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Odd GFCI wiring in bathroom has me wondering


bens0472
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Hi,

I'm a homeowner, going through a self-contracted bathroom bathroom renovation. Everything is all done, except that I'm changing out all of the outlets and light switches so that the color is more acceptable by the household inspector (my wife). In the bathroom, there are two GFCI outlets, one on either end of the vanity. One (BOX 1) has two cables coming into the box (each has a white, black and ground) and the other (BOX 2) has only one cable coming into the box (again, with a white, black and ground). Both outlets are GFCI outlets.

In BOX 1, both blacks are spliced together and a third black is added to this splice (all with a wire nut) which then connects from this splice to the black LINE connector on the GFCI outlet. Likewise, the whites are wired similarly. Nothing is connected to the LOAD connectors on the outlet. The grounds are also wired similarly.

In BOX2, as expected, the white is connected to the white LINE connector, the black is connected to the black LINE connector and the ground is connected to the ground terminal on the outlet. All this seems pretty straightforward.

So - my question is this: given that both outlets are GFCI outlets, is there anything really wrong with this configuration (not having what appear to be the LOAD wires in BOX 1 connect to the LOAD terminals on that outlet). If this is incorrect/dangerous, is the following a safe/reliable way remedying this situation:

1) Turn off the power to the bathroom at the circuit breaker.

2) Disconnect everything in BOX 1 and unsplice all of the blacks/whites/grounds.

3) Of the two cables coming into BOX 1, protect the ends of one of them with a wire nut on the end of each of the white, black and ground.

4) Connect the other cable's wires to the LINE terminals on the GFCI outlet and connect the ground appropriately.

5) Turn the bathroom power on at the circuit breaker.

6) Press reset on the outlet at BOX 1 and test it with an appropriate outlet tester.

7) If it doesn't work, repeat steps 1 through 6, this time switching the cables in steps 3 and 4.

8) If it still doesn't work, call an electrician.

9) If it DOES work, assume the disconnected cable IN BOX 1 is the LOAD cable.

10) Test the outlet connected at BOX 2. If it is getting power, something is wrong...STOP, turn off the bathroom power at the circuit breaker and call an electrician. If it is not getting power, go to step 11.

11) Turn off the power to the bathroom at the circuit breaker.

12) Replace the outlet in BOX 2 with a normal electrical outlet (Non-GFCI)

13) Connect the LINE and LOAD cables in BOX 1 as is appropriate for the first GFI outlet in a protected circuit.

14) Turn on the power to the bathroom

15) Test the outlet at BOX A. If it does not work, call an electrician.

16) If it does work, test the outlet at BOX B. If it does not work, call an electrician.

Last - is step 12 necessary? Can I leave a GFI outlet at BOX 2 even if I find that it's downstream in the circuit from BOX 1 and can be protected by a GFI at BOX 1?

If you've made it this far, thanks for reading and thanks for any advice.

Sincerely,

Ben

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This should be posted at a website for electricians like the theelectricalguru.com or similar.

I'll tell you what I'd do though.

1) Get a tester for checking wires.

2) Shut off breaker and make sure both outlets are off with tester

If both outlets on one breaker then do the following.

3) Remove both GFCI and remove all pigtails to find out which

wires are hot. Most likely one set in Box 1 and other set just connects to Box 2.

4) Once this is determined hook up hot wire set to Line and other set to load.

5) Box 2 just needs a regular receptacle but you could use GFCI. I wouldn't. If it's a 20 amp GFCI like the bathroom should be then use it on a 20 amp garage circuit which probably needs it.

6) If outlets are on different breakers you'll have to figure out where they all connect .....good luck...and always use a tester!

jim c.

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Originally posted by bens0472

Hi,

I'm a homeowner, going through a self-contracted bathroom bathroom renovation. Everything is all done, except that I'm changing out all of the outlets and light switches so that the color is more acceptable by the household inspector (my wife). In the bathroom, there are two GFCI outlets, one on either end of the vanity. One (BOX 1) has two cables coming into the box (each has a white, black and ground) and the other (BOX 2) has only one cable coming into the box (again, with a white, black and ground). Both outlets are GFCI outlets.

In BOX 1, both blacks are spliced together and a third black is added to this splice (all with a wire nut) which then connects from this splice to the black LINE connector on the GFCI outlet. Likewise, the whites are wired similarly. Nothing is connected to the LOAD connectors on the outlet. The grounds are also wired similarly.

In BOX2, as expected, the white is connected to the white LINE connector, the black is connected to the black LINE connector and the ground is connected to the ground terminal on the outlet. All this seems pretty straightforward.

So - my question is this: given that both outlets are GFCI outlets, is there anything really wrong with this configuration (not having what appear to be the LOAD wires in BOX 1 connect to the LOAD terminals on that outlet). If this is incorrect/dangerous, is the following a safe/reliable way remedying this situation:

1) Turn off the power to the bathroom at the circuit breaker.

2) Disconnect everything in BOX 1 and unsplice all of the blacks/whites/grounds.

3) Of the two cables coming into BOX 1, protect the ends of one of them with a wire nut on the end of each of the white, black and ground.

4) Connect the other cable's wires to the LINE terminals on the GFCI outlet and connect the ground appropriately.

5) Turn the bathroom power on at the circuit breaker.

6) Press reset on the outlet at BOX 1 and test it with an appropriate outlet tester.

7) If it doesn't work, repeat steps 1 through 6, this time switching the cables in steps 3 and 4.

8) If it still doesn't work, call an electrician.

9) If it DOES work, assume the disconnected cable IN BOX 1 is the LOAD cable.

10) Test the outlet connected at BOX 2. If it is getting power, something is wrong...STOP, turn off the bathroom power at the circuit breaker and call an electrician. If it is not getting power, go to step 11.

11) Turn off the power to the bathroom at the circuit breaker.

12) Replace the outlet in BOX 2 with a normal electrical outlet (Non-GFCI)

13) Connect the LINE and LOAD cables in BOX 1 as is appropriate for the first GFI outlet in a protected circuit.

14) Turn on the power to the bathroom

15) Test the outlet at BOX A. If it does not work, call an electrician.

16) If it does work, test the outlet at BOX B. If it does not work, call an electrician.

Last - is step 12 necessary? Can I leave a GFI outlet at BOX 2 even if I find that it's downstream in the circuit from BOX 1 and can be protected by a GFI at BOX 1?

If you've made it this far, thanks for reading and thanks for any advice.

Sincerely,

Ben

An electrician could have done this work for you in the time it took you to write that description.

Your method is sound, but unnecessarily complicated. Get a multi tester and use that instead of connecting, unconnecting and reconnecting receptacles.

There's no good reason to use two GFCI receptacles in the same room when one will do the job.

- Jim Katen, Oregon

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If both receptacles are on the same breaker circuit the odd wiring is probably due to older worries about GFCI's.They probably thought it better to have GFCI's independently at each spot and didn't believe that one GFCI at the beginning of the circuit would trip do the job. I can't guess how many times I've explained to people the concept of how GFCI's work.

Jim c.

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It is not unsafe but I would still call it wrong and change it.I've seen electricians do lots of things that worked but I would still say they were wrong i.e.- not the standard. ( Distribution panels always come to mind)In this case there is no good reason to leave it wired the way it is now. Assuming it's all on one breaker. It is a confused mess and unnecessary.

He is changing them out . He should use the standard

electrical way of wiring them. It will also save him from buying another gfci. Those pennies add up over a lifetime of house maintenance.

If any electrician tried to wire it the old way at your house would you say, " Hey, why not, it's pointless, going to cost me more and add needless ,confusing wiring but what the heck--go ahead."

My brother once needed a new ceiling fan put in his house. The box had multiple switches and a nightmare of wiring. It worked but took a while to figure it out. I just disconnected it and rewired it correctly so it was standard. I had a few wirenuts and lots of small pieces of wire on the floor when I was done. Just me maybe......lots of people would just hook it back the same I'm sure.

Jim C.

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Originally posted by StevenT

I've seen electricians wire individual GFI's parallel on the same circuit. I agree it is a waste of a couple of dollars for the difference in price of the outlet, but is there anything wrong with it? Functionally speaking, it will work just fine.

Steven,

That's what I'm wondering - whether BOX 1 and BOX 2 are wired in parallel from a single breaker (a single breaker at the panel kills both outlets so I know they're both connected to the same breaker). Woudn't that mean, though, that both boxes should have LINE and LOAD cables?

I'm going to follow Jim C.'s advice below and see what happens to BOX 2 when I disconnect everything in BOX 1. I expect that it'll lose power which should indicate that it's downstream of BOX 1 and NOT wired in parallel from a single breaker, but wired serially. If that turns out to be the case, then it's just a matter of determining which cable in BOX 1 is LINE and which is LOAD.

Thanks for the reply.

Ben

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Originally posted by jgclancy

This should be posted at a website for electricians like the theelectricalguru.com or similar.

I'll tell you what I'd do though.

1) Get a tester for checking wires.

2) Shut off breaker and make sure both outlets are off with tester

If both outlets on one breaker then do the following.

3) Remove both GFCI and remove all pigtails to find out which

wires are hot. Most likely one set in Box 1 and other set just connects to Box 2.

4) Once this is determined hook up hot wire set to Line and other set to load.

5) Box 2 just needs a regular receptacle but you could use GFCI. I wouldn't. If it's a 20 amp GFCI like the bathroom should be then use it on a 20 amp garage circuit which probably needs it.

6) If outlets are on different breakers you'll have to figure out where they all connect .....good luck...and always use a tester!

jim c.

Jim,

Thanks for the tip! I'm using your method and also headed to ElectricalGuru.com, now.

All the best,

Ben

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The GFI's do have line and load terminals. Unless someone tells me different, there is nothing wrong (illegal) with them being wired in parellel. All it means is that if one outlet trips, there is nothing down wire that will trip... the other outlet will be uneffected. But yet all (or both) of the outlets are still protected. Some folks might prefer it that way.

I think that the only reason to have one GFI with everything else wired into it is to save money. If this is your home and you are only talking about one outlet, the extra dollar or two should not be an issue. If you are building multiple homes or are an electrician and wire hundreds of outlets, yes, the dollars will add up. Now if you are calling someone in to rewire it, don't you think that will cost more than the difference in price of one GFI?

I guess it is just a matter of preferance.

I would really like Jim Katen's input as far as the illegality or disadvantage of wiring the outlets this way. I realize there may be no good reason to wire something this way. But, since it is already wired, it there a good reason to "unwire it?"

By the way, they are wired parellel. If you want to prove it,

First trip #1 GFI, if the other is still alive, trip the circuit breaker. If they are both off it is wired parellel.

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Originally posted by StevenT

. . . I would really like Jim Katen's input as far as the illegality or disadvantage of wiring the outlets this way. I realize there may be no good reason to wire something this way. But, since it is already wired, it there a good reason to "unwire it?" . . .

Either way is acceptable per the NEC. Whether you unwired it or not would be a design decision. The NEC doesn't address design issues.

I prefer to see choices that limit the number of connections so if it were my house, I'd run the wires through the line & load terminals on the GFCI in the first box and install a regular receptacle in the second box. (Assuming that both boxes are in the same room. If they were in different rooms, I'd prefer to not use the load terminals on the first GFCI.)

- Jim Katen, Oregon

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Jim

That brings up an interesting thought. Ben said that he was renovating this bathroom, perhaps each of these GFCI receptacles were originally in seperate rooms. That has me curious as to how a modern master bath would be wired if say the sink area was seperated from the bath or toilet area, would one GFCI be sufficient or would each area be treated as a seperate room?

Tom

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Originally posted by Tom Raymond

Jim

That brings up an interesting thought. Ben said that he was renovating this bathroom, perhaps each of these GFCI receptacles were originally in seperate rooms. That has me curious as to how a modern master bath would be wired if say the sink area was seperated from the bath or toilet area, would one GFCI be sufficient or would each area be treated as a seperate room?

Tom

There'd be nothing technically wrong with having a GFCI in one room protect a receptacle in another room.

- Jim Katen, Oregon

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I wonder if Tom is asking if there needs to be separate GFCI protected receptacle in the room with just the toilet?

I've seen houses that have different bathrooms with all outlets

on one circuit and only one GFCI for all of them. They do this when they start to run out of room for circuits in the panel. Technically, just a different design which is poor workmanship(in my opinion).

Jim c.

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Originally posted by jgclancy

I wonder if Tom is asking if there needs to be separate GFCI protected receptacle in the room with just the toilet?

There's no requirement for a receptacle in a toilet room. The only requirement for receptacles in bathrooms is that there be one receptacle within 36" of the sink.

- Jim Katen, Oregon

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