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Some areas of a home need a special outlet

By C. Dwight Barnett
McClatchy-Tribune News Service

Q. We built our house in 1985 and all of the bathroom outlets are GFCI by being wired that way via its own breaker in the circuit box. But I have two outlets near my kitchen sink that are not GFCI. Do they need to be based on today’s code? One is 14 inches and the other is 22 inches from the sink. Is there a standard proximity to a water fixture that dictates the need for a GFCI outlet?

A. Modern homes require GFCI (ground fault circuit interrupter) protection either at the electric panel or at individual outlets. My understanding of the codes is that today’s homes require GFCI’s at all outside outlets, garage and bathrooms and at the countertop outlets in a kitchen, near bar sinks and at least one in an unfinished basement.

Homes built around 1972 are required to have GFCI outlets on the exterior and at all outlets near a swimming pool. Over the years, as codes changed, the other areas of the home were added to the codes for safety reasons. If you have an outlet in an area that is wet or has a sink (including a wet bar sink), then you probably should have GFCI protected outlets. GFCIs also are needed in areas where you would stand on the ground or on concrete when using using the outlet.

Codes in 1985 required GFCI protection for all kitchen countertop outlets that are within six feet of the sink. Opinions varied as to whether the rule meant six feet from the edge of the sink or six feet from the faucet. I would err on the side of safety and say all outlets that you can reach while touching any part of the sink should be GFCI protected.

Be careful installing GFCI outlets in a kitchen. In a home built around 1975 there should be two 20-amp circuits for kitchen, dining room and pantry outlets and separate circuits for appliances such as the refrigerator, disposal, dishwasher, etc. If you install a GFCI outlet that is between the electric panel and the refrigerator, the motor startup might trip the GFCI, and you could lose all the foods stored in the freezer and refrigerator. Also be aware that the first GFCI outlet installed on the circuit from the electric panel, called the line, will protect the remaining outlets installed on that circuit, called the load. Do not install a GFCI on every outlet.

Use a GFCI circuit tester to determine which outlets are protected and which ones need to be protected. Remember: never work on an electrical outlet, switch, light fixture or appliance until the main breaker or fuse has been turned off at the main service panel. If in doubt, hire a licensed residential electrician to help you.

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