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GFCI Bathroom Outlet | Where Must it Be Located?

A GFCI outlet installed in your bathroom is a means to protect yourself from electric shocks. It is required by code for every bathroom to have at least one GFCI outlet installed.

To best understand this requirement and to know exactly where to install one, we will look at the Electrical provisions of the International Residential Code which covers the installation of electrical systems and their components within the scope of the IRC.

The IRC has an entire part within it dedicated to electrical systems and inspections of residential dwelling units subject to the International Residential Code.

Since the IRC was created to serve as a complete/comprehensive code, it is divided into eight main parts. One of these being for electrical systems.

Fun Tip: To learn the difference between the International Residential Code (IRC) and the International Building Code (IBC), be sure to check out this POST.

It is however important to always check with your local jurisdiction before planning to do any work since the codes and their requirements can vary depending on where you live.

What is a GFCI Outlet?

GFCI stands for “Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter”. To better understand what this is, let us look at the definition found in Chapter 2 of the code.

Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter Definition

GROUND-FAULT CIRCUIT-INTERRUPTER. A device intended for the protection of personnel that functions to de energize a circuit or portion thereof within an established period of time when a current to ground exceeds the value for a Class A device.

Basically GFCI outlets are devices that detect an imbalance between the hot and neutral wires in a home’s wiring system. If there is a problem with the wiring, the GFCI will interrupt the circuit to stop any potential damage.

Is a GFCI Outlet Required in Bathrooms?

Section E3902 of the CRC specifies when and where GFCI outlets are required to be installed. Here is the code section regarding bathroom receptacles:

E3902.1 Bathroom receptacles. 125-volt, single-phase, 15- and 20-ampere receptacles installed in bathrooms shall have ground-fault circuit-interrupter protection for personnel.

So 15 and 20 ampere receptacles that are single phase and 125 volts are required to be GFCI protected when installed in bathrooms.

Now that you know GFCI outlets are required in bathrooms, where exactly must they be placed?

Where must GFCI Bathroom Outlets be Located?

Section E3901 of the CRC requires outlets to be distributed throughout various rooms for general use. In Section E3901.6 specifically, the code talks about the location of the outlet in a bathroom.

Here is what the code section says:

E3901.6 Bathroom. At least one wall receptacle outlet shall be installed in bathrooms and such outlet shall be located within 36 inches of the outside edge of each lavatory basin. The receptacle outlet shall be located on a wall or partition that is adjacent to the lavatory basin location, located on the countertop, or installed on the side or face of the basin cabinet. The receptacle shall be located not more than 12 inches below the top of the basin.

Receptacle outlets shall not be installed in a face-up position in the work surfaces or countertops in a bathroom basin location. Receptacle outlet assemblies installed in countertops shall be listed for the application.

Lets walk through this code section.

It requires at least one receptacle outlet to be installed in a bathroom. The outlet must be located within 36 inches of the outer edge of a lavatory sink.

It can be installed on a wall or partition adjacent to the lavatory, on the countertop, or on the side or face of the basin cabinet.

At no point shall it be located more than 12 inches below the top of the basin.

GFCI Outlet Near Sink

To best visualize this, let’s take a look at the image below:

GFCI Bathroom Outlet

The grey shaded area is 36 inches within the outer edge of the basin and not less than 12 inches below the top. The outlet serving the basin can be located within this area.

Of course it is always best to use common sense. Even though the code allows for this area, you always want to place the outlet at the best useable location while staying within the area that the code prescribes.

Some bathrooms are large and the other fixtures are not always located so close to each other. Also sometimes there can be a lot of items located on the wall around this sink, so this much space gives you some options for placing the outlet.

GFCI Outlet Near Two Sinks

What happens when you have two lavatory basins within a bathroom?

The code says to have at least one outlet within 36 inches of each lavatory. Therefore you can place the outlet in the middle to meet the requirements of the code. This way both lavatory basins are served by this outlet as long as it is within 36 inches of both.

To best visualize this, let’s take a look at the image below:

GFCI Bathroom Outlet

Again it is always best to use common sense. You don’t need to have only one. You can have more outlets serving the lavatory basin. The code just requires at least one be provided.

Another think to note here is to make sure that the receptacle outlet assembly installed in the countertops must be listed for that use, meaning they are rated to be installed in a countertop application.

This is important because trying to install an unlisted receptacle outlet assembly in a countertop can create a fire hazard. Therefore be aware that the electrical assembly for this application must be listed.

Final Words

I hope you’ve found this article to be helpful. You just learned what the purpose of a GFCI outlet is, if it is required in the bathroom, and where it should be located.

For more information regarding GFCI bathroom outlets, be sure to check out Section E3901 and E3902 of the 2018 International Residential Code.

Reference Source – 2018 International Residential Code – [Buy on Amazon]

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