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shiner

Installing Circuits - Use GFCI Breakers or Outlets?

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I presume this has been asked before, but after going through the search results, I did not see this directly addressed.

Is there a preferred approach here that will trip less?

My breaker panel is on a garage exterior wall. I am having an electrician friend help install the circuits this weekend, but I have to pick up the parts. when pricing this out, it was different enough to stop and leave the hardware store to post here.

I have a Square D QO panel. The 20 amp GFCI breaker is $60 at lowes. I saw "weather resistant, outdoor GFI" outlets at Home Depot for $20. My plan is to place the outlets - one per circuit - on the exterior wall behind the panel. I was hoping to install 8 to give me plenty of growth as my show grows from 64 channels to Fabian type levels :giggle: (in my dreams-and I would need more than 8).

For the money, it would appear that it is in my best interest to go with the outlets, but do they trip any easier than the breakers?

If I went with the outlets, I would need more boxes, and still have to buy traditional breakers (about $10).

I think I am saving about $25 a circuit by going with the outlets over the breakers.

However, if you told me the outlets are more likely to trip in this scenario - one outlet per circuit - I would be inclined to eat it and get the breakers.

Thanks in advance!

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... I was hoping to install 8 to give me plenty of growth as my show grows from 64 channels to Fabian type levels :giggle: (in my dreams-and I would need more than 8)...

If that is 64channels of LOR, you have 2 cords per controller or 8 circuits needed for your current 4 controllers. If you're going to the expense of adding circuits you may want to insure there is room for growth.

I know, I made that mistake when I bought 2 controllers this summer & only added 4 circuits. Now ( have 2 more controllers & trying to figure out how top get 130 amps from a 50 amp (220) sub-panel.

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It is 64 of LOR, but more than half are LED. The 16 mini trees are pretty much the only non LED loads. Those will probably go LED next year.

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You are most likely not going to be pulling a full 30 amps per controler anyway. As long as you keep tack of your amperage useage you can plug both inputs of a controler into one outlet.

As for the GFCI's I'd go with the plugs, and you can find them cheaper. Breakers are ok if you have different rooms in the house on that circut (bathroom/kitchen sink/outside plugs) that's how most builders do it, but they even usually have ONE GFCI plug, bathroom usually, and run the rest that need GFCI protection through that one plug...

Use one plug per circut. Makes it easier to track down problems if one trips.

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It is 64 of LOR, but more than half are LED. The 16 mini trees are pretty much the only non LED loads. Those will probably go LED next year.
If your mostly LED and going in that direction, why do this expense? With the 80% rule, you have about 1800watts available on a 20amp circuit. Each 70ct LED string uses 4 watts. I'm mostly LED myself with about 45,000 lights and ran it off of 1 20amp circuit (I have 3 colors, so an element is usually only lit in one color at a time). I can double that number - 90,000, as long as I only use only color at a time. Of course, I do have to give some consideration for arches, etc. (single color elements), but realistically, I'll never need more than 2 circuits. The extra is for my tune to sign, a manger scence, and other misc. items... Edited by B_Regal78

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The quantity of circuits is certainly up for discussion and I still need to fill out the spreadsheet to get the total load calculations.

I can always return what we don't use, but I just wanted to see what the general thoughts were here as to whether it is recommended to use breakers or outlets in this type of set-up.

At the moment, I have one GFI circuit for my exterior plugs and the GFI plug is inside of my garage. With only one I need more to do the show, and I while I am adding a couple, I might as well add enough to last a while.

Thanks,

Chris

Edited by shiner

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They should both trip the same.

One thing to think about is if you want to go outside to reset one. I would use the GFCI outlets but I would have the GFCI outlets inside and feed regular outlets on the other side of the wall off of them.

Scott

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Welcome to PC! I have a QO panel too (they're the best). Go with regular 20amp breakers. If you are planning one GFCI outlet per circuit (single gang box- 2 plugs) then install 20amp GFCI outlets. If you want to be able to plug in 4 cords per outlet, then you can get by with a 15amp GFCI and a regular duplex outlet, installed in a "quad" box (double gang). At Home Depot, it is about the same price to buy 2 20amp GFCIs (smartlock) for $14.99 each, or buy a 3 pack for $30.99.

Edited by Randy G

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His Breaker panel from what I gathered is already outside? Then I would not worry about going outside to reset the GFI. But if I misread and the panel is inside, then I agree, put in a GFI outlet inside and then on the load side of the GFI I would go with a regular outlet.

As to the difference between GFI outlet and breaker? I say go with the outlet..

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Somebody posted here a while ago in favor of outlets over breakers. I can't remember who it was, but their logic was at some point, you'll probably have to replace the GFCI element. Would you rather replace a $20 outlet or a $60 breaker?

I haven't had a GFCI fail on me to date, but that reasoning always stuck with me.

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Steve, You've fried 3 laptops in 6 days but not a GFCI??? I fried 1 covered GFCI by just washing down the siding with a hose. And a few others have died on me (I've had some for many years). I agree, it's MUCH better to change an outlet than a breaker.

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Somebody posted here a while ago in favor of outlets over breakers. I can't remember who it was, but their logic was at some point, you'll probably have to replace the GFCI element. Would you rather replace a $20 outlet or a $60 breaker?

I haven't had a GFCI fail on me to date, but that reasoning always stuck with me.

I remember that. It stuck with me too. I have had some GFCI breakers go bad and I have tried to avoid them.

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I've always used outlets, except for our spa where it wasn't an option.

Most of my GFCI's are in the garage, at various points along the wall, before feeding outdoor outlets downstream. This gives me plenty of garage workshop power all year, and avoids having to reset most of the GFCI's outdoors (I only have 3 circuits which I have to reset outside), since they're on the other side of the house from the garage).

Breakers are a lot more expensive and don't give you any real advantage over the outlets, other than putting all of your "power reset needs" in one place.

By the way, I'd never want to use a 240-ganged GFCI breaker to feed a shared neutral pair of circuits. GFCI trips are hard enough to isolate to begin with, much less combining two circuits onto one trip...

-Tim

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I presume this has been asked before, but after going through the search results, I did not see this directly addressed.

Is there a preferred approach here that will trip less?

IMO Yes, there is. Go with outlets, and here's why: GFCIs trip based on leakage current, not load current. The amount of leakage current you'll get is a function of how many interconnections (i.e. badly insulated points) you have on a circuit. Especially with LEDs, you'll likely hit the maximum leakage current long before you hit the maximum load current for a given circuit. Using outlets, you can put 2 or more GFCI outlets on the same circuit breaker to spread your leakage current over multiple GFCIs while keeping the load current on a single breaker.

In our area, for example, we found that we can't put more than about 32 channel worth of lights - of any type - on a single GFCI without having trip problems. Remember: EVERYTHING leaks - plug enough of anything in and you'll get enough leakage current to trip a GFCI even if there's no single point of leakage that represents a hazard by itself.

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CarlD,

That is a very interesting statement you make. "That everything leaks". I beg to differ with you on that comment. Only time you have leakage is when a path between hot and ground is created. If a path is created between hot and neutral, and I am not talking about the path the current takes out to the lights. But one of water and dirt between the plug prongs. Or you getting between the hot and neutral leads. Either of these two paths will not trip a GFI. For the current going out on the hot lead equals the current coming back on the neutral lead. GFI will only trip when the current going out on the hot lead is greater than the current coming back on the neutral lead. So logic says that if there is more current on the hot lead than the neutral lead. The excess current must be going to ground.

Again I beg to differ with your above quoted statement. Unless you are looking at something like capassive coupling which would maybe leak a few uA. Where as I am looking at a few mA via dirt and mositure.

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Not to hijack the thread, but I'm totally going to.

Here's a question I've been pondering: Is there any potential problem with double GFCI protection? Outlets and a breaker?

In my old house, we had a hot tub. At Christmastime, I disconnected the hot tob, and put in a 50 Amp, 240 Volt outlet. I pluged a 100 Amp outdoor panel into that, with 6 20 Amp breakers. Each breaker fed 1 set of GFCI outlets. Except for the GFCI outlets, everything was in the backyard, behind a locked gate, and everyone knew to stay away from it. I had a disconnect switch to turn it all off before going near it.

We moved this summer, and I decided to do it right in the new house. When I installed the 50 Amp plug, I put it on a GFCI breaker. I replaced a few of the 6 GFCI outlets with regular ones (as I've needed GFCI outlets other places) but a few remain. I've tested them, and all trips happen at the breaker, not the outlets. I was thinking as long as they trip somewhere, I'm fine. Aside from having to check two places to reset a trip, is there any potential for problems with this setup?

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CarlD,

That is a very interesting statement you make. "That everything leaks".

It's a matter of degree. A brand new, perfect extension cord laying on the ground will leak some current to ground. We're talking microamps (or less) here. Every break in the insulation (plugs, mini lights, C7 sockets, etc) creates an additional path for leakage. While none of those small leakages alone is enough current to be dangerous, in the net it can be enough to trip a GFCI, especially in the presense of condensing moisture. which could easily increase the current of each and every leakage path by tenfold or more.

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When I had my 50amp outside outlet installed that feeds my sub-panel, they used a 50amp GFCI breaker to cover everything. Using this method seems to save the most and can also add double coverage if needed.

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When I had my 50amp outside outlet installed that feeds my sub-panel, they used a 50amp GFCI breaker to cover everything. Using this method seems to save the most and can also add double coverage if needed.

The huge disadvantage of this is that if you have a trip, you have no idea where to begin looking for the problem-- at least without some serious disconnection/trial&error of circuits. And since GFCI trips are often intermittent, that can be a real PITA.

Not to mention if you have a GFCI trip, your whole display (or a huge chunk of it) goes down, instead of just one circuit...

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Similar to others posting here, I have GFCI outlets on the inside of the house each feeding one outlet outside. Quick and easy see what has tripped and reset. I have found that after GFCIs trip several times (I'm not sure of an exact number) they seem to get soft so that they then trip more easily. That's when you replace them and are glad you did outlets, not breakers.

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