If you’re in the US, you’re probably aware of the National Electric Code (NEC). It requires the use of GFCI outlets for many appliances and parts of a house. The problem, however, is that not all such outlets can detect abnormalities fast enough to save you from electrocution.
So to help you pick a suitable model, I’ve prepared a detailed guide on buying the best GFCI outlet below.
Table of Contents
The Leviton GFNT1-W is a 15-amp GFCI outlet that stands above the rest because I never had any issues with its multi-layer safety features — and safety should be the No. 1 consideration for GFCI outlets. And while other entries on my list did well, the GFNT1-W managed to excel both in looks and performance.
For one, the Leviton GFNT1-W can blend into almost any household. If you don’t like the typical white color, you can choose six other variants. And they’re not all neutral: The options include white almond and red. Also, I like the use of two LED colors, both of which are reasonably sized and not too bright.
But going back to safety, this GFCI outlet has a genuine UL certification, which means it’s been rigorously tested for its safety and quality. You can rest well knowing that Leviton complied with the NEC and gave the GFNT1-W an auto-test mechanism. Thus, it takes away the burden of regular checking from the user.
My second top favorite came from the same company, which is a testament to its competence in this product category. The Leviton GFWT-1 has the safety features I liked in the GFNT1-W such as auto-test, a UL certification, and sound LED indicators. Plus, both have reduced depths, which eases installation.
But what distinguishes the Leviton GFWT1-W from my top pick is the overall build that makes it a suitable outdoor pick. It’s not just about resistance to hot and cold temperatures: The PC board has a conformal coating, which safeguards crucial components from dust, moisture, salt, and corrosion.
Moreover, GFWT1-W has a shutter feature. This is particularly useful for areas where children are often around, including houses and schools. With this feature, kids can’t just access the contact since they’ll need a specific plug. Thus, they’re protected from electrocution due to the insertion of small items.
My first two picks from Leviton cost between $17 and $21, which may understandably seem expensive for an outlet. In contrast, the TOPELE CECOMINOD039819 costs $11.99, making it the most affordable option. A few things are lacking here, but the basics of a good GFCI outlet remain present here.
For one, the TOPELE CECOMINOD039819 doesn’t have a UL certification. Instead, it’s ETL-listed, which some people may not prefer over UL. Personally, either certification is reassuring: They’re just different NRTLs (Nationally Recognized Testing Laboratory). And second, it only uses a single, green LED indicator.
But even with those differences, this TOPELE GFCI outlet keeps safety in mind for everyone, especially with its shutter mechanism. It’s similar to the one in the Leviton GFWT1-W, so this should protect kids. Also, I love that it includes both a regular and a screwless plate — taking user preference into account.
For at least $19 and up to $25.99, you can get the Leviton GFNL1-W, which is the most expensive Leviton model on my list. Is it worth it? For the most part, yes. This is a UL-certified GFCI 15-amp GFCI outlet that hasn’t failed me with its self-test and tamper-resistant mechanisms — even after months of use.
And here’s the cool part: The GFNL1-W serves as a night light as well. It becomes a two-in-one essential household device, which saves you both electricity and space. What’s even better is that a sensor checks the ambient lighting to automatically turn the guide light on and off — it’s such an innovative feature.
I just wish it had more than four color options. Likewise, it’s disappointing that the Leviton GFNL1-W has no included wall plate despite its relatively premium cost.
My final pick is the only 20-amp GFCI outlet, which comes from TOPELE. If you need a 20-amp receptacle for your business or heavy-duty machine, this might be your best bet. Plus, it costs just $12.99 — a mere dollar more than the TOPELE CECOMINOD039819. But like that 15-amp outlet, this is just ETL-certified.
Other than the same lack of UL certification, this TOPELE model has temper resistance as well. But like the Leviton GFWT1-W, it’s also made with outdoor use in mind. I used it in my yard for a few weeks, and neither the sun nor the rain ruined its reliability.
In simple terms, a GFCI outlet safeguards users from electric shocks. But how? First, it identifies the level of two current types: input and output. These connections should remain stable for safety and utility, but leakages can happen when you least expect it. Luckily for you, GFCI outlets can spot them immediately.
Once the GFCI outlet detects the leakage or any electrical abnormality, it stops power coming in. It shuts down the outlet before possible electrocution happens. All its mechanisms are meant to address ground faults, which is when electrical connections reach the ground instead of returning to its power source.
Combined with surge protection devices or surge suppression systems, GFCI outlets help keep individuals and businesses alike from costly and dangerous electrical issues, whether they’re outdoors or indoors.
Required by Law
Even if people don’t mind the valuable and life-saving advantages of GFCI outlets, they’re bound by law to use them. As stated by the National Fire Protection Association, the 2017 National Electric Code (NEC) requires GFCI protection in areas such as bathrooms, crawl spaces, boathouses, and kitchen countertops.
Thus, areas that are either often damp or are near water should have GFCI protection. Thankfully, it’s not hard to differentiate between regular and GFCI outlets: The latter has two rectangular buttons. These are for resetting and testing the outlet, and they’re sometimes colored red and black, respectively.
Also, homeowners are required to install GFCIs not further than six inches from sinks, shower stalls, and bathtubs. And protective measures aren’t just for certain areas in and out of the house: The NEC applies to appliances like dishwashers and drinking fountains since they’re likely to cause electrical hazards.
Ideally, GFCI outlets should perform as expected at all times. You can’t always predict the likeliness of ground faults due to water leaks, hot wires, and devices and appliances with poor insulation. Thus, you have to consider many factors.
Like any crucial household device, GFCI outlets are much better when they’re vouched for their quality and safety features by reliable safety companies. In this case, look for outlets with a certification from the Underwriters Laboratories (UL), a global leader in the safety testing of retail products.
Picking a certified GFCI outlet is more than about its reliable safety measures — it could also help you save money in the long run. Why? Not all insurance companies will cover for property damages caused by a fire from a GFCI outlet if the device didn’t have a UL certification.
Moreover, don’t just trust what companies say. UL itself has had problems with items bearing fake UL labels, which puts consumers at risk while affecting the company’s reputation. The entity is doing its best with the implementation of several anti-counterfeit measures, but you can do something about it too.
Search online if the outlet has a genuine UL certification. If you can’t find any official news about it, look for verified buyer reviews. If you don’t see the label on the device, it may be in the manual. Aside from UL, you can also look for the ETL certification from Intertek, a British product inspection company.
Most GFCI outlets have LED indicators. It’s a convenient way to inform people about whether electrical connections are stable or currently unsafe. Some outlets only use a red or green indicator while others use both.
For example, a green light means that the GFCI outlet is working properly. If it shows red instead, you have to fix it. Either do another self-test or seek a replacement if it still has a solid or blinking red light.
Sometimes, the outlet will show neither LED light, which could mean it identified a ground fault and has shut down or that it can no longer conduct self-tests, among other reasons.
As much as GFCI outlets are a necessity indoors, they’re also important outside, especially when you consider natural elements like rain and fog. For outdoor installations, an outlet should have sufficient weather resistance, particularly against water, heat, and cold.
The best GFCI outlets come with the accessories you’ll need for installation. Such packages save buyers not only money but also time spent on searching for the appropriate screws and faceplates.
Ideally, the outlet should come with both. Some only have the faceplate, which means you have to look for the right-sized screws. On the other hand, outlets that don’t require screws for the plate exist, but they’re usually more expensive. If you prefer not seeing screws on your wall, it may be worth the price.
Even if you’ve never installed a GFCI outlet before, you should be able to do it properly if the device has a well-written user manual. The text should ideally be simple and accompanied by illustrations. Also, it helps if the outlet is designed for a few wiring options, like behind and on either side of the outlet.
GFCI outlets come in 15-amp and 20-amp variants, with power output being their significant difference — the latter is more powerful and suitable for heavy-duty or industrial applications. If you have a 20-amp circuit, you can safely install either of the two. But a 15-amp circuit will only work with a 15-amp outlet.
For most residential homeowners and commercial establishments, a 15-amp GFCI suffices for their daily needs. A 20-amp model can detect more subtle changes in currents, but these rarely happen in ordinary (i.e. non-industrial) applications.
All in all, the Leviton GFNT1-W is what I’d recommend first to anyone looking for a GFCI outlet. Sure, its design isn’t the best for outdoor use like the Leviton GFWT1-W and the 20-amp TOPELE variant, but this particular Leviton model is already excellent for regular household and commercial requirements.
First, the GFNT1-W has the most color options, which means it caters to more homeowners than the rest of the list. Second, it genuinely passed the UL standards since it’s from Leviton. I know some won’t mind the lack of a UL certification in place of one from Intertek, but most people are familiar with UL.
Third, the LED indicators just have the right amount of brightness — and they work as intended. Add in the two-year warranty, compact design, reset lockout mechanism, auto-monitoring, and high torque resistance, and I can say that the Leviton GFNT1-W is a top-tier, reasonably priced GFCI outlet.