How High to Mount Receptacles and Switches
During a remodel, customers and clients have often asked me what the rules are for how high to mount receptacles and switches. There are several rules in fact, though the height of a receptacle or wall switch isn’t part of the NEC code – at least not with respect to standard placement of switches and outlets.
The primary rule is what’s known as the 6’/12′ rule. NEC 210-52 states the following (abbreviated for easier digestion):
Receptacles are needed in every room of a home such that no point on a wall is over 6′ from an outlet. This means that you need an outlet within 6′ of a doorway or fireplace, but a long wall may have up to 12′ between outlets. Any outlet above 5′ 6″ cannot be counted towards this equation, but floor outlets less than 18″ from the wall can.
There are also other guidelines that need to be followed. For example:
- Every hallway should have at least one receptacle if it is 10′ or longer in length
- Kitchen countertop outlets require at least two 20-amp circuits and must be GFCI protected. Allow no more than 4 feet between countertop outlets.
How High to Mount Receptacles
As for typical heights, that isn’t as well-regulated (and we’re glad for that), but generally receptacle boxes should be mounted such that the bottom of the box is 16″ off the floor. Coincidentally, this is roughly the same height as your garden variety 22 ounce framing hammer. We still recommend using a ruler, however.
For kitchen countertops, the height is subjective (there are no guidelines except to keep them under a maximum of 20″ – obvious since the top cabinets start at 18″). Placement is somewhat dependent upon how you intend to do the backsplash. If you mount the bottom of the box so that it is about 2-3 inches above the top of your tile, solid surface or stone backsplash, you’ll have a nicely positioned outlet that is easy to get to.
For refrigerators you can do any number of things, however it is common to see these outlets about 48″ off the floor.
Editor’s Note: We knew a guy who had all of his switches spec’d to be mounted 30″ off the floor. At first we thought this was some kind of accommodation for a handicapped member of the family. After inquiring further, we found that it was simply to allow him to flip on the lights in every room without having to lift up his arm… While there was nothing wrong with this, we don’t recommend screwing up the potential resale value of your home over a trendy decision based on laziness or trying to be different! Follow the implied standards.
Building plans may have measurements that indicate on-center, top, or even bottom of box measurements. Just double check your work to make sure it all makes sense and that you have sufficient ergonomics to activate all switches and access your outlets efficiently.