Proper eletrical outlet location in bathrooms (C) Carson Dunlop AssociatesElectrical Outlet Locations
Where should electrical receptacles be located in buildings? Electrical receptacle height and clearance restrictions
     


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Locating electrical receptacles: where should electrical receptacles (outlets or wall plugs) be located?

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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Recommended Wall Locations for Electrical Receptacles (Outlets)

The Six Foot Rule for Receptacles

A basic guideline for locating and spacing electrical receptacles in a residential building is that at no spot along the length of any building interior wall should the distance to the nearest receptacle be more than six feet. This means you are placing wall receptacles at twelve-foot intervals or less; some wall designs and room layouts will of course reduce this number.

Clearnce Spacing Rules for Receptacles

In addition to the fundamental requirement that no space along a wall is more than six feet from an electrical receptacle, 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

Height Rules for Electrical Receptacles

Here are some general guides for spacing clearances for electrical receptacles: (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

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.

Readers of this article should also see ELECTRICAL CODE BASICS,

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 Receptacle Wiring 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

Question: how to wire up a pair of receptacles in one electrical box

Quad plex electrical receptacle wiring (C) Daniel FriedmanI would like to wire 2 single plugins to one live wire..how do i do that? - Channing

Reply:

Channing, re Hooking up a Pair of Receptacles in One Electrical Box:

If your two plugins (two electrical receptacles) are located in the same electrical box (we call this a "quad" electrical receptacle installation since each individual receptacle provides connections for two wall plugs), you'll want to wire the hot and neutral to one pair of screws on the first receptacle, and use short black and white jumper wires to connect the the proper terminals on the first receptacle to the second one in the same box.

That's a perfectly acceptable use of the second pair of screw terminals you see on the receptacles.

The ground wire can be continuous, tying the two ground screws on the receptacles together and onwards to the circuit ground.

However a better practice when wiring up a quad-plex of electrical receptacles is to place left and right or upper and lower receptacles on separate electrical circuits - thus reducing the chances of overloading the circuit when many things are connected simultaneously. There are two approaches: you can wire the left and right duplex receptacles each to different individual electrical circuits, or you can wire the upper and lower half of the pair of duplex receptacles to different electrical circuits.

Wiring a Split Receptacle to Two Different Electrical Circuits

Electrical receptacle split receptacle wiring (C) Daniel FriedmanIf you choose to wire the upper and lower duplex receptacle openings to different circuits, we call this the "split receptacle" wiring method, because we are splitting the individual duplex receptacle upper and lower connectors onto two different circuits.

Our photo (left) shows an electrical receptacle that is being wired to a single circuit. The white neutral wire is connected to the silver screw (left side of our photo).

If we were wiring this electrical "outlet" as a split receptacle, we'd want to feed the upper and lower halves of the device from two different electrical circuits.

To do so we'd have to break away the "breakaway" connecting tab pointed to by our orange arrow.

Daisy Chaining Receptacles in Separate Electrical Boxes

If your two receptacles are in different locations and thus in different electrical boxes, your circuit that wires the second or "downstream" receptacle can be powered by those same extra terminal screws on the first or "upstream" receptacle. You'll need to run a wire from the first receptacle through the wall into the second electrical box of course.

Wiring Electrical Receptacles on a Single Circuit In Parallel

In some jurisdictions electricians to not "daisy chain" receptacles in the same box together by using the second pair of screws on each one. Rather the circuit enters the box and using twist-on connectors, short pig-tail wires are connected to each receptacle at the proper screws. This approach requires a larger electrical box as it will contain more connections, connectors, and so needs more room.

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

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.

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

 

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LOCATIONS for ELECTRICAL RECEPTACLES at InspectApedia.com - online encyclopedia of building & environmental inspection, testing, diagnosis, repair, & problem prevention advice.

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