How far apart should the electrical receptacles be spaced?
Tuesday, October 9, 2018
The maximum spacing between receptacles, according to the National Electric Code (NEC), has been set at 12-feet since 1956--with no point along a wall being more than 6-feet from a receptacle. The logic behind that number is that an appliance with a standard length cord could then be plugged-in anywhere along the wall. The prior maximum spacing was 20-feet.
Several other standards also come into play: each wall more than 2-feet long needs a receptacle, and hallways more than 10-feet require one. Here’s a diagram from Code Check® of how it works out in multiple situations.
Also, kitchen counters now have a more stringent standard: no point along the back of the counter can be more than 2-feet from a receptacle, and any counter more than 1-foot long requires a receptacle. For all details of kitchen spacing, go to our blog post How far apart should kitchen counter receptacles be spaced?
These tighter standards have developed over the years in response to the increasing use of plug-in electric appliances around the home. Home electric consumption has been increasing at a rate of about 5% per year for a while now.
And, obviously, older homes have fewer receptacles. It’s not uncommon to have one receptacle per bedroom in a 1940s era bungalow, and only one receptacle at the kitchen counter.
Equally important, though, are locations where an electric receptacles should not be placed:
- Receptacles should not be placed lower than 18-inches above a garage floor. Gasoline fumes from a car parked in the garage are heavier than air, and accumulate at the floor. The slight arcing that happens when a cord is plugged-in can set off an explosion.
- Although one receptacle should be placed near each bathroom sink, it should not be placed behind the sink, to avoid the possibility of the cord drooping into a sink full of water.
- Receptacles directly over a baseboard electric heater are a no-no. The cord could come in contact with the top of the heater and melt.
- A receptacle should not be flush-mounted on a horizontal surface where it may have water splashed on it, like at kitchen counter. And a floor receptacle in a dry area, like a living room, should have a special “rated” cover that protects the slots when not in use.
As electric technology has evolved over the years, so have receptacles. GFCI-protected receptacles are now required in wet areas, for personal shock protection. See our blog post Where are GFCI receptacle outlets required?
AFCI-protected receptacles, which recognize arcing in the circuit for fire protection, have also been phased into the code requirements. See our blog When did arc fault circuit interrupter (AFCI) breakers first become required? to learn more.
And receptacles that only open to allow standard cord prongs (and not any metal object that a curious child may try to stick into it), called tamper resistant, are the latest improvement. See How I can tell if a receptacle outlet is tamper resistant? for details.
These standards do not apply to bathrooms, closets, hallways, foyers, garage, or outdoor receptacles. See our blog posts How far apart should electric receptacles be spaced in a bathroom? and What is the code requirement for receptacle outlets in a closet? and How many electrical receptacle outlets are required in a hallway? and How far apart should electric receptacle outlets be placed in a garage? and What is the code requirement for receptacle outlets in a foyer? and Is a house required to have outdoor electric receptacle outlets?
To learn more about electrical wiring, devices, and receptacles, see these other blog posts:
Illustrations - Code Check
How To Look At A House
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