Installing a dishwasher isn’t as easy as one may think. It’s a large appliance that uses more power than TVs, irons, rice cookers, and other household devices. As such, any electrical faults can end up damaging more than just the pump. Add water into the mix, and you’re looking at a potential catastrophe!
Dishwashers are required per the 2020 National Electrical Code to have GFCI protection. This code can help reduce the risk of possible harm to the machine and users.
What is GFCI? Why is it necessary for dishwashers to have GFCI protection? I’ll address these questions and a lot more in the following sections.
What Is GFCI?
GFCI is short for ground fault circuit interrupters. Its main purpose is to reduce the risk of electrocution. In the event that a person begins to feel an electric shock, the GFCI will kick in and immediately turn the power off, protecting the user and the machine from electrical damage.
You will typically find GFCIs in areas that are prone to coming in contact with water. For instance, kitchens, bathrooms, bars, laundry rooms, and outdoor receptacles will have GFCI protection.
Does Dishwasher Need a GFCI?
Per the 2017 National Electric Code (NEC), “GFCI protection shall be provided for outlets that supply dishwashers installed in dwelling unit locations.” In normal language, that means dishwashers installed inside homes must have GFCI protection.
The code was revised in 2020 to include GFCI to include additional GFCI requirements for certain appliances. GFCI protection must be offered for appliances rated up to 150 volts to ground and up to 60 amps for single- or 3-phrase. Such appliances include but are not limited to:
- Vacuum cleaners
- Water coolers
- Bottle fill stations
- Pressure washers
- Tire pumps
- Vending machines
- Sump pumps
Section 422.5(B) of the 2020 NEC states that GFCI protection must be available for the following locations:
- Within the branch-circuit overcurrent device
- A device or outlet within the supply circuit
- An integral part of the attachment plug
- Within the supply cord, not more than 300 millimeters (12 inches) from the attachment plug
- Factory installed within the appliance
You can find all of the details on the official National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) website.
How Does GFCI Actually Work?
To the uninitiated, an outlet automatically shutting off power when a person is at risk of electrocution sounds like science fiction, but the reality is somewhat less exciting.
GFCI outlets have built-in sensors that constantly monitor the flow of electricity through the connected wires in a cable. When there is a ground fault—i.e., abnormalities from normal currents—an internal switch inside the GFCI outlet will turn off and prevent electricity from flowing any further.
People will still feel the tingling sensation of an electrical shock when they come into contact with a faulty plug, but GFCI protection prevents prolonged exposure. It takes only between 0.1 to 0.2 milliamperes to kill a person, with the standard household circuit supplying as much as 20 amps through your receptacles. Without a GFCI outlet, it’s quite possible that you could die within just a few seconds of experiencing an electrical surge.
What Does a GFCI Receptacle Look Like?
A GFCI receptacle looks similar to standard household receptacles. However, one differentiating feature is the presence of red, white, or black buttons.
The top button reads RESET. When this button sticks out more than normal, that means the outlet has been tripped. You will need to push it back in order to restore power, which can power your dishwasher and other electronics.
The bottom button reads TEST. When depressed, the outlet will prevent electricity from surging. You can restore power to the outlet by depressing the RESET button.
If you hear a consistent clicking noise when you try to press the RESET button, that means it’s constantly being tripped. Try unplugging all electronics connected to the outlets downstream—i.e., other outlets connected to the same circuit as the GFCI outlet. Try hitting the RESET button again to restore power to the outlet.
What Is a GFCI Circuit Breaker?
A GFCI outlet is there to protect the user from electrocution from that outlet and downstream outlets. However, upstream outlets will not have the same protection. You can circumvent this issue by installing a GFCI circuit breaker.
GFCI circuit breakers are installed in the breaker box and provide GFCI protection to the entire circuit, including all of the wires, devices, and appliances plugged into that specific circuit. This is the more practical option since it provides a wider coverage of protection, and you won’t have to figure out whether interconnected outlets are upstream or downstream of a GFCI receptacle.
Another huge benefit of GFCI circuit breakers is that they provide protection to areas where GFCI outlets cannot. For instance, GFCI outlets do not belong behind furniture or appliances, whereas a GFCI circuit breaker is not located in any main parts of your home.
However, GFCI circuit breakers are not the more economical option. So, you may want to compare installation costs for GFCI outlets and circuit breakers before deciding between them.
How to Install a GFCI Outlet
If you’re building a home from scratch, it’s generally a good idea to consult with an electrician to make sure that your home abides by all NEC codes. Your electrician will inform you that outlets within 3 to 6 feet of a water source must have GFCI protection. However, if you purchased a home or live in one that has standard outlets in your kitchen or bathroom in the wrong places, you will need to replace them with GFCI outlets.
Installing a GFCI outlet in your home is quite straightforward. Before we get started, make sure you have the following tools and materials on hand:
- GFCI outlet
- Outlet box (for outdoor installation)
- Wire cutters and/or wire strippers
- Circuit tester
Ready? Let’s begin.
- Turn off the power to the breaker. Go to the breaker box and switch off the circuit breaker to where you want to install the GFCI outlet. Make sure that the correct breaker is switched off by plugging in an electronic in your kitchen or bathroom. If there’s no power, you’re on the right track. While you’re standing in front of the breaker box, you might as well label the switch for future reference.
- If you’re installing a GFCI outlet outdoors, go ahead and anchor the outlet box to a sturdy object. Use the hammer to drive the included nails to keep the outlet box in place. Now, run the outdoor wire through the box, making sure that there’s plenty of wire (about 6 inches) to work with.
- If you’re installing a GFCI outlet indoors, go ahead and remove the face plate on the outlet you want to upgrade. Use the screwdriver to remove the screws and carefully detach the face plate, exposing the receptacle.
- You’ll find three wires when you remove the existing receptacle. The bare copper wire is the ground wire, which connects to the ground screw on the underside of the GFCI outlet. Loop the ground wire around the ground screw before screwing the wire in place.
- The black wire is the hot wire. It should go on the hot side of the GFCI outlet. Take a look at the backside of the outlet to see where the hot and neutral sides are. Use a wire stripper to remove some of the coatings before looping the exposed wire around the hot side screw. Screw it down to keep the hot wire in place.
- Repeat the previous step for the neutral side of the GFCI outlet.
- Install the faceplate of your GFCI outlet.
- Restore power to your kitchen or bathroom circuit.
- Test the outlet to make sure it’s working as intended.
If you don’t have the confidence to install a GFCI outlet on your own, you should hire a trained professional to do the deed for you.