I'm installing an outdoor electrical outlet on the back side of a fountain wall. Basically it's a 5 foot tall wall that flows water down the front of it, into a catch basin where it is pumped back to the top of the wall.

I thought I have read somewhere that if I plan to run pond pumps off of this new GFCI outlet, then I need to have a clearly labeled electrical shutoff switch near the outlet.

Is this true? Does code require this? And if so, can I run my THWN2 wires through the conduit and have it pass through the outlet box without pigtails, go up into a separate switch box where it will connect to the switch, and then back down to the outlet box again?

I would prefer to not have the switch, and just rely on the self-test GFCI outlet for safety/protection.

Like this (apologies for the 3 year old crayon drawing): enter image description here

1 Answer 1


Electrical drownings are deadly serious

If you understood how gruesome they are, you would earnestly want to do everything possible to avoid them. Imagine someone drowning, and a rescuer jumps in to help them and starts drowning too, and another rescuer does the same... that happens. It happens A LOT.

As in the linked case, it's not enough to GFCI-protect the device alone, because water could get behind the GFCI device and contact unprotected AC mains. So it's also important to protect the wiring that even approaches the fountain.

Also in that linked case, the critical 10 minutes needed to get the girls on CPR and save them from brain death, was spent frantically searching for a way to disconnect power. Hence...

GFCIs can protect downlines.

A lot of people look at GFCIs and think "That's a receptacle. It protects things plugged into it. It doesn't protect anything else". That's true if you wire it that way... but it's also possible to configure GFCIs so they protect onward wiring runs. In fact every GFCI device has terminals specifically for that purpose: the LOAD terminals.

So you can use a GFCI some distance away to protect both the wiring to the fountain, and the switch, and the receptacle all at once. This can be a GFCI receptacle located somewhere earlier in the circuit, or a GFCI breaker in the panel. It's also wise to locate GFCI devices indoors - they last a lot longer.

There's one more thing. Some GFCI devices do not like being downline of a switch, and will often trip when shut off or turned on. All the more reason to site the GFCI before the switch.

  • Thank you for that perspective Harper. So if I just change out the breaker to a GFCI breaker, that takes care of everything then correct? I originally avoided that approach because I wanted to run an outdoor refrigerator on the same circuit, so I wanted to pigtail the GFCI at the fountain so I could get a separate GFCI outlet at the refrigerator location. I already bought the GFCI outlets. But I would MUCH rather err on the side of safety. I'm not really that worried about my outdoor drink fridge being tripped once in a while. So a single GFCI breaker on that line will suffice, correct?
    – Jimmy
    Commented Aug 7, 2020 at 17:30
  • I mean the GFCI breaker will also serve as a switch? Or do I still need a switch at the actual pond pump outlet?
    – Jimmy
    Commented Aug 7, 2020 at 17:32
  • 2
    @Jimmy You need an actual switch. Something to SHUT OFF THE POWER in case somebody needs to be rescued and the GFCI/breaker didn't trip for any reason. You don't want to reach/jump in to grab your little one only to have you be electrocuted, too.
    – FreeMan
    Commented Aug 7, 2020 at 17:39
  • @Freeman -- Thanks, got it. But now the question is where? If i put the switch at the outlet location, but the upstream wires are what is causing the electrocution, and the GFCI breaker failed to trip, then the switch would not help. I could locate the switch back on the wall at the house, but that is about 50 feet away. Is that an acceptable location? Or do I need to actually run conduit out of the ground in the middle of the yard prior to the fountain and put a switch on a pole "some distance" from the fountain?
    – Jimmy
    Commented Aug 7, 2020 at 17:52

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