Proper eletrical outlet location in bathrooms (C) Carson Dunlop AssociatesElectrical Outlet Height, Clearances & Spacing
How much space is allowed between electrical receptacles, & what height or clearances are required?
     


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Height & spacing of electrical receptacles or "outlets" in buildings:

Requirements for electrical receptacle (outlet or wall plug) spacing, height, and clearances in buildings. In general electrical receptacles are installed along building walls such that at no point along the wall is the distance to the nearest electrical receptacle more than six feet. Details about spacing, height, and clearance for receptacles are provided in this article.

This article series describes how to choose, locate, and wire an electrical receptacle in a home. Electrical receptacles (also called electrical outlets or "plugs" or "sockets") are simple devices that are easy to install, but there are details to get right if you want to be safe.

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Specification of Proper Spacing, Location & Height for Electrical Receptacles (Outlets)

An electrical outlet must be properly located on the wall, according to local electrical codes and the National Electrical Code. Examples of proper electrical outlet locations are shown in our two sketches below, courtesy of Carson Dunlop and in the following list of electrical outlet location requirements:

    Tub-Shower clearance: Keep electrical receptacles at least three feet (one meter) away from a tub or shower.

    Electric baseboard clearance: Keep electrical outlets offset above and to the side of vanity sinks, not right over the sink (left hand sketch below)

    Electric baseboard clearance: Keep electrical receptacles off to one side, not right over electric heating baseboards to avoid overheating and possibly melting electrical cords draped over the heater (a fire risk) - see photo at below right, courtesy of Timothy Hemm.

    Outlets in floors, countertops: Generally we do not mount electrical outlets flush in countertops or floors, though in some codes and jurisdictions the inspector may require that special (protected) floor-mount electrical receptacles be installed in order to meet the requirement that electrical outlets are available within six feet in any direction along a wall, and where no "wall" is available to install such receptacles (such as along a sleeping loft).

    Garage electrical outlet location: In the garage electrical outlets should be 18" or more above floor level.

Proper eletrical outlet location in bathrooms (C) Carson Dunlop Associates Proper eletrical outlet location over heating baseboards (C) Carson Dunlop Associates

Electrical Outlet Height Above the Finished Floor

Reader Question: Can I put an electrical receptacle up five feet from the finished floor level?

Before I contact an electrical contractor, I would like to know whether there are any Michigan electrical codes that apply to the "HEIGHT" above floor level - when adding a new (GFCI) A/C outlet to an existing residential home?

Specifically: I very much need to add a dedicated outlet in my bathroom to feed a nice quartz (1,500 W) wall space heater. And - to avoid a messy cord situation, I want to locate the outlet "up" (about 5 feet) off the floor - with a 60 min. wall timer in series.)

Is this OK? (The outlet will be more than 4 feet from the bathtub).

Thanks for your great website! (I read through - but couldn't find the answer to this.) - T.V.M., Grand Rapids MI

Reply:

Because local building code jurisdictions may have their own local requirements, I'd give a call to your local building department and ask (please let me know what happens).

Most of the sources we have reviewed for details about the required height of electrical receptacles above the floor (see Mike Holt's Forum for example) assert that there is no National Electrical Code (NEC) specification of the height of wall-mounted electrical receptacles in homes. [After all, we regularly install a ceiling-mounted receptacle to power garage door operators.] One electrician cited 5'6" maximum above floor level for receptacles meeting the 6' horizontal spacing rule (NEC 210-52) [4]. So you'd be OK with your high receptacle.

Just be sure it's a GFCI-protected receptacle as you're installing in a bathroom, and that the circuit amperage is high enough to operate the electric heater safely.

Electrical receptacle and zipcord wiring (C) D FriedmanBut there are some ADA requirements that might make you want to put the receptacle a bit lower on the wall.

If your bathroom might need to meet Americans with Disabilities Act standards, you'd want to respect those heights - the ADA (Section 4.2.5 and 4.2.6) requires that outlets be at least 15" above the floor and switches and outlets should not be more than 48-54" (the variation is due to other conditions).

Our photo (left) shows an electrical receptacle mounted just about 2" above the finished floor - which is ok except for the ADA requirements, but that zip cord wiring that is run into the wall is improper, unsafe, and a fire hazard.

Here are some general guides: (heights pertain to electrical receptacles mounted in walls except where we note switches or other devices)

  • 0 min receptacle height above floors indoors
  • Min 6-1/2" above grade outdoors
  • 9" low side reach minimum height above floor for ADA
  • 14" to center of receptacle, above floor, in Canada, higher allowed.
  • 15" minimum receptacle height to bottom of outlet box - California
  • 15" minimum receptacle height above floor for ADA
  • 16" to top of box - common install height above floor but see 18" below
  • 18" (max?) above countertops
  • 18" above floor to top of outlet box - standard practice among many electricians
  • 40" maximum height above finished floor to switch for HUD Section 8 housing
  • 42" floor to bottom of light switch box - some installers use 48" to the top of the box,
  • 44" to top of box for bath vanity receptacles
  • 44" to 46" - most electrical switches above floor to bottom of box
  • 48" floor to center of light switch (max per NFPA)
  • 48" maximum high forward reach for ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act)
  • 48" maximum height to top of outlet box - California
  • 54" maximum high side reach (ADA)
  • 5'6" maximum above floor level for receptacles meeting the 6' horizontal spacing rule (NEC 210-52) [4]

Example CA code on layout and heights http://www.sanjoseca.gov/building/PDFHandouts/5-7CommercialReceptacle.pdf

Readers of this article should also
see ELECTRICAL DEFINITIONS and

also SAFETY for ELECTRICAL INSPECTORS. Our photo at page top is not an example of a proper electrical outlet installation.

This website provides information about a variety of electrical hazards in buildings, with articles focused on the inspection, detection, and reporting of electrical hazards and on proper electrical repair methods for unsafe electrical conditions. Critique and content suggestions are invited. Credit is given to content editors and contributors

Electrical Wire Clearances from Ducts & Pipes

We also don't route wires too close to places where the wires can be damaged by heat from a heating appliance or chimney, flooded, etc. as you'll see depicted in the two Carson Dunlop sketches below. Thanks to Steve for pointing out erroneous illustration link details, now fixed.

Proper routing of electric wires in metal studs (C) Carson Dunlop Associates Proper routing and support of electrical wire (C) Carson Dunlop Associates

How many electrical receptacles are allowed on a 20-amp circuit? How many receptacles on a 15-amp circuit?

Reader question: How many receptacles can be wired To one 20 amp circuit No. 12. Wire - John K.

Reply:

20 Amp electrical outlet (C) D FriedmanJohn K:

Our photo (left) shows a 20-Amp electrical receptacle - you can recognize it by that horizontal opening that makes the left-hand slot look like the letter "T" on its side.

In general, the Electrical Code [NEC] allows

  • 10 electrical receptacles to be wired on a 15-Amp (#14 copper) wire circuit, and the Electrical Code [NEC] allows
  • 13 receptacles on a 20-amp (#12 copper) wire circuit.

    Watch out: When purchasing the receptacles to use on a 20A circuit, be sure to also buy receptacles that are themselves rated for 20Amp use.

    You'll see that those least-costly receptacles found in a big pile at building supply stores are more likely intended only for 15-Amp use.

Our photo (left) illustrates an electrical receptacle intended for use on a 20-Amp circuit.

Notice that extra horizontal slot? You won't see that on a 15-Amp electrical receptacle

Details about how to wire up an electrical receptacle are at CONNECTION DETAILS - where to connect black, white, red, green, ground wires.

Reader Question: Which end of electrical outlets go "up"? The ground hole should be up, down, or sideways?

Electrical outlet with ground connector down (C) Daniel Friedman Electrical outlet with ground connector down (C) Daniel Friedman

Can the outlet be installed any way? For example ground hole facing up, down, or sideways? thanks, - Anon

Reader comment:

One comment regarding 'inverted' outlet mounting (ground up, vs down).
While not specified in the code, I have noted that several electricians PREFER to mount a switched outlet so that the ground prong is up while mounting the non-switched outlets with the ground down. That way the homeowner can quickly determine a switched from a non-switched outlet. - Anon 9/5/12

Reply:

Anon, the position of installation of an electrical outlet won't affect its operation and should not normally affect its approval by the electrical inspector.

In some areas I see the outlet installed with the ground connector always "up" as in our photo at left, though to me that's less attractive than the position shown in our electrical outlet photo at far left.

I've also seen arguments expressing the OPINION that the position of the grounding pin connector might help resist the tendency of a plug to fall out of its connection. That's nonsense. If a plug is falling out of a receptacle, one of the two objects is worn or damaged and should be replaced to assure a safe, mechanically secure connection.

Anon,

About upside down electrical outlets - thanks for the interesting comment. Unfortunately because there's no standard mount position associated with switched electrical receptacles, the next owner in a home will probably be confused unless the secret code is passed-on to everyone.

Reader Question: I don't have enough wire to lower receptacles on the wall

I recently moved into a 3 1/4 story home, and I have a basement that I am trying to finish with drywall. The room is down to the studs and the electrical receptacles are about 4' up the wall. The Romex wiring is stapled, and there isn't enough wire to lower them.

It is way to much work for me to replace all of the downstairs wiring right to the breaker box, so I'm wondering if it is possible to add onto the existing wires and attach wire screws or marrets within the walls before I start adding drywall, or whether I should add some kind of junction box to contain the marreted wires in between.

My building code stipulations would differ in some cases because I live in Canada, but I just want to do the job right, and I do not want to take the chance of having any fire hazards, as I also have small children. - Dave 2/10/12

Reply: if you have to move an entire string of electrical receptacles complete re-wiring is faster and cheaper than adding a splice box for every device.

Dave,. you are correct to be careful about moving outlets or any other device when the existing wires are too short. The temptation is to just splice on an extension and bury that in the wall or ceiling: an illegal, improper, unsafe as well as really aggravating approach.

The proper approach is to add a junction box at each splice - we never splice 120/240V wires without including them in a box. You can reduce the wiring work a little by using plastic boxes instead of steel - avoiding having to also connect the box to the ground wire.

The proper approach also means that you don't then bury any of these splice-boxes in the walls either. Each box has to be brought to the surface and covered.

The result is a lot of work and expense and an ugly wall with an extra junction box and blind cover all along the wall over each of the now moved or lowered electrical receptacles.

Frankly I figure that especially as you've already got the wall open to the studs, if there are more than one or two receptacles to be moved you'll probably find it is actually much less total work to re-wire the entire circuit, allowing proper lengths of wires for each box. You might carefully remove and re-route the existing wire lower in the wall or you might buy all new electrical wire - depending on the age and condition of the existing materials.

Watch out: when removing wire that appears to be in good condition, if you nick the insulation you've created a new hazard.

 

Continue reading at JUNCTION BOX TYPES or select a topic from the More Reading links shown below.

Or see LOCATIONS for ELECTRICAL RECEPTACLES

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HEIGHT above FLOOR for OUTLETS at InspectApedia.com - online encyclopedia of building & environmental inspection, testing, diagnosis, repair, & problem prevention advice.

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