I know I can install a GFCI outlet in the home run section of a circuit and install 3 pronged receptacles in anything downstream, even if they are ungrounded.

What if instead of installing the GFCI outlet at the first box, I install a GFCI breaker in the panel? Am I still in code compliance? I have seen very similar questions asked and answered, but not this question, not directly.

Bonus points if you can show me where to I can find this out myself in the code- either the NEC for the US or for any given state - e.g. Minnesota.

UPDATE: My question was answered, but I thought I'd add to it. I'll go the AFCI breaker and GFCI outlet method on the circuit in question. It begs the question why not switch out all circuits as AFCI? Why one? There's probably no good reason but it's lower priority so it will happen later, and i will make things safer but also be a learning experience. My panel probably isn't big enough to switch them all out. In fact the breaker in question is on the left side and if i switched it out, might just clear a plastic mount holding the neutral bar in place, or it might not. I suppose I can switch it out with one on the other side.

If it makes it, the wires are still tight and the white neutral that I'd feed into it is really short so I'd have to extend it. I think all this is doable but that's where I'm sitting.

I tested the outlets I want to change as to which is on which circuit. My upstairs is fed by three circuits. The 2 pronged are all on the same one so that's handy. My kitchen on main has two 2 prongs too, so I'll do the GFCI trick there. My bedroom has one 2 prong, and besides that, everything in the house is three pronged. There's a supposedly grounded duplex set of 4 outlets upstairs on it's own circuit which the tester indicated had reversed neutral and hot, so I'll fix that up. This process started by me wanting to make the outlets more aesthetically pleasing but it's expanded into me learning about electrical wiring and doing minor improvement. I wonder what's the story there. I inspected all this tonight but haven't opened boxes up (for all these outlets in question) so we'll see what we see. I think installing an AFCI is a good idea in theory and I ordered what I think is the correct one on Amazon but given the circumstances is lower priority.

The photo below is where I removed the breaker in question temporarily.

If anyone has any elder wisdom, I'm all ears and grateful.

breaker removed from panel

  • You can read the quoted NEC here, and detailed restricted use of ungrounded receptacles. diy.stackexchange.com/questions/225370/… Commented Jul 15, 2023 at 0:07
  • It appears that all, or almost all of the cables coming into the box do have ground wires, though it's certainly possible that at some point those cables connect to older cables without ground wires. Extending neutrals if needed is fine - a breaker box is a large junction box. Not the disintegrating cloth insulation with no ground wire sort of cable I would expect if there's truly no ground wire to the receptacles, at least here.
    – Ecnerwal
    Commented Jul 15, 2023 at 11:36

2 Answers 2


Yes, you can do that - IF you mark every receptacle (as you would need to for every downstream receptacle to be compliant with a receptacle style GFCI) as "GFCI protected, no equipment ground."

NEC 406.4.D. (the identification of the right paragraph gets a bit nutty, IMHO) or thereabouts. Code does not refer to GFCI breakers, it refers to GFCI protection, and is non-committal (meaning it does not matter, code-wise) as to whether it comes from a breaker or from an upstream device.


The better bet for the very old wiring your question implies would be to install an AFCI breaker, and a GFCI as the first device, thus getting both types of protection. Or a combination AFCI/GFCI breaker if one is available for your panel and not absurdly expensive.

  • I like that idea of installing both types of protection, an AFCI breaker for arc faults and a GFCI outlet as the first device in series. It will not only be safer but be more opportunity for learning. I forgot to mention the stickers but I'll put them on too. Strangely this circuit in my house (built 1914) has as far as I recall a few outlets that are grounded, but I will soon find out if that's the case.
    – gcr
    Commented Jul 14, 2023 at 21:27
  • There is nothing in your photo from 1914! It looks like every circuit coming out of this panel has a ground wire. So the first outlet in the cable path of each circuit, where you install the GFCI device, does not need the "no equipment ground" sticker. If the cable feeding onward from there has a ground wire, and if you can determine where it goes, the next outlet also doesn't. At some point along the way you may interface with older wiring, without ground, and from that point on you need the stickers. If you can determine the cable paths.
    – jay613
    Commented Jul 15, 2023 at 19:23

You can install ungrounded GFCI outlets as long as they are labeled "GFCI Protected, no equipment ground", all down stream outlets would need the same label. A GFCI outlet is about 1/2 the price of a GFCI breaker, and IMHO more convenient if it trips, IE: No need to go to the panel to reset.

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