem to be only available with timers. Electric devices w/o those timers (exception are fridgerators etc.) should no more be produced nor imported. Alternatively a push-and-hold button should be mandatory as available for hotel hair dryers. Besides improving the safety levels, it could help to save energy, too.
    – xeeka
    Nov 7, 2020 at 21:58
  • All societies tend to raise the average age, and old people have more memory problems. Sadly, there seems to be no initiative by all the many national and international regulatory bodies that are responsible for the safety - nor by insurances.
    – xeeka
    Nov 7, 2020 at 21:58

There is also a disincentive to properly maintain bathroom GFCI equipment if the NEC were to require all receptacle replacements to have AFCI protection. Leaving this requirement out for bathrooms enables professionals to continue updating bathroom receptacles with life-saving GFCI protection without the cost and concern of changing circuit breakers or other connections.


The reason AFCI's aren't required in the bathroom is a bit obscure. AFCI's are subject to nuisance tripping, and when people get fed up with the nuisance tripping, they often replace the AFCI/GFCI breaker with an ordinary one, losing the ground fault protection. In a bathroom, the loss of a GFCI is more dangerous than the absence of an AFCI is.


Without a lot of information I cannot answer this. In my area AFCI is not required but GFCI's are on all outlets if within a 6' of a plumbing fixture such as a sink or faucet. Per my local inspector this is according the NEC (National Electric Code). The best answer I can give you check with your local inspector, in the end that is the person that will approve it.

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