We are in the process of building a new garage. I am putting 4 rows of light on separate light switches, they will be on separate circuits so if a breaker would trip I won't be in the dark.

From what I have read since the lights are plug in they need to be GFCI protected. I was going to come off the panel box to the switch then to an outlet in the ceiling. But once again from what I was reading a GFCI outlet is not allowed in the ceiling.

So my question is does the light switch also need to be after the GFCI outlet or can it be before the GFCI outlet where the light are plugged in?

Also can the GFCI outlet be at the top of the wall just not on the ceiling or can it only be so high off the floor? I don't really want to have 4 outlets right beside my switches.

  • If needed you could put either a GFCI breaker in the panel, or a deadfront GFCI in the box next to the switch. But I'm not sure about the key point of GFCIs being disallowed on the ceiling. – StayOnTarget Nov 22 '20 at 12:46

The requirements for GFCI protection are in NEC 210.8(a):

210.8 Ground-Fault Circuit-Interrupter Protection for Personnel. Ground-fault circuit-interrupter protection for personnel shall be provided as required in 210.8(A) through (E). The ground-fault circuit interrupter shall be installed in a readily accessible location.

and (A) tells you that receptacles in garages require GFCI protection.

The NEC has a very specific definition for readily accessible and if you need a ladder to get to the receptacle, it's not readily accessible.

Your cord and plug lights plug into receptacles, which require GFCI protection with the test-reset buttons in a readily accesible location. That does not mean that each receptacle in the garage must be GFCI type; if they are on the LOAD side of a GFCI breaker, receptacle, or dead front, they're protected. The dead front or first receptacle could go in any readily accessible location - by your switches, next to the panel, where ever you want.

GFCI breakers are a pretty straightforward way to handle it, if you've already started wiring this would fix your issues easily.

Dead fronts next to the switches would be nice, that's a nice conspicuous spot - easy to notice the indicator light when they trip. You could install a second box right above the switches. The circuit would come from the panel to the dead front then to the lighting.

Receptacles might be the way to go. The wiring would go to the LINE side of the GFCI receptacle then the rest of the receptacles - on the wall or in the ceiling - would be fed from the LOAD terminals on that first GFCI receptacle. This is probably the way to go for what you want.

Unless your garage is warehouse sized, four circuits for lights - probably LED - seems a bit much. Since LED lighting doesn't draw much power, you could put your regular general use wall receptacles on the same circuits as your lights. Maybe hedge and use 20A circuits with 15A receptacles.

Even then, four circuits seems a bit much for most garages. I might put half your receptacles and the odd rows of lights on one circuit, and the other half of the receptacles and the even rows of lights on the other circuit. Hit the GFCI receptacles first in each string and continue on to the rest.

  • The OP's purpose of having multiple circuits is not for load, but for redundancy, "so if a breaker would trip I won't be in the dark." I'd argue that said redundancy only needs to be two circuits instead of four, but that's a lesser point. – AaronD Nov 23 '20 at 1:50
  • @aaronD - that's exactly what I suggest in the last paragraph... – batsplatsterson Nov 23 '20 at 3:30

Use GFCI switches

You seem to be assuming that the only kind of GFCI available is a receptacle. They actually come in several other arrangements:

  • GFCI + breaker
  • GFCI + switch + 1-socket recep
  • GFCI deadfront (no sockets) useful for certain compliance issues
  • GFCI that is a switch

The last one looks like a GFCI dead front, but the Test/Reset buttons are actually On/Off. It is rated and UL listed for this use.

The other thing is, you don't need 4 circuits dedicated for lighting unless it's a grow house or you intend to use halogen. So these can certainly be 4 general use receptacle circuits, and simply inherit their GFCI protection from the rest of the circuit.

  • Grow house lights can actually require water cooled fixtures! – StayOnTarget Nov 22 '20 at 23:14

Hardwired Lights

I have some plug-in ceiling lights. I don't particularly like them! One of them I finally switched - original was plug-in, so I replaced with a plug-in. It died early (cheap junk, but I didn't realize it at the time), I returned it to Home Depot and put the money towards a hardwired light. Not a big deal to remove the receptacles and hard wire it.

Sometimes you don't have much of a choice. But you are doing new stuff, so there is no reason not to go with hardwired fixtures. That may rule out the bottom level of choices, but you want quality lights that will last a long time, and most of the cost is installation (your time and/or electrician's money). Once you go hardwired, the GFCI problem goes away.

I do recommend using only 2 circuits rather than 4. Less wire/fewer breakers. (But don't cut it down too much - an MWBC would save another wire but then the breakers would be tied together, which would remove the easy 1 on/1 off maintenance advantage.) 2 still gives you the ability to have 1 go out due to a breaker trip (very rare with simple lighting) and still have light. More importantly, if you ever need to replace one (or all) of the lights, you have 1/2 the light on while you are working. But 4 separate lighting circuits in a typical residential garage? No way.


If you have hardwired fixtures, rather than plug-in lights, they do not need to be GFCI. Plug in lights require receptacles, and there's no telling what might get plugged into receptacles, so they have to be GFCI protected.

If you insist on using plug in lights, they do need to be GFCI protected, and the GFCI should be "readily accessible" for reset - not requiring the use of a ladder - 6 feet 6 inches seems to be the accepted maximum height for that.

The GFCI can be a "deadfront" with no receptacle, or it can be done at the breaker if you want a "cleaner" look with no GFCI out on the wall.

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