Should You Use A GFCI Outlet Or A GFCI Circuit Breaker?

Water and electricity don't play well together. Because of that, in most places regulations state that GFCI outlets have to be installed anywhere that water and electricity may interact. That includes places like your bathroom, kitchen, basement, and outdoor outlets. However, there is an alternative to GFCI outlets, and that is to use a GFCI circuit breaker. 


GFCI stands for ground fault circuit interrupter. Each small circuit carries its own circuit breaker. If water is sensed in the circuit or there is a power surge, the circuit breaks locally instead of having to go all the way through the house's electrical system to be interrupted at the main breaker. Interrupting a circuit locally in this fashion is slightly quicker than going to the main breaker box, which can limit any damage or injury. 

Outlet vs. Circuit Breaker

In areas where a GFCI device is mandated, you can choose to have your electrician put in either an outlet or a circuit breaker. But what are the differences and which is the best choice for any location?


You've probably seen GFCI outlets in lots of places. They create a small circuit that is activated when something is plugged in. That circuit is part of a larger area circuit, which in turn hooks up to the house's main circuit breaker. The outlet has two buttons on its face. If the circuit is broken, one of the buttons will pop up and cause the circuit to remain broken until the button is pushed back down. The GFCI outlet is used for one particular area. Other outlets on the larger circuit may not be GFCI outlets. For example. your kitchen may have GFCI outlets near the sink, but areas which are further from the water may have regular outlets. 

Circuit Breakers

GFCI circuit breakers are added onto your house's regular electrical system. They have the same GFCI function that an outlet does, just on a larger scale. These circuit breakers are still a local circuit breaker because they don't cover your whole house, they just cover one particular circuit. GFCI circuit breakers are a good choice for circuits where the entire circuit would have GFCI outlets installed. For example, bathrooms that have whirlpool tubs, saunas, or steam showers installed would have a lot of outlets that would need GFCI plugs, and the room may be its own circuit. Installing a GFCI circuit breaker would be easier, take less space, and have the same benefits. 

If you aren't sure whether a GFCI outlet or circuit breaker is the right choice for the area you are concerned about, an electrician can tell you which would work best and get it installed for you. Contact a business, such as Dr Electric, for more information.