GFCI in Microwaves: Do They Need it?

Since Microwaves are portable, people keep them all over the place including on a kitchen countertop, above the stove, in their office, or anywhere else with a flat surface. Wherever you’re planning on keeping your microwave you always want to be safe with it. GFCI outlets are often something people consider when thinking about electrical safety. Do you need one for your microwave?

GFCI (Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters) are not specifically required for Microwaves. Building Codes state that you must have GFCI outlets for kitchen countertops and any outlets within 6 ft of a sink. It’s not required if a microwave is more than 6 ft away and the outlet is not on the counter.

Okay, so we might not need GFCI receptacles when setting up our new microwave. That isn’t the entire story though. Keep reading to learn what GFCI is, where you need it, if you should go with a receptacle or a breaker, and if it’s needed for specific microwave situations.

GFCI and Microwaves

GFCI requirements are based on the outlet’s location in the house and not on the appliance that it is plugged into. You will only need to plug a microwave into a GFCI outlet if that microwave is in a location that requires GFCI outlets. If your microwave is sitting on the counter it will require GFCI because countertop outlets are required to have GFCI.

Just to clarify, GFCI technology is used in the outlets and breakers, not in the microwave itself.

Where Do You Need GFCI?

GFCI is required anywhere that the outlet could potentially come into contact with water. In a home, they are required in every area of bathrooms, laundry rooms, garages, and crawl spaces. It’s also required for most outlets outdoors. For other areas in the house, it is required within 6 feet of the bowl of a sink, a tub, or a shower.

Since most people have microwaves in their kitchens, it’s important to know the rules in a kitchen. For kitchens, you must have GFCI for the outlets on the kitchen counter and anywhere within 6 feet of the sink. You do not have to have GFCI for outlets in a kitchen that are more than 6 feet away from the sink and are either well above the counter or below the counter. Usually, there is an outlet that does not have GFCI that the refrigerator/freezer can be plugged into. GFCI is not recommended for refrigerators because if it is tripped unnecessarily and you don’t notice right away it could spoil all of your food.

What is GFCI?

You’ve likely seen plenty of GFCI outlets in your life. They are the outlets with the test and reset buttons that you find in bathrooms and kitchens. They usually have a black and red button or two white buttons. GFCI is typically noticed in outlets, but you can install GFCI breakers and they do make mobile GFCI adapters for construction workers.

GFCI is ground fault circuit interrupters. It is a technology used in outlets to reduce the chance of an electric shock. GFCI systems are able to detect differences in current between the input current and the returning current. In a closed system, you’d expect the returning current to be the same as the current that left the outlet. With GFCI, if the returning current is more than 0.006 amperes different from the input the outlet will shut off the power.

Contrary to what many people believe, the function of the GFCI system is not dependent on the ground wire. This system will work without the inclusion of the ground wire, though it is always best to have the ground equipment on every outlet where possible. If you live in a very old home that still has the two-prong receptacles you can swap those out for GFCI. GFCI outlets without ground equipment attached should be labeled.

Tripping a GFCI receptacle is also different from tripping a regular breaker. Breakers are designed to trip if you’re drawing too much power from the circuit. GFCI is tripped if the current is uneven, which happens when an appliance is damaged or it is dropped in water.

Benefits of GFCI

Most breakers and outlets are designed to protect the home’s electrical system from shorts and other damage, GFCI is specifically designed to protect the person.

We use electricity for everything we do in modern life, but even though it’s everywhere it is still extremely dangerous if you’re not careful. Accidents with electricity are responsible for around 400 deaths per year and 1000s of non-fatal electrocutions a year. GFCI helps to protect you by tripping the outlet before the fatal shock can be administered.

Having GFCI-enabled outlets can give you more confidence when using your appliances that you won’t get shocked. This is important for everyone, but especially for parents with small kids. Children are often oblivious to many of the safety tips that parents know like not sticking a metal utensil in a toaster or not using appliances that are sitting in a water puddle on the counter, or throwing a blowdryer into a tub of water. GFCI is designed to help protect against mishaps like these.

GFCI Receptacle Vs. GFCI Breaker

There are two ways to add GFCI to an outlet in your home or business. You can replace the current receptacle with a GFCI receptacle, or you can replace the breaker with a GFCI breaker.

GFCI Receptacle

You’re probably most familiar with GFCI receptacles. Those are the outlets with the two buttons on them. For most projects, the outlets are the way to go. They are cheap and fairly simple to install even if you’re not an electrician. These will offer the same protection from that outlet and can even work for other outlets down the line on the same circuit. As a side note if you ever have issues with an outlet that is close to a GFCI outlet you may want to check the GFCI to see if it was tripped.

They are also easy to access. If the outlet is ever tripped the reset button is always right there. This is especially useful if you ever have to troubleshoot one of these outlets. Sometimes they can be overly sensitive if something isn’t where it should be or if you have an older appliance, being able to turn it back on right there is a useful feature.

These receptacles will cost a consumer about $15-$25.

GFCI Breaker

A GFCI breaker is a breaker that employs the same GFCI technology as the receptacles along with the circuit overload protection that breakers are normally equipped for. This provides GFCI to all of the outlets and lights attached to that breaker. This is great if you need GFCI protection for a whole area and especially where the outlets may be difficult to reach. If you have outlets that are behind heavy furniture or perhaps a Christmas lights outlet that would be difficult to access without the ladder you may want to consider a GFCI breaker.

These are nice because you have the option of equipping all of your outlets with GFCI, but it can be more expensive than replacing the outlets. GFCI breakers can run anywhere from $50 to $100 depending on which one you need. The real problem though is that installing a breaker is much more complicated than replacing the receptacles. Unless you have electrical experience, you should be hiring an electrician to do the replacement for you and that is an added cost.

When you install a GFCI breaker you should go to all of the outlets on that circuit and label them, so that in the future if the GFCI trips you’ll know why the outlet is acting up.

If you’re just concerned about your microwave it’s probably best just to install a GFCI outlet.

How to Replace a Regular Receptacle With GFCI

Whenever you’re dealing with electrical equipment it’s usually best to call a professional electrician to do the work for you, but given that installing a GFCI outlet is fairly simple we’ll give you a brief overview of what you’ll need to replace your old regular outlets with a new GFCI outlet.

  1. The first step is to purchase a new GFCI receptacle. You can find these at Home Depot, Lowes, and most hardware stores. You could probably even find one at Walmart. You may also need to purchase a cover for the outlet separately so make sure you have both.
  2. Turn off the power at the breaker. Always do this step or you will get electrocuted when you try to change the outlet. If your breakers aren’t clearly labeled, you can plug a light into the receptacle and turn off the breakers till that one shuts off. Use a light plugged into the same outlet you’re working on, and don’t count on other items or lights in the room since those may be on a different breaker. Make sure to test the outlet before you start working to make sure there is no current.
  3. Remove the cover for the receptacle
  4. Unscrew the receptacle from the wall.
  5. Once you have the old receptacle out you’ll need to loosen the screws that hold down the wires. On modern 3-prong outlets, there should be three wires to remove, Generally, a black one, a white one, and an uncovered one-this is your ground wire. If black and white wires have a lot of exposed wire behind the receptacle you may want to wrap the exposed section with electrical tape after you attach them to the GFCI receptacle.
  6. You’ll now want to attach the wires securely to your new GFCI receptacle. Most GFCI wires allow you to insert the wires straight into the receptacle and then tighten them down with screws. If your old receptacle had the wires wrapped around the screws before clamping them down and are curled or mangled, you can trim them back a bit with some wire cutters.
  7. Now that the wires are attached you can screw the receptacle into the wall and then attach your cover.
  8. And you’re done. After turning the breaker back on you can plug your light back in and test the GFCI. When you press the test button the light should switch off, and then back on again when you press the reset button.

It is a fairly simple replacement, but if you’re inexperienced in working with electrical equipment it may still be a good idea to have an electrician do it. It’s important to always be safe when dealing with electricity.

Do I Need a GFCI for an Over-the-Range Microwave?

GFCI is not specifically required for an over-the-range microwave, but over-the-range microwaves do have specific requirements for outlets.

Microwaves draw a lot of power when they run, more than most other appliances in your kitchen. On top of that, over-the-range microwaves double as the fan and light for your stove. Most building codes require that these microwaves have their own circuit, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be a GFCI circuit.

Most likely you’ll have the outlet for the over-the-range microwave in the back of the cabinet above the microwave or at least high up on the wall next to the microwave. Since it’s not on the countertop you don’t need GFCI as long as it’s more than 6 feet away from the sink. If it’s close and you need to measure it, measure from the bowl of the sink, not the faucet.

Do I Need a GFCI for an RV Microwave?

Outlets in RVs have the same requirements for GFCI as a house. Compared to your house it is much more likely that your microwave is within 6 feet of the sink. If that is the case you will likely be required to have GFCI for your microwave.

It’s also important to note that some RVs may only have one or two circuits servicing the outlets in your RV. If the first outlet in the circuit is a GFCI outlet then that GFCI will work for the whole circuit and may trip even if the device is plugged into a regular outlet down the line.