Why do we have GFCI outlets in the bathroom?

Home Inspector with Superior Home Inspections - Greater Albuquerque Area InterNACHI 10041206

GFCI outlets... what is GFCI? It stands for Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter. It can save your or your family's life! I was reminded of this the other day when I stepped into this bathroom. Now, I didn't meet or see the homeowners here, but it appears that the lady of the household has big hair! She's even got a can of Big Sexy Hair!!

So what does a GFCI outlet do? It's there to protect people from electrical shock. When you look at a normal 120-volt outlet here in the United States, there are two vertical slots and then a round hole centered below them. The left slot is slightly larger than the right. The left slot is called "neutral," the right slot is called "hot" and the hole below them is called "ground." If an appliance is working properly, all electricity that the appliance uses will flow from hot to neutral.

A GFCI monitors the amount of current flowing from hot to neutral. If there is any imbalance, it trips the circuit. It is able to sense a mismatch as small as 4 or 5 milliamps, and it can react as quickly as one-thirtieth of a second. 

So let's say our subject lady is in the bathroom grooming her hair. She is standing on the ground(tile), and the sink is full of water. She puts her hair dryer down and it rolls into the sink. She reaches down to pick it up at the same time it falls into the sink. Instantly, there is a path from the hot wire inside the drier through her to ground . If electricity flows from hot to ground through her, it could be fatal. The GFCI can sense the current flowing through her because not all of the current is flowing from hot to neutral as it expects -- some of it is flowing through her to ground. As soon as the GFCI senses that, it trips the circuit and cuts off the electricity.

Whew, safe to puff up her hair another day! Some people scoff at the notion one of the GFCI outlets are bad. Those are the people that doesn't understand just how important of a safety feature they are!

GFCI outlets have been required in bathrooms since 1975. I see so many of then that is bad, or not even installed at all. The debate is should homeowners be required to upgrade and add these outlets in homes that were'nt requred to have them back in the day when their old house was built when a sales transaction occurs? I think different municipalities require that and some don't. I would want them in my house... how about you?

Why do we have GFCI outlets in the bathroom?




Posted by

Fred Hernden 


 Superior Home Inspections





 Albuquerque, Rio Rancho New Mexico and surrounding areas...


“My mission is to provide superior quality home inspections to my clients to ensure peace of mind so they can confidently make the largest investment they may ever make!"


Please visit my website at: www.SuperiorHomeInsp.com for details!







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William Feela
Realtor, Whispering Pines Realty 651-674-5999 No.

I see many baths that not have these. I require them on the initial offer

Jun 03, 2017 09:34 AM #1
Mick Michaud
Distinctly Texas Lifestyle Properties, LLC Office:682/498-3107 - Granbury, TX
Your Texas Lifestyle is Here!

As a builder and remodeler, I've installed or replaced many bath and kitchen outlets with these.  Great idea.

Jun 03, 2017 10:32 AM #2
Anna Banana Kruchten CRS, CRS, Broker, Instructor
HomeSmart Real Estate BR030809000 - Phoenix, AZ

Fred really good post on the importance of GFCI's. There are still a few older homes in my area that need to be upgraded to GFCI's before going to market - because I know any buyer will ask for it to be done.

Jun 03, 2017 04:25 PM #3
Jay Markanich
Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC - Bristow, VA
Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia

That little round mirror over the sink has a regular side and a magnifying side.  When I look at the magnifying side I am shocked.  But somehow the GFI never trips.  So, I guess nothing is flowing from hot to neutral. 

I expect I am more neutral than hot anyway, but that's probably a matter of opinion.

Oh, good discussion on those receptacles!

Jun 03, 2017 05:33 PM #4
Fred Hernden, CMI
Superior Home Inspections - Greater Albuquerque Area - Albuquerque, NM
Albuquerque area Master Inspector

William - Good for you! I always recommend it, most people don't even sound interested! 

Mick - It sure is! All homes should be retrofitted in my opinion.

Anna Banana - We have a lot of older homes here without them, I do a lot of Pre-Listing Inspections here, I always recommend they upgrade because the buyer will probably ask!


Jun 04, 2017 09:33 AM #5
Fred Hernden, CMI
Superior Home Inspections - Greater Albuquerque Area - Albuquerque, NM
Albuquerque area Master Inspector

Jay - I don't thik you can use the word HOT and JAY in the same sentence.... but I cannot deny nor confirm that. The trick is to never look into that magnifying side silly boy, and you won't be shocked!

Jun 04, 2017 09:36 AM #6
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Fred Hernden, CMI

Albuquerque area Master Inspector
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