GFCI and Bathroom Wiring


Dear NH,
I am trying to install a GFCI in an old two-wire bathroom. There was only a light switch before, and I wanted to add a plug also, so I bought a GFCI with both a switch and a plug.

I have not been able to get it to work correctly using the wiring directions with the existing two wires to the line-in connections, and wonder if there is another wiring solution for this scenario. I can get the light switch to work correctly but not the plug. The unit will not reset, and the strange thing is that even without the light switch wired, the light glows faintly when I try to reset the GFCI. Could the unit be faulty?
JC from Lakeland, FL

JC,
You can't replace a light switch with a GFCI outlet, at least not per the instructions. The reason is the manufacturer assumes you are wiring your GFCI according to modern codes.

In the "good old days" of two-wire circuits, it was common to find electrical outlets integrated into bathroom light fixtures. People were not making great demands on their bathroom wiring. With the advent of heating appliances such as curling irons or hair dryers, the strain on smaller power capacity lighting circuits was seen as a danger. Now, current electrical code requires bathroom outlets to have their own, dedicated circuit protected by a GFCI. This circuit can be shared by multiple bathrooms.

Back to your question, is it possible to wire an outlet into this circuit? Yes, but I can't recommend it because you may be placing yourself and your home at risk. GFCIs protect against electrocution due to accidental grounding. They provide no protection against fires from overheating wiring, a genuine possibility if you install an outlet in the lighting circuit without professional inspection of your wiring.

Though I will always be a do-it-yourselfer, I consider this to be enough of a risk that you should consult with an electrician about the safe wiring options in your bathroom.
NH


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