The National Electric Code (NEC), as well as all local building codes, need GFCI which is a ground fault circuit interrupter protection for most of the outlet receptacles in an entire home as well as in outdoor areas. The requirements are installed to protect the user from being exposed to shock in case there is a ground fault, a situation in which electrical current can accidentally flow beyond the created circuit. This protection is normally needed whenever an outlet is in contact with the earth or to water sources that can lead to the development of a direct path to the earth.
This needed protection can be offered either by the GFCI circuit breaker or sometimes by the GFCI receptacles. There are pros and cons to each of the two approaches depending on their installation. Besides you have to keep in mind that you must also adhere to the local electrical code that you must follow in order to pass electrical inspections as they might have their special requirements to how they should provide GFCI protection in your jurisdiction.
Traditionally, a GFCI circuit breaker handles the same thing as the GFCI receptacle and therefore to make a proper choice needs you to measure different cons and pros of each.
The GFCI circuit breakers are ideal for protecting the whole circuit
The GFCI circuit breakers are just simple. When you install one within the service panel, it enables the GFCI protection to the entire circuit which includes the wiring as well as all the devices and appliances that are in connection with the circuit. When an AFCI protection is also needed, there is a dual function AFCI/GFCI circuit breaker that can be applied.
The GFCI circuit breakers are more practical in conditions where the entire circuit outlets need to be protected. For example, when you are installing a receptacle circuit to your garage workshop or a huge outdoor patio base. Due to these receptacles you need a GFCI protection, this means that in order to have maximum efficiency you need to wire the circuit using a GFCI breaker so that all the appliances and devices which are connected to the circuit are protected.
Besides the GFCI receptacles are generally applied instead of a traditional outlet receptacle to provide protection to a single outlet area. But the GFCI receptacles can be wired in two identical ways to provide two identical levels of protection. Single location protection provides GFCI protection at a single receptacle point. While the multiple location wiring offers protection to the first GFCI receptacle and each receptacle that is downstream of it including the traditional receptacles within the same circuit. But it does not offer protection to the part of the circuit that is between the main service panel and itself. For example, in case the GFCI receptacle that is wired for multiple location protection lies as the fourth receptacle on the line within the circuit that contains seven outlets, then the first three outlets will never be protected.
The GFCI receptacles should be installed in easily accessible locations
In case the GFCI breaker trips you will have to reset the service panel as you are able to reset it at the receptacle location. The National Electrical Code (NEC) needs the GFCI receptacles to be in locations that are easily accessible so that to ensure there is easy access when you need to reset the receptacle in case it trips. Therefore, GFCI receptacles cannot be installed behind appliances or furniture. In case you have receptacles that require GFCI protection over these locations, install the GFCI breaker.
To reset a receptacle is traditionally more efficient than having to go all the way to the service panel in order to reset a breaker, but not that in case you wire a circuit for multiple-location protection from a single GFCI receptacle, whereas that particular receptacle controls everything that is downstream. In case there is any wiring problem below, you will need to backtrack so as to identify the GFCI receptacle so as to reset it.
The GFCI receptacles are so easy to install
Sometimes what to install depends on the question of efficiency. For example, in case you want a GFCI protection for a single or double receptacles let’s say, for a bathroom or laundry room, it will probably be sensible to install GFCI receptacles at those locations. Besides if you are a do it yourself type and you have no experience working on a service panel, installing a receptacle will not be an issue as it simple and safer as compared to installing a circuit breaker.
Other factors to consider
- The GFCI receptacles have wider bodies as compared to the traditional receptacles, so in some conditions, the physical room within the wall box affects your choice of selection. When it comes to the standard boxes there might be insufficient room to install a GFCI receptacle safely thus making the GFCI circuit breaker an ideal choice.
- The cost can also be a factor when it comes to decision making. A GFCI breaker might be expensive costing around $40 to $50, as compared to $4 to $6 for a standard breaker. In case money is a problem you will have to protect only a single location, and the GFCI outlet might be an ideal choice as compared to the GFCI breaker.
- The last one is the local electrical code which might have specific GFCI requirements that are identical to those which are recommended by NEC. You will have to consult your local building code department in order to have proper details and guidelines.