Everything You Need to Know About the Types of GFCI Outlets

Allie Ogletree
Written by Allie Ogletree
Updated April 29, 2022
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 Plug into the 411 on GFCI outlets

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Your home is your safe space, but outdated outlets pose a safety hazard—especially in older homes or homes due for an electrical inspection. So, if you’re on the hunt to swap out standard outlets with a ground-fault circuit interrupter (GFCI), you’ll want to cover the basics of each type of GFCI outlet available. 

1. Standard GFCI Receptacle

Hand pressing reset button on a GFCI outlet
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Standard GFCI receptacles look like conventional outlets, plus a “test” and a “reset” button on the faces of the outlets. Some receptacles come with an added feature of guide lights or a pilot light power status. In functionality, standard GFCI outlets protect you from electrocution if a ground fault were to occur. 

Single-Location vs. Multiple-Location Outlets

You can use a standard GFCI receptacle as a single-location outlet to protect you from that single receptacle, or you can wire the receptacle to operate as a multiple-location outlet. Keep in mind that you can use one unit for all outlets in your home, but a ground fault will knock all connected outlets out, rendering them powerless. 

For this reason, if you opt for a standard receptacle with multiple locations, choose a handful of locations to prevent a trip of the whole house.

2. Self-Testing GFCI

Closeup of a tripped GFCI outlet
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Standard GFCI receptacles require you to test the receptacle by pressing the GFCI test button manually. If remembering to test your GFCI receptacle monthly is a bit like remembering to water your house plants, you might be better off choosing a self-testing GFCI outlet. 

This upgrade for standard GFCI outlets enables the outlet to test itself so you don’t have to. If there’s an error during a routine check, the outlet will send out an alert by turning its LED signal light from green to red.

3. Portable GFCI

From cranking on those holiday lights to drilling a hole in some wood, if you’re ever in need of temporary protection from potential ground faults, a portable GFCI is a good option. These GFCIs have different styles, including plug-ins for non-GFCI outlets and ones that operate via a cord and plug system. However, portable GFCIs are not long-term replacements for a permanent GFCI receptacle. 

4. Weather-Resistant GFCI Outlet

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A more permanent solution for DIYers who love using power tools and working on outdoor projects is a permanent, weather-resistant GFCI. These GFCIs are designed with corrosion-resistant materials to prevent moisture, UV, and freeze damage. You can identify a weather-resistant GFCI outlet with the telltale “WR” symbol on the receptacle’s face.

5. GFCI Circuit Breaker

If you want to protect a susceptible room or circuit from ground faults but don’t want to install standard GFCI outlets individually, you can choose a GFCI circuit breaker instead. This circuit breaker differs from receptacles in that it’s installed in your actual breaker box and protects an entire circuit. 

So, if you’re hoping to protect your kitchen or outdoor area from potential ground faults, GFCI circuit breakers function as an efficient way to protect that circuit. You might need a local electrician to help you safely install a GFCI circuit breaker if tinkering with a breaker box feels at all intimidating to you.

6. Tamper-Resistant GFCI

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Every parent gets a little nervous at the thought of their small child finding a way to a wall outlet. (Those flimsy plastic outlet plugs just don’t do the job once you have a two- or three-year-old on hand!) 

Fortunately, tamper-resistant GFCIs come with a shutter mechanism to keep curious, small hands away from electrical circuits. In fact, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) now requires tamper-resistant GFCIs in new homes and apartments. 

GFCI Light Switch Combo

This type of GFCI outlet saves space by combining GFCI protection and a light switch in one device. Suitable for small spaces like a laundry room or bathroom, you can flip the switch while your electronic device is plugged into the receptacle without compromising space. 

The only thing to keep in mind for this combination is that the max capacity for most of these outlets is 15-amp, which might not suffice for a heavy-duty appliance or a residential garage. The last thing you want is to install one of these and not be able to open your garage door!

Audible GFCI

For the vision-impaired or those who feel safer with an alarm system, audible GFCIs offer an auditory solution to help alert homeowners that there’s an issue with the GFCI receptacle. Like a smoke detector, audible GFCIs emit a sound to tell you something tripped the circuit. 

When the alarm goes off, reset and then test the outlet to make sure the outlet is functioning. If the alert goes off again, you may need to replace the receptacle.

Pilot Light GFCI

Pilot light GFCI outlets are for those who prefer visual cues in the case of a power problem. You won’t want to place these in your bright kitchen, as you’ll have a hard time spotting the indicator light. Pilot light GFCIs are best for dark spaces to easily identify when there’s an issue, like under the kitchen sink.

Blank Face GFCI

Blank face GFCIs, also called dead front GFCIs, have a—wait for it—blank face. These unique-looking receptacles are specifically designed for spas, fans, and other motor-powered devices that don’t need direct access to power. 

The Bottom Line

Type of GFCI OutletBest For...
Standard GFCI ReceptaclePreventing ground faults or electrocution
Self-Testing GFCIPerforming routine safety checks
Portable GFCIAdding temporary protection to an outlet
Weather-Resistant GFCI OutletIncreasing safety while working outdoors
GFCI Circuit BreakerProtecting an entire room of circuit
Tamper-Resistant GFCIOffering extra protection against electrical shocks
GFCI Light Switch ComboSaving space on a wall
Audible GFCIProviding audible signals of an electrical issue
Pilot Light GFCIIlluminating dark spaces
Blank Face GFCISecuring areas that don’t need direct power access

There are many types of GFCI outlets available, making it hard to know which option is best for your home. If you’re not sure where to start, contact an electrical company near you to determine the specifics of your project.

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