You Got to Be Kidding Me!

Installing a GFCI Outlet

Posted in Home Improvement by Stacy McMahon on March 10, 2007

I hate when house guests drop their blowdryers in the sink and electrocute themselves. Besides the liability issues and annoying holes in my social calendar, cleanup is just a bear and the smell of burning flesh takes days to dilute. To avoid these issues in the future, I decided to replace the standard electric outlet next to my bathroom sink with a ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) outlet.

GFCIs are basically circuit breakers built into the outlet. They sense incoming and outgoing current, and cut power if these become different from each other. That’s known as a ground fault, because the “missing” current has found another path to ground, for example through our hapless preening house guest. You’ve seen GFCIs–they’re the ‘fancy’ outlets with buttons and maybe an indicator light in the middle between the plugs. I’m too lazy to check, but the fact that I see them in many bathrooms makes me think they’re required by code these days. Anyway a GFCI is a good thing to have, plus which my old outlet was ugly:

Bathroom Outlet - Before

You can’t see it too well in that picture, but all the household wiring for my block appears to run through this box. That made it a PITA to install the GFCI, which is big and bulky. I needed an extra 1/4″ of space behind the outlet, and just barely managed to find it. The installation is almost certainly not up to code as far as having enough ‘breathing space’ for the wires, but I decided to go ahead anyway since a) it basically fit, b) there’s room in the wall for a deeper box and c) I’m planning to remodel the bathroom in the next 12 months, which will include opening the wall. I’ll fix the box problem then.

Here’s the new hotness:

Bathroom Outlet - After

Not as hot as I’d like, though. The gap on the right side of the cover plate is a common problem throughout the house. Besides using the cheapest possible components, whoever installed the wiring was damn sloppy about cutting the holes. You can see in the first pic how much extra space this one has around the sides of the box. That’s nice for seeing exactly where cables come in and out, but technically the ears on the outlet and switch should be resting on the drywall, and instead they’re completely inside it.

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One Response

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  1. Gregg said, on January 27, 2008 at 12:01 pm

    I have seen oversize outlet and switch cover plates at home improvement stores (places like Home Depot and Lowe’s). Before you paint the next time, get some drywall patch compound and fill in the gaps between the electrical box and the edge of the drywall. With a little practice the repair will never be noticed. A damp sponge works great for matching textures. I personally prefer using the quicker drying joint compound instead of drywall patch compound. The drawback is it only comes in large bags, not small plastic containers like the drywall patch compound.


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