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What is code for receptacle outlet spacing?

Monday, March 16, 2020

The maximum spacing between receptacles is 12 feet, 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. This standard has been in place since the 1956 edition of the National Electrical Code (NEC), and the prior maximum spacing was 20-feet.

   Also, each wall more than 2-feet long needs a receptacle. Here’s a diagram from Code Check® of how it works out in multiple situations.

    These standards do not apply to kitchens, bathrooms, closets, hallways, foyers, garage, or outdoor receptacles. 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?  

    Other rooms simply have a minimum number of receptacles per room. 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?  

   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. 

   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.

   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.

   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. Also, for height of receptacles, see What is the height requirement for an electric receptacle outlet?

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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?

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?   

What problems does having too many electric receptacle outlets on a single circuit cause? 

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 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? 

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? 

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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