Code requires GFCI outlets in areas where water might be present. It’s a safety issue. But how much do GFCI outlets cost? And why are GFCI outlets so expensive relative to regular outlets?
GFCI outlets cost around $16 because they’re more complex than a standard outlet. But you can save money by taking advantage of a GFCI’s ability to protect all outlets downstream of it.
How much GFCI outlets cost
A regular outlet costs as little as 50 cents. A GFCI outlet costs about $16, though you can buy them in quantity. When you buy them in large quantities from home improvement stores, the cost can drop to around $11 each.
Harbor Freight used to sell a cheap GFCI outlet, though it’s no longer on their web site and I didn’t see it in the store the last time I was there. If you used a coupon, you could get the Harbor Freight GFCI outlet for less than $10. The caveat with the Harbor Freight outlet was that it took up more space in the electrical box, so it could be hard to fit if you had two sets of wires in the box, which you frequently do. And the Harbor Freight GFCI doesn’t last as long as the brands you’ll find in the home improvement stores. I had to replace all of my Harbor Freight units after 5-7 years. I typically get 10 years out of the brands you’ll find at stores like Ace, Home Depot, Lowe’s, and True Value.
Why are GFCI outlets so expensive?
The reason regular outlets cost 50 cents and GFCI outlets cost $16 is because a regular outlet is completely passive. It’s little more than a few strips of metal in a plastic enclosure. They actually cost less to make today than they did 30 years ago, and they cost less at retail than they did 30 years ago too.
A GFCI outlet has electronics inside to sense when the flow of electricity isn’t normal. And then they shut off the flow almost immediately. That way if the flow of electricity is going somewhere that it can do damage, such as through a human body, it minimizes the chance of something bad happening. It doesn’t guarantee it won’t kill someone, but it saves lives more often than not.
I hope you agree the life it saves is worth the $15.50.
How to save money on GFCI outlets
What many people don’t realize is that when you install a GFCI outlet, every outlet that you chain off it also gets protected. My bathroom has three outlets in it. But I only had to install one GFCI outlet because they’re all chained together.
When I buy GFCI outlets, I usually buy a 4-pack to get the quantity discount. I keep the extras in my toolbox. Since they do eventually go bad, the next time I need one, I grab one from the toolbox.
Finding outlets on the same circuit
When you go to install GFCIs, install them one at a time. If an outlet doesn’t have a second set of wires on it, it’s the end of the chain. That one’s probably going to be protected by one of the other outlets in the room. Try each outlet that has a pair of wires on it, and test the other outlets with an electrical tester before changing the rest in the room. If the GFCI in the room pops when you push the GFCI test button, that outlet is downstream of your GFCI and doesn’t need to be converted. Put one of the extra GFCI stickers that came in the box with the GFCI outlet on that outlet plate, so you and everyone else know it’s GFCI protected.
In my kitchen, most of my outlets are on their own circuit for some reason. But it’s pretty common for all the outlets in a room to be on the same circuit. So the real cost of switching to GFCI can be lower than $16 per outlet.
Buy as many outlets as you think you need, then save your receipt. You can return any outlets you don’t use. Hardware stores are used to that, and they won’t hassle you, especially if it’s obvious you didn’t even open the package.