4

Since the breaker box contains all the other electrical safety equipment it would make sense to put GFCI systems here; and GFCI circuit breakers are available which do this. But GFCIs inside receptacles are much more common. Is it just because they're older, because they are easier to reset, or something else?

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    From the information I've gathered, from hanging around this site. It seems that people are lazy, and don't feel like walking to the panel if the GFCI trips. – Tester101 Jul 2 '15 at 1:56
  • @Tester101 +1 for acknowledging the laziness of those like me :) – mjohns Jul 2 '15 at 2:43
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    Its entirely a country related thing. Here in germany you will find virtually nowhere a gfci device outside a breaker box. Unless of course in the shops that sell them – PlasmaHH Jul 2 '15 at 8:42
  • There are jurisdiction where a house-wide GFCI breaker is mandatory (with a separate more sensitive GFCI for the "wet" rooms) – ratchet freak Jul 2 '15 at 8:54
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    In the US at least, GFCI started out as a retrofit, easiest done in the outlet box specific to the need. I've seen a 20A breaker service two bedrooms and a bathroom. The house before that was fused, can still use GFCI outlets. – Fiasco Labs Jul 24 '15 at 16:06
11

The top few possible reasons are:

  1. Ease of access- it's easier to reset a tripped GFCI in the same room.
  2. Easier to retrofit- it's easier for a homeowner to install a receptacle than to dig around in the panel. Even if this type of panel work is trivial, most people just aren't comfortable with it.
  3. Cost- one GFCI receptacle is cheaper than a GFCI breaker. If multiple GFCI receptacles would be needed to properly protect a branch circuit, then this argument would diminish.
  4. Protection requirement(s)- some circuits do not require GFCI protection for the entire circuit, so installing a GFCI receptacle allows you to "target" the required areas (ie, if you don't want your lighting to trip in the case of a ground fault at a receptacle).
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    Cost was probably an even larger factor in the past, recently GFCI breaker prices have started to fall. – Tester101 Jul 2 '15 at 2:01
  • #5 - you can't use a GFCI breaker if there is a shared neutral – TomG Jul 2 '15 at 3:40
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    @TomG that's not true, you'd just have to use a double pole GFCI. – Tester101 Jul 2 '15 at 13:10
  • @tester101 - you're right. I forgot that they were available in double pole. – TomG Jul 2 '15 at 13:21
7

Both forms exist. The receptacle version can be installed by any reasonably handy individual. The breaker-box version provides broader coverage but is beyond the skills of most amateurs --- I could do it, but I would not be comfortable doing it.

Also, some of us have old boxes which make simply finding a compatible breaker a challenge; manufacturers of GFCIs are not going to make the effort to support all that outdated equipment.

Different constraints, different solutions.

  • "but is beyond the skills of most amateurs" - I disagree with this statement. Installing a GFCI breaker does not take much more "skill" than installing a GFCI outlet. – BlueRaja - Danny Pflughoeft Jul 2 '15 at 2:05
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    We agree that we disagree, BR. Skillset is similar, consequences of being sloppy or wrong are somewhat different. – keshlam Jul 2 '15 at 2:20
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    @BlueRaja-DannyPflughoeft I disagree with your statement. Opening the panel can be quite intimidating, especially to an amateur. Also, in the panel you're exposed to 240 volts, whereas at a receptacle location it's likely only 120. – Tester101 Jul 2 '15 at 12:45
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    To expand on that, @Tester101, you're also exposed to the service feed into your main breaker. Short of disconnecting at the meter, there's always something hot in your panel. – mjohns Jul 2 '15 at 13:18
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    Also, some of us still have fuses in our house! – ThreePhaseEel Jul 3 '15 at 2:37
3

There are two reasons that I can think of off the top of my head.

1) A GFCI breaker when tripped kills the entire circuit, including things you may not want to be killed.

2) According to an electrician friend, the breakers are a bit more sensitive and so nuisance trip more often.

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    The breakers may appear more sensitive, because they're detecting leakage current through the entire circuit. Where localized GFCI devices, may only be protecting a portion of the circuit. Both devices are designed to trip at the same range of leakage, as per codes and safety standards. – Tester101 Jul 2 '15 at 13:08
  • @Tester101 I kind of understand what you mean, but how is there more leakage when there are more devices? The only "normal leakage" I can think of is very sporadic and would require two devices to be hinky at the exact same moment which seems unlikely to me. I must not understand GFCIs well enough. – Zach Mierzejewski Jul 24 '15 at 16:13
0

While functionally the same, it is simpler to replace a receptacle gfci than a breaker. It is a bit scary for some to pull the cover off and work on an open panel. And it is dangerous. It is safer to simply cut the power from the panel, switch it out and be done with it. The receptacle also constrains the coverage area, which is an unknown in the case of panel breaker.

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