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I have a bathroom with only a light switch and no outlets. The wiring is old so there are no ground wires. Can I put an outlet on that circuit and if so, should it be a GFCI?

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Considering the age of the home, the only complaint, and in my opinion safe, alternative is to have a new circuit run to the bathroom for the GFI. It is almost guaranteed that in a bath a hair dryer will be used, which is a huge draw for a general use circuit. So adding a receptacle to the existing wiring will not only not be code complaint, it will stress the existing circuit quite a bit.

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    Make it a 20A! (the new one that is) Commented Jan 28, 2015 at 19:59
  • @ChiefTwoPencils, good point. Commented Jan 29, 2015 at 18:58
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I suppose there seems to be some confusion of what you can or cannot do, and unfortunately it seems that this is determined by a permitting process.

Electrical codes are not a hoop you jump through to pass inspection. They are for protecting life and property. Is the loss of life permissible in the absence of the permit; if something goes bad and another person dies as a result of purposeful wrong/bad wiring, will your responsibility be passed over because there's no permit? No, in fact, if provable, it could turn from responsible to negligent.

I'll answer the question in terms of the NEC 2011 code because that's what my area uses and it's still used by ~50% of the United States. If you're not covered by this code or another edition, you'll have to verify any changes or hope for an edit by another member.

210.11 Branch Circuits Required


(C) Dwelling Units.


(3) Bathroom Branch Circuits.

In addition to the number of branch circuits required by other parts of this section, at least one 20-ampere branch circuit shall be provided to supply bathroom 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 210.23(A)(1) and (A)(2).

The exception here states that you can power equipment, either not fastened in place with an 80% load limit, or fastened in place (your lights) with a 50% limit. So iff that circuit you speak of is dedicated (serves no other rooms or equipment) and 20-ampere , which is doubtful based on your post, you can have the lights and the receptacle, which does need to be protected by a receptacle or breaker type GFCI, together on the same circuit.

Bottom line: receptacles in certain areas are not treated like any old receptacle in say the living room. They have special requirements due to their likely and intended uses and/or exposure to danger. These areas include: kitchens, laundry areas, bathrooms, and others. When you do electrical work, you do it right; period. If not for your own peace-of-mind (I mean you do live there; right?), but because other permitted work you may do in the future can trigger general inspections in unrelated areas. For example, in CA, if you remodel your kitchen, be prepared to change out any plumbing fixtures in all bathrooms which are not "efficient" enough for today's standards. What does your toilet have to do with your kitchen? Nothing, but that doesn't stop them from capitalizing on being in your home. I'd venture to say, and know for my locale, if you change that panel out one day, "grandfathering" in improperly wired bathrooms is off the table. Might as well do it once and do it right.

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Yes you can, and it must be a GFCI. But watch out for overloading the circuit. It should be fine for an electric toothbrush or curling iron, but a 1200W hairdryer might blow fuses/breaker depending on what else is on the circuit.

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  • This would not be complaint if that matters at all. You cannot share a bath receptacle circuit with any other rooms, and it is highly doubtful that in an old home this one bath is a completely separate circuit. Commented Jan 28, 2015 at 12:16
  • Not only can you not share any other rooms, other than another bathroom, but it cannot have lighting loads. The lights in a bathroom, if done correctly, is on a different circuit. So - no on most likely 2 accounts - it's a lighting circuit, it's not 20A. Commented Jan 28, 2015 at 19:58

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