How far apart should the electrical receptacles be spaced?

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

The maximum spacing between receptacles, according to the National Electric Code, 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. 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. AFCI-protected receptacles, which recognize arcing in the circuit for fire protection, have also been phased into the code requirements. 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) are the latest improvement. 

    Also, see our blog post Where are GFCI receptacle outlets required?

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  To learn more about electrical wiring, devices, and receptacles, see these other blog posts:

 • What is the difference between what trips a GFCI (ground fault) receptacle and a circuit breaker?

Why is an opening in the wall around the side of an electrical receptacle outlet a safety defect?  

When was GFCI-protection for kitchen dishwasher receptacle outlet first required? 

When should I replace electric receptacle outlets? 

What are "self-contained" electrical receptacle outlets and switches?

What is the difference between an electrical receptacle, an outlet, and a plug?

Does a washing machine receptacle outlet require GFCI protection?

What is the building code requirement for receptacle outlets at stairs and stair landings?

What is a "backstab" receptacle outlet? 

Why are some electric receptacle outlets upside down (ground slot up) in a house?   

What is the height requirement for an electric receptacle outlet?  

 Does a home inspector remove receptacle outlet cover plates?

When was the current receptacle/outlet spacing of 12-feet first required? 

When was the three-slot (grounding) outlet/receptacle first required? 

Why does painting an electric receptacle (outlet) make it unsafe?

Why are electrical outlets and plugs polarized? 

How many electrical receptacles (outlets) are required in a hallway?  

Is a house required to have outdoor electric receptacle outlets?

How I can tell if a receptacle outlet is tamper resistant?

What is a false ground, bootleg ground, or cheated ground receptacle? 

How can adding wood paneling or a wainscot create an electrical safety hazard?

How far apart should kitchen counter receptacles be spaced?  

• What are the most common problems/defects found with electric receptacle outlets during a home inspection?

    Visit our ELECTRICAL page for other related blog posts on this subject, or go to the INDEX for a complete listing of all our articles.

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