GFCI stands for ground fault circuit interrupter. A GFCI outlet protects you and your family from electrical shock, making it an especially important fixture in areas where moisture is present, such as bathrooms. The placement of GFCI outlets is regulated by state and city building codes and varies among commercial and residential applications. Building codes set the rules for where and how GFCI outlets are installed. Accessibility guidelines govern the standards for the outlet's height.
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A GFCI analyzes the electrical current in the outlet. When it becomes imbalanced, the GFCI turns off the electricity. It's useful when an appliance is sending too much current through the outlet as well as when water comes in contact with the outlet. Its main purpose is to prevent electrical shocks. GFCI outlets are required in bathrooms by city and state building codes because of the outlets' close proximity to water sources.
While commercial building requirements vary by city code, most cities have similar requirements, many of which are designed to meet Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) accessibility standards. A GFCI outlet, to remain accessible, should sit within about 15 to 48 inches from the floor. If the outlet is located over an obstruction such as a cabinet, the outlet should sit lower to keep it accessible to someone who is disabled or of shorter stature.
Residential building codes do not specify a bathroom GFCI outlet must sit at a certain height. The general requirement is the outlet must be within 36 inches of water basins. An outlet should sit at each basin, or sometimes the code may specify one outlet can serve two basins if it's located between the two basins.
To determine where to place the outlet, measure the distance from the floor to the middle of the outlet. Residential properties are not required to follow the same accessibility guidelines as commercial properties. However, installing GFCI outlets in your home at shorter heights makes them accessible if you or your family members develop a disability.