Does a Clothes Washing Machine Have to be GFCI or AFCI Protected?
Answer: Yes, it does (in a dwelling), but interestingly enough- not because the NEC says that it does- specifically.
First: Always, refer to the manufacturer’s installation instructions. If the installation instructions require something above and beyond the currently adopted electrical Code, the inspector will require that of you, if he/she is aware of the manufacturer’s requirement. If those instructions require less than the minimum adopted electrical Code, (as those instructions pertain to the electrical portion of the installation), then you will be required to go beyond those instructions provided by the manufacturer to comply with the minimum adopted electrical Code for your jurisdiction.
Now, let’s refer to NEC 2017, Section 210.8 for the answer to the GFCI portion of our question:
210.8(A)(10) – All 125V, 15a and 20a receptacles installed in “Laundry Areas” shall have GFCI protection.
The NEC doesn’t require GFCI protection for clothes washing machines specifically, but it does for “Laundry Areas.”
Now, here is the question: Are you, as an installer, putting this washing machine in the laundry area?
If the answer is “yes”, then you have your answer- the clothes washing machine will be GFCI protected, because all 120-Volt receptacles are to be GFCI protected in laundry areas, per the 2017 NEC.
If the answer is “no”, then we are faced with another question: Does the placement of a clothes washing machine into ANY area of the home make it a laundry area? I will say this: it takes a 120-Volt outlet, a drain system, and a water supply to use a clothes washing machine, so YES! It is this inspector’s opinion that wherever you install a clothes washer, you have established a “laundry area”.
Possible Exception: Existing work will be different than new work that is performed under the 2017 NEC. If you install a washer in a room (any room) and use an existing receptacle in that room that is not GFCI protected, and the house was built during a Code cycle that did not require GFCI protection for receptacles in that room, then you may be in the clear as far as the electrical portion of the installation. UNLESS, your local inspector states you have just created a new “laundry area” by placing a washer in that room. We could all agree that placement of a clothes washer in an area that was not equipped for a clothes washer would require new plumbing to serve that washer. So, the inspector would have plenty of traction for that “new laundry area” argument.
Likely Exception: Placing a new clothes washing machine into an existing laundry area that did not require GFCI protection when the home was built, if no other alterations to the laundry area are made, would likely not trigger anyone’s radar regarding GFCI protection. The replacement of a clothes washing machine in this scenario requires no electrical permit in any jurisdiction that I am aware of, and therefore requires only that you follow manufacturer’s instructions.
(Note: All of this information applies to a “dwelling.” In a location other than a dwelling, the NEC does not require GFCI protection for the installation of a clothes washing machine. The inspector will enforce the manufacturer’s instructions regarding GFCI protection when it comes to non-dwelling installations.)
Refer to 210.12(A) of the 2017 NEC, which states: All Dwelling-Unit 120 Volt 15a and 20a branch-circuits supplying outlets or devices in …”laundry areas” shall be AFCI protected.
Therefore, by default, the clothes washing machine in a dwelling unit laundry area will be AFCI protected. Nearly every room/ area in a dwelling unit requires AFCI protection, so no matter where you put a clothes washer, it will be AFCI protected in a newer home.
If you install a washer in any room of an older home, and that home was built prior to the electrical Code cycle that required AFCI protection for that area, you might be OK. BUT, if you need to plumb the drain and water supply lines to that clothes washer, the inspector may again say that you have just “built” a new laundry area and may then hold you to the AFCI requirements found in the 2017 NEC.
As always, refer to the manufacturer’s installation instructions regarding AFCI requirements for the installation of your new clothes washing machine.