8

I have a half-bath on the main floor of our house that is small and has only 3 electrical items in it:

  1. Light above the sink (and corresponding light switch)
  2. Fart fan (and corresponding light switch)
  3. Two non-GFCI receptacles (one box, two plug-ins) next to the sink

I understand that, by itself, this is against code and that those receptacles must be GFCI-protected. However, my house is new enough (~1995?) that I'm sure this has to be up to code but I don't know what GFCI switch actually controls this.

My questions:

  1. I understand a device like this will prove that it is or is not protected. But how?
  2. If it is protected, is there an easy way to find the device that protects it? (our circuit breaker box's labels are worse than useless b/c of how wrong the labels are)
  3. If I find it's not protected, then I'm definitely going to replace it to protect it. Is it correct that I should replace it with a 15A box unless both my wiring and circuit breaker are proper for 20A? (Current receptacles are 15A judging by not having the horizontal "right-angle" hole.)
  • 2
    FWIW, my 1986-ish house has a GFCI in one bathroom which controls both that room and the back-to-back second bathroom. – Carl Witthoft Sep 6 '16 at 19:16
  • I just wanted to come back and say that I finally figured it out. It's connected to a GFCI outlet in the furthest room in the (4700sqft) house! That sure was a pain but I finally found it. Thanks!! – Jaxidian Oct 22 '16 at 23:58
  • Took 6 weeks to find? That's about par. Why would distant rooms e sharing a leg, I wonder? – JDługosz Dec 31 '16 at 8:07
13

Step One, which I do for every home I occupy, is to do a thorough map of the circuit breakers by simple trial-and-error. Check every outlet, light, and wired appliance in the home. Print a nice list of what each breaker protects and tape it over the cryptic scribbles left by sparky.

Here's my Google sheet for those who'd like it. I left my data in it as an example. Simply make a copy and replace the data with yours. I fold it down the middle, book-style, and tape it to the panel door at the fold so it fits nicely inside.

  1. The device you link doesn't locate GFCI outlets, just the specific breaker you're on. I honestly don't know why a homeowner with just one residence to inspect would need it.

  2. There are likely only a few GFCI outlets in your home. They're commonly located in bathrooms, kitchens, and garages, among other potentially wet areas. Try them one at a time and you'll get there.

  3. If your outlets are not protected, but are on the same circuit, you should be able to simply replace the upstream outlet with a GFCI outlet and connect the downstream run to the LOAD side, thereby protecting the other outlet (and anything else downstream).

A 20A outlet is at most a few dollars more than a 15A outlet, so it's probably worth going that route. It may be legal to use a 15A outlet, however. Our resident code geeks can tell us for sure.

  • 3
    To add how the linked product would test the receptacle: The circuit tester (item on the right in the link) plugs into the receptacle, and then you press the button on it to cause a ground fault. The GFCI receptacle / breaker protecting the receptacle should then trip, and the lights on the circuit tester will go off. You'd need to find the tripped GFCI to reset it. amazon.com/Sperry-Instruments-GFI6302-Outlet-Tester/dp/… is just a circuit tester, no finder. – mmathis Sep 6 '16 at 18:11
  • 1
    Thanks for the clarification. Since it gives no actual location information, I'd consider it a waste of money. My $.02. – isherwood Sep 6 '16 at 18:15
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    I agree. To clarify, almost no outlets or switches in a residence are rated for 20A. Code allows for limited use of such 15A devices in certain cases. Rated 20A outlets have side slots. More on that: diy.stackexchange.com/questions/12115/… – isherwood Sep 6 '16 at 18:18
  • 2
    You do not need a 20A receptacle. 15A receptacles are rated for 20A pass-through. Also, a reminder to never put a 20A device on a circuit only rated for 15A. – nstenz Sep 6 '16 at 19:09
  • 3
    @mmathis or alternatively, hit the Test button on each GFCI and see if any of them cuts off power to the bathroom :-) – Carl Witthoft Sep 6 '16 at 19:15
6

While I understand things should be up to code, I wouldn't assume anything. A previous owner could have done anything they wanted.

  1. The orange button causes a "ground fault" which should trip the GFCI if one exists. I'm not sure what happens if there is no GFCI installed. Also worth noting is you can get a simple GFCI tester for around $10
  2. I don't know of an easy way...
  3. Yes, you can use a 15 amp outlet. In fact you can use a 15 amp outlet on a 20 amp circuit as long as there are other outlets on that circuit. The logic being unless you have heavy equipment, you probably aren't plugging a 20 amp appliance into one outlet. See this article for code details.

Regarding #2 - if the wall that your bathroom outlets are on have other outlets on the other side, its possible that is where the GFCI is. For example, my parent's condo has a single non GFCI in the bathroom, but on the opposite side of that wall is their kitchen, which has the GFCI.

Also, they make GFCI circuit breakers, so you may want to check your circuit box to see what you have. I'm not sure what the NEC requirement is for GFCI circuit breakers vs outlets in bathrooms.

  • 1
    If the circuit isn't GFCI-protected, pushing the button on the tester does nothing. – mmathis Sep 6 '16 at 18:21
  • Sure wish I could have chosen two answers - both you and Isherwood gave great information. I chose his first only because he posted first. But thank you greatly for all of this wonderful information!! – Jaxidian Sep 6 '16 at 18:38
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    Yeah, I like the other answer as well. I glanced at it right before I submitted mine, and thought they were different enough to chime in :). – Jason Capriotti Sep 6 '16 at 18:39
  • I definitely appreciated the additional thoughts you provided as well as validation of the information in the other answer. Thank you. :-) – Jaxidian Sep 6 '16 at 18:45
  • 1
    GFCI breakers are pretty easy to identify in the panel : checkthishouse.com/wp-content/uploads/gfci-breaker.jpg – J... Sep 6 '16 at 23:18
1

The bathroom may be adjecent to another wet area in the house, so it shares the plumbing and drain routes efficiently. E.g. the wall with the pipes may service sinks on both sides of the wall. That makes it simple for the electrical outlets to share a leg, too. With only one outlet (pair), it makes sense to share a leg with other rooms or even (in a case I recall) with garage (now that was hard to locate!).

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