The requirement that any point along the floor line of the interior walls of a home be no more 6-feet from a receptacle (12-feet apart max) dates back to the 1959 edition of the National Electric Code (NEC). The minimum standards for kitchen and exterior receptacles of a home have been upgraded since then, but the “no more than 6-feet to a receptacle” rule for other rooms has remained unchanged for over 50 years.
The spacing of residential electric receptacles was first addressed way back in the 1933 NEC, which “recommended” no more than 15-feet from any point along the base of wall to a receptacle. The 1935 NEC added a requirement of at least one receptacle per room; and that is exactly what many homes from the 1930s have, except that the dining room apparently did not count. Most homes from that era have no dining room receptacle, but dad wasn’t carving the Thanksgiving turkey with an electric knife back then either.
But just two years later, in 1937, the NEC recognized the rapidly increasing use of electric lights and appliances in homes and the “recommendation” was changed to a requirement of a maximum of 10-feet to a receptacle.
The language used to describe minimum spacing was changed to “one receptacle per 20 linear feet of wall” two years later, which was essentially the same thing stated differently. Over the next two decades the spacing was tweaked further and, finally, the NEC settled on the current language and spacing in the 1959 edition of the code.
This standard does not apply to bathrooms, closets, hallways, foyers, kitchen, 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 kitchen counter receptacles be spaced? 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?
For a timeline on the phase-in of GFCI-receptacles, see our blog post When were GFCI receptacle outlets first 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?
• What is the code requirement for GFCI protection for receptacles near a wet bar sink?
• What is the requirement for a service receptacle outlet for heating, air conditioning, and refrigeration (HACR) equipment?
• 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?
• What is allowable voltage range at a wall receptacle outlet in a house?
• When should I replace electric receptacle outlets?
• Does an electric receptacle outlet in a storage shed require GFCI protection?
• 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?
• Can I remove a 240-volt range receptacle and hard-wire the range?
• 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?
• Where are GFCI receptacle outlets required?
• When were GFCI receptacle outlets first required?
• Does a home inspector remove receptacle outlet cover plates?
• What is the minimum height for an exterior receptacle outlet?
• 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?
• What problems does having too many electric receptacle outlets on a single circuit cause?
• Is a house required to have outdoor electric receptacle outlets?
• How I can tell if a receptacle outlet is tamper resistant?
• Why is there a GFCI breaker in the electric panel for the bathroom shower light and exhaust fan?
• 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?
• How far above a kitchen countertop do electrical outlets have to be?
• What is reversed polarity at an outlet/receptacle? Why is it dangerous?
• How high above the floor do electric outlets/receptacles in a garage have to be?
• How far apart should electric receptacles be spaced in a bathroom?
• Is an ungrounded electric receptacle outlet dangerous?
• My bathroom electric receptacle/outlet is dead and there are no tripped breakers in the electric panel. What's wrong?
• Is there an adapter that can be placed on a two-slot receptacle to make it safe?
• How do the new tamper-resistant electric outlets work?
• Why is there no bathroom electric receptacle in this old house?
• How can I tell if the electric receptacle outlets are grounded?
• How far apart should the electrical receptacles be placed?
• 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.