Since the GFCI outlets can provide extra safety to the appliances, most houses have GFCI outlets and breakers. But can a GFCI outlet be connected with a light switch? Let’s figure it out.
There is no risk in connecting a GFCI outlet to a light switch. The GFCI works like a circuit breaker for the light switch, and thus, you can connect it to your light switch and protect the bulb from ground faults. However, you must remember that heavy loads can often trip the GFCI.
This article explores the possibility of connecting a GFCI outlet to a light switch, the installation steps, and safety considerations while connecting the GFCI to the light switch.
Understanding a GFCI and how it works
GFCI stands for Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter. The device has an inbuilt sensor that senses the risk of a ground fault, interrupts the circuit to stop the current flow, and trips off to prevent short circuits and fires.
The primary purpose of the GFCI is to protect the connected appliances and people from short circuits by tripping whenever it senses any electrical danger.
When the GFCI serves its purpose, the chances of short circuits and electrical shocks reduce to a great extent.
The GFCI monitors the power flowing into the outlet and records sudden changes and faults in the current flow.
The GFCI outlets have three holes for hot, neutral, and ground wires. The ground connection is in the middle of the outlet.
The circuits become more reliable for house owners, especially in moisture-prone areas like kitchens, bathrooms, laundry, and garages.
I have GFCI outlets for my kitchen and bathroom.
The purpose of a light switch in electrical circuits
The purpose of the light switch is to control the lighting fixture in the electrical outlet.
The light switches are designed with a mechanism to control the current flow through the electrical circuit and allow you to turn the light on and off whenever needed.
The light switches are installed to connect to only the circuit’s hot wires.
Turning on the switch completes the circuit by letting the current flow from the power source to the light fixture and powering the bulb.
Turning off interrupts the current flow and prevents the light fixture from receiving power to light up the bulb.
The light switch has three different wire colors:
- Black wires are the hot wires connected to a brass screw. Sometimes, the hot wires are red.
- The white wires are the neutral wires attached to the silver screw.
- The green or bare copper wires are the ground wires connected to the green grounding screw.
There are three basic light switch types:
- Single-pole switches: The switches allow you to control the light with only one primary switch.
- Three-way switches: Here, you can control the light from two switches in two different locations
- Four-way switches: You can control the light with two or more switches from different locations.
Compatibility of GFCI outlets and light switch
The GFCI outlets are not recommended to be connected to the light switches because it creates confusion.
The GFCI outlets protect the people and the connected devices from electrical shocks and fire hazards.
On the contrary, the light switches to control the light fixture to turn it on and off.
Some GFCI outlets come with an in-built switch that can turn the outlet on and off.
But that is separate from the GFCI circuitry and incompatible with the light switches.
So, if you connect them, it becomes confusing to determine whether the GFCI is on or off.
Despite this fact, you can still connect them without any issues.
They can be compatible if the light switch and GFCI are in the same circuit.
Suppose your light is in an outdoor location that can get wet or near any water-prone location.
In that case, connect the switch to the GFCI for an extra layer of protection.
It is better to leave this wiring connection in the electrician’s hand.
Advantages and disadvantages of connecting a GFCI outlet with a light switch
Connecting a GFCI outlet to the light switch has several merits and demerits.
In some circumstances, GFCI outlets can be advantageous for the light switch. In other situations, it is not recommended.
- If you have a light in a location with risks of electrical accidents, GFCI outlets for outdoor locations can be helpful. Whenever the outlet senses danger, it will trip off and save your light from short circuits.
- If your house wiring is old, there might be short circuits if something goes wrong. In that case, since light is essential, you can have a GFCI outlet for your light. If anything goes wrong, the outlet will trip and save your light from damage.
- It can be beneficial for the bathroom and kitchen lights. Since these areas are moisture-prone, having GFCIs for the lights will be advantageous.
- The first drawback is code compliance. If your locality does not allow connecting a light switch to a GFCI outlet, you will be charged a fine for such a connection.
- GFCI outlets are costly. So, wiring them to the light will take additional labor charges.
- GFCI is meant to protect connected appliances and people from electrical shocks. Connecting them to a light switch interrupts their functionality whenever you turn off the light. It can be dangerous.
- GFCIs are primarily used in water-prone areas. Turning on the light switch means you are using up the outlet, which is inconvenient.
- GFCI is known for nuisance-tripping. If it trips unnecessarily, it can turn your whole house into darkness if you connect the light switches. However, you can still connect it to the light switch if it doesn’t concern you.
Things to consider while wiring a GFCI outlet with a light switch
While connecting the GFCI outlet with a light switch, there are a few things you should consider:
- Before you connect the GFCI outlet to the light switch, you should have a proper reason for the connection. For example, if you have a light switch in a water-prone area, then the GFCI outlet is acceptable.
- Check the local codes to connect the GFCI outlet to the light switch. Sometimes, it is against the code. So, confirm before making the connection.
- Check the amount of load the circuit can handle. It is okay if adding a GFCI doesn’t affect the circuit load.
- Light switches do not draw too much current. But if there are multiple lights, ensure that the GFCI outlet can handle the amperage of the switches.
- You can either wire in series or parallel. Most outlets have parallel wiring for the lights so that you can use the other lights if one goes off. So, find out which one seems good and then approach the wiring.
- The GFCI outlet must be tested, and protection must be ensured. Otherwise, there is no use in connecting the light to GFCI.
Safety considerations when using GFCI outlets
While using GFCI outlets for a light switch, you should follow a few safety considerations:
- Always turn off the power at the circuit before working.
- Confirm the switch type before connecting it to the GFCI outlet. All switch types, such as single-pole switches, should not be connected to the GFCI outlet.
- The wiring of your house should be able to connect the GFCI to the light switch.
- Test the connection after the installation by testing and resetting the GFCI outlet.
- Cover the wires with a junction box to secure the wire connections from damage.
- Make sure the GFCI outlet is protected.
- Avoid tampering with the lights and switches without turning off the power at the circuit.
- Use the correct wire size to carry the load of the light fixtures, especially if you have many of them.
- Avoid the confusion of load and line wires. Connect them to the proper terminals to prevent the GFCI from malfunctioning.
- Test the outlet regularly to ensure everything is properly working.
- Consult an electrician if you are uncomfortable making the connection.
Code requirements for GFCI outlets and light switches
The National Electric Code or NEC does not expect house owners to add GFCI outlets for the light fixtures in their houses.
This kind of connection is not encouraged.
However, they recommend adding them for lights close to water-prone areas, like the kitchen, bathroom, garage, laundry, and pools.
There are a few circumstances where you can add the light switches with the GFCI outlet:
- The breaker supplying power to the light switch must have a separate ground fault protection device at the panelboard.
- The GFCI must protect the receptacles downstream from the breakers that feed power to the light.
- If the branch circuits supply power to the receptacles, go through the NEC requirements for branch circuits.
- The GFCI outlets must be rated for the specific application. One light is okay, but a second thought is needed to connect multiple fixtures.
- If you connect heavy-duty appliances to the outlet and the light switch, ensure the wiring and outlet are rated for the load.
You can connect your light switch to the GFCI outlets if these conditions are met.
The installation process for connecting the GFCI outlet to the light switch
To connect the GFCI outlet to the light switch, you have to connect the line, neutral, and ground wires of the primary power source, then connect the GFCI’s output line terminal with the switch and the light.
After that, you can use the light as usual under the GFCI’s protection.
Whenever there is a short circuit, the circuit will trip and save your light.
The things needed include the following:
- A GFCI outlet
- Wire strippers
Connecting the light switch to the GFCI has three situations:
- Connecting a new GFCI to the light switch
- Connecting an existing GFCI to the light switch
- Connecting GFCI to dimmer light switch.
Let’s go through the steps one by one in detail.
Steps to connect a new GFCI outlet to a light switch
- First, turn off the power at the circuit breaker. Use a voltage tester to confirm that no power is running in the circuit wires.
- Remove the cover plate of the existing outlet by unscrewing the screws.
- Remove the old outlet from the electrical box, disconnect all the wires connections from the outlet, and keep the outlet aside.
- Take the GFCI outlet out and identify the load and line terminals. Remember that power enters through the LINE and leaves through the LOAD.
- Identify the LOAD and LINE wires first. Strip off a few inches of wire insulation to connect them to the screws or terminals.
- On the LINE side, connect the black wire to the dark screw, the white wire to the light-colored screw, and the bare copper or green wires to the green grounding screw.
- The LOAD side will not need any connection.
- Push the outlet into the electrical box and screw back the cover plate.
- Test the GFCI once by pressing the TEST button. The RESET button will pop out if the GFCI is working well.
- Switch back the power and test the light.
Steps to connect an existing GFCI to the light switch
- Remember that the power enters through the LINE and leaves from the LOAD side.
- If you already have a GFCI outlet to connect it to the light switch, you can extend the wiring from the load to the switch.
- Turn off the power at the breaker and open the cover plate of the GFCI outlet.
- Extend the wiring from the LOAD side of the GFCI outlet to the light switch.
- Connect the black wire and splice the neutrals together.
- Extend the wiring further from the switch to the light fixture.
- Cover the GFCI and test the outlet.
As I said, I already have GFCI outlets for my kitchen and bathroom. I have a light outdoors close to my washroom.
So, these are the steps I have followed to connect the light switch with the existing GFCI outlet.
Steps to connect GFCI to the dimmer switch
- Turn off the power at the circuit breaker and confirm it with a voltage tester.
- Remove the screws from the cover plate and open the outlet.
- The dimmer switch will need a single-gang electrical box. Install it in the electrical box.
- Connect the black and white wires to the brass and silver terminals, respectively.
- Connect the ground pigtail or a small jumper wire to the GFCI’s grounding post.
- Attach the dimmer switch box’s ground wire to the power supply’s grounding and the ground pigtail wire. Use a wire nut to secure the wires.
- Push the GFCI outlet into the electrical box.
- Connect the white striped wires at the dimmer box and the bare wires to the switch box with a wire nut.
- Run one black wire between the GFCI and the one wire from the dimmer switch wire and another black wire between the light fixture and the second dimmer switch wire.
- Put the dimmer switch back into the electrical box and screw back the cover plate.
- Now, connect the dimmer switch and the fixture’s black and white wires, respectively.
- Run the bare wire to the light fixture’s ground wire.
- Cover the outlet and test it. If the RESET button pops out, your connection is fine.
- Turn back the power at the circuit.
Troubleshooting common issues while connecting the GFCI outlet to the light switch
If you connect the light switch to the GFCI outlet, there might be issues like confusion or tripping whenever you turn the light on/off.
So, here are some troubleshooting tips to fix some common issues related to it:
- If the breaker is tripping, check for the wire connections and the circuit’s load. It can trip due to overloading or loose connections. Reduce the outlet load, and tighten the wire connections if they are loose for wiring.
- Check the wire connections to ensure they are done correctly, especially in the dimmer switch. The standard light switches’ connection is simple, but dimmers are complicated. Go through the steps again and cross-check with the connection you have made.
- Remember that you do not need the LOAD connections when you install a new GFCI outlet to connect it to the light switch.
- If the switch is making issues, ensure the wire connections are correct. If the problem is in the switch, replace it with a new one.
- If your GFCI is not working, press the TEST button. If the RESET button pops out, your outlet is okay. Otherwise, there is some wiring issue. Check it and reset the outlet to restore the power.
- Consult an electrician if you cannot address the problem.
Alternatives to using a GFCI outlet with a light switch
Since the light switches are not for the GFCI outlets, there are several other alternatives to approach, and below are a few of them:
- Install light switches with the standard outlets.
- Avoid using single-pole light switches if you want to connect the light switch with a GFCI.
- To protect the lights, use a GFCI breaker for the light circuits.
- If your light switch is in a wet location, use standard outlets rated for wet locations. These outlets are meant for outdoor or wet areas and have extra protection to fight against water and external factors.
- You can use GFCI adapter plugs into the standard outlets to protect the light switch.
How to determine if a GFCI outlet is required in your electrical circuit?
We all are aware of what GFCI can do. It has an in-built mechanism that senses danger whenever there is a problem, especially when water enters the outlet or the appliance and trips to save you and your connected appliance.
That is why most US houses have GFCI outlets and breakers.
Determining whether you need a GFCI or not depends on different areas of your house, for example, the kitchen, bathroom, garage, laundry, and pool areas
Since these areas are moisture-prone and have high electrocution risks, you need a GFCI outlet for protection.
Here is a list of areas where you need GFCI protection:
- Bathroom – You need a GFCI for the outlets within 6 feet of the bathtub.
- Kitchens – GFCI protection is needed for outlets near the basins, countertops, and cooking areas.
- Outdoor places – You need GFCI protection for the outlets near the pool areas, decks, and patios.
- Garages will also need GFCI protection since it will be a moist place, and sometimes you might be washing your cars. So, there are chances that moisture can enter the outlets. GFCIs will detect the risk and trip to prevent electrocution.
There is no problem in connecting a GFCI outlet to a light switch. It will protect the light from electrical shocks and prevent it from damage. Since the GFCI works similarly to a circuit and has a protective mechanism, it can be used as a breaker for light and protect it from ground faults. Lights outside the house facing external factors and near moisture-prone areas will need GFCI protection.
So, these light switches should be connected to GFCI. However, connecting the light switch to the GFCI outlet can be confusing because the light switch will use up the outlet, and you won’t be able to receive the GFCI protection for other purposes.
Additionally, GFCIs are known for unnecessary trips, and lights will turn off, too, during tripping, which is very annoying. If you still want to connect the light switch to GFCI, follow the steps I have shared in this article. Follow the safety tips and factors for a successful installation. Call an electrician if you are uncomfortable connecting the light switch and GFCI or if there is some issue you cannot address.
Can I wire GFCI and lights on the same circuit?
Yes, you can do that. It will protect your lights and save them from electrical damage.
Can I wire a switch after the GFCI outlet?
You can do that, but the switch should act as a controlling device for an electrical appliance, for example, a light bulb.
Reference: GFCI outlets