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I recently moved into a unit of a 4 plex in Ontario, Canada. This thing scares me:

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Is an electrical outlet allowed to be above the sink like that? Was it ever allowed? It it something that absolutely must be fixed, or something that is grandfathered in because it's old, and allowed to stay until work is being done on it? Am I worrying over nothing, or risking my life to wash the dishes?

Some important facts:

  • It's clearly not a GFCI outlet. Nor are there any other GFCI outlets in the kitchen. I think this may have been installed before those were required?
  • It's a split outlet, with 3 wires going back to a double breaker. This is I believe required in kitchen circuits here.
  • The breaker is not a GFCI breaker. The electrical panel is an FPL Stab-lok, the sticker on it says it was inspected in 1987.
  • I haven't pulled out the outlet to confirm, but I'm pretty sure this outlet feeds the rest of the outlets in the kitchen, so simply disconnecting it and leaving the box dead isn't an (easy) option.

How would one go about fixing this? I'm just a tenant, so I need to either have the landlord fix it, or get permission to do it myself first. But in either case, I want to know what should be done.

Some things I've thought of:

  • Weatherproof cover like outdoor outlets have? I'm sure that doesn't meet any sort of code, and still isn't safe, but would it be safer? It's something I can do in 5 minutes without permission until a real fix could be done.
  • Replace with GFCI outlet. Do GFCI outlets even exist for split outlets?
  • Remove the outlet, cover with blank face panel - but it would still be live, and not exactly water proof. You can't just tile over a live junction box.
  • Replace the breaker with a GFCI breaker. I know there are 20amp ones, not sure about 15 amp ones. I do know they are stupidly expensive, and something I'd have to convince the landlord to do. I'd be perfectly comfortable doing it myself - but I sure don't want to foot the bill for that breaker.
  • Just to make you worry more, look up Stab-lok breakers. They were a defective product and are exceptionally dangerous because they don't trip. There's probably nothing you can get the landlord to do about it. I would invest in several dual technology smoke alarms. – Zach Mierzejewski Jul 30 '15 at 20:23
  • @ZachMierzejewski I've researched that before...there seems to be some debate about whether the Canadian ones (Federal Pioneer, not Federal Pacific) are as bad as the US ones. – Grant Jul 30 '15 at 22:39
  • Is that why you listed it as FPL instead of FPE? Thank you, I learned something new! – Zach Mierzejewski Jul 30 '15 at 22:40
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This might possibly have been legal in your jurisdiction around the time Franklin tied a string to a kite. As you've figured out, it's not prudent.

I know you said you've ruled out the possibility of a GFCI being upstream, but have you tested with one of the handheld interrupters? Reason I ask is that GFCIs sometimes turn up in the strangest places.

The easiest fix I can think of is to replace it with a GFCI (using one of the hot legs and capping/continuing the other hot within the junction box).

I suspect your landlord is responsible for fixing this, but you'd have to check with your local powers-that-be. You might get points for fixing it yourself and charging the landlord for parts and a bit of labour.

  • Have not tested it with a GFCI outlet tester - mine got lost in the move :) I plan on picking up a new one soon. But I'm 95% confident it's not GFCI protected. The only two GFCIs in the unit are the outdoor outlet and one in the bathroom, and neither is on this circuit. – Grant Jul 30 '15 at 14:17
  • GFCIs sometimes turn up in the strangest places A single outlet in my garage stopped working not too long ago. None of the breakers were tripped. After trying to trace which breaker the outlet was on, I discovered the GFCI in the nearest bathroom had tripped. – Michael Jul 30 '15 at 20:54
  • Michael: A single GFCI can be wired to protect several additional outlets wired "downstream" from the GFCI. Sounds like this is used in your configuration. – JS. Jul 30 '15 at 21:09
  • Tested with a plug in GFCI tester, tester remained powered. So it's definitely not a hidden GFCI somewhere else. – Grant Jul 30 '15 at 22:36
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If it's a split receptacle, then you have a couple options.

  • Installing a double pole GFCI breaker to protect the entire circuit.
  • Using multiple GFCI receptacles in locations upstream from this device (if applicable).

Double pole GFCI breaker

This ones fairly easy. Run out to the store, purchase a properly sized double pole GFCI breaker, and replace the old breaker with it.

GFCI receptacles

If there are outlets upstream from this device, you could install a GFCI receptacle on each part of the circuit. However, the wiring is a bit complicated, and would require you to pull an additional grounded (neutral) conductor throughout the circuit.

  • Thanks tester. I think GFCI receptacles are the way to go - I'm willing to do that myself. I'm pretty sure I understand the way to wire them, but I'll have to trace the wires and draw it out to be sure. The only big change here (besides not getting electrocuted) would be that each box in the kitchen will alternate circuits, instead of all the top receptacles on one circuit, all the bottoms on the other, correct? And if they branch in a way that would require a second neutral conductor, I could just replace ALL the receptacles with GFCIs, not using the load terminals at all, right? – Grant Jul 30 '15 at 15:03
  • Sure, you could replace all the receptacles with GFCI receptacles. However, they don't make split GFCI receptacles, so you'll have to change the wiring a bit. – Tester101 Jul 30 '15 at 15:06

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