The Height of Kitchen Receptacles Above the Countertop


The National Electrical Code restricts the placement and types of kitchen receptacles so small appliances can be used safely. The NEC also restricts the wiring of receptacles above the countertop and requires ground fault circuit interrupters near water. Ground fault circuit interrupters sense imbalances caused from arcing or leakage of electricity and shut off the electricity for your safety. NEC updates occur about every three years. The requirements aren’t the same everywhere as states and regions adopt the code at different intervals.

National Electrical Code Adoption

  • As of 2011, nine states had not adopted the National Electrical Code, but relied on local or regional adoption within the state. Two states used the 2005 NEC. while 27 states used the 2008 provisions of the NEC. Twelve states had adopted the 2011 changes to the NEC, according to statistics provided by the Association of Electrical and Medical Imaging Equipment Manufacturers. Check with your electrical inspector or fire marshal if you have questions about the version of NEC used in your area. You may choose compliance with the most recent standards as an alternative.

Height Requirements

  • National Electrical Code requirements restrict outlets to 18 inches or less above the countertop, and any kitchen counter wider than 12 inches must have a receptacle, according to the 2011 NEC. Outlets inside cabinets can be higher, but can't be wired with the countertop outlets and don't count in the required number of outlets. No point along the wall line can extend more than 2 feet without an outlet. A kitchen with a peninsula or island requires an additional outlet if the long dimension is 24 inches or more and the short dimension is 12 inches or more. This outlet can be 12 inches below the island or peninsula and can’t be face-up on the work surface.

Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters

  • Receptacles installed to serve the countertop surfaces must be ground fault circuit interrupters. Any countertop receptacle within 6 feet of a sink or wet bar requires GFCI protection. These receptacles provide added safety when using small appliances such as coffee pots, mixers, toaster ovens and blenders. GFCI receptacles aren’t required for permanent kitchen appliances such as dishwashers, garbage disposers, trash compactors and refrigerators.

Wiring Requirements

  • The NEC requires two 20-amp small appliance branch circuits and 20-amp breakers for the countertop receptacles. These circuits can operate an electric clock, control panels or display panels on the stove. Circuits that supply power to the countertop outlets can't be used for lighting or for receptacles within cabinets or cupboards. Once you have your wiring diagram ready, contact the electrical inspector in your area for suggestions and preliminary approval. Some areas have regulations in addition to the National Electrical Code.

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