What Height Should You Make a Counter Outlet?

Lead Image

An efficient kitchen is determined by its ease of access for all of its cupboards, accessories, and appliances while working in it and the proximity of all the cooking and baking supplies. The electrical layout of the kitchen can also impede its efficiency if it doesn’t provide adequate lighting in the right areas or enough receptacles at all the proper locations.

All of this must be considered carefully at the planning stage of the kitchen area because once you’ve completed your kitchen’s renovations, there’s a good chance that you’ll have to live with all of its imperfections and frustrations for many years to come, every time the breaker trips while starting the microwave oven or the toaster while something else is on, or when you have to move closer to an outlet with your bowl and baking ingredients because the closest receptacle is out of reach.

With the cabinets and appliances layout already established, you’ll have to determine where and how many receptacles you should have according to the electrical code and from there at which height each receptacle would be the most practical for you in your kitchen.

1. NEC and ADA Guidelines

Since the NEC (National Electrical Code) has no provision for the installation height of receptacles above the kitchen floor—or any floor—many builders tend to follow the ADA (American Disability Act) ensuring therefore that their installation will be accessible to handicapped people. The ADA specifies a minimum of 15 inches (380 mm) from the floor and depending on circumstances, the maximum height being between 48 and 54 inches (approx. 1.2 - 1.4 m).

2. Kitchen Layout

The kitchen area is most certainly where the concentration of appliances is at its greatest inside a house and a lot of those appliances are equipped with heaters or powerful motors—such as toasters, electric kettles, slow cookers, coffee makers, stand mixers and many more—making it necessary to have some of the electrical outlets around the countertops capable of supplying higher amperage.

outlet plugs

The fact that often more than one of those will be used simultaneously being a given, the walls above those countertops where the appliance will be resting should supply enough outlets to activate every one appliance, some of them at 20 amps rating (Figure 1) instead of the more commonly used 15 amps (Figure 2).

loose outlet elements

There is also the fact that a 15 amps circuit breaker will not supply a toaster and a microwave oven and a kettle simultaneously without tripping off, so two or more breakers should supply the kitchen receptacles with at least one of them rated at 20 amps and while wiring the outlets, you should alternate their placement between each line from different breakers so that every subsequent outlet around the countertops are from a different source. For any receptacle within 24-inches from a sink, you must use a GFCI outlet (Figure 3) to prevent the risk of shock.

outlet plates with explanation

3. The 5 Rules of Appliances

3.1—Kitchen electrical appliances usually have an average cord length of about 2-feet, therefore, receptacles should be placed at a maximum 4-feet from each other—the measurement ending where a stove, a fridge, a sink, or the end of that section of countertop creating the “break in the countertop surface”. With this 48-inches spacing, wherever you find a good spot on the countertop to set your blender or your coffeemaker, there is always an outlet closeby.

3.2—Any countertop space of 12-inches or more should have a nearby receptacle (within 24-inches) with the subsequent receptacle within 48-inches.

3.3—A countertop space of 18-inches next to a sink should have a receptacle.

3.4—Receptacles must be within 24-inches from a stove, fridge, sink, or any other countertop breaks.

3.5—Islands and peninsulas that have a countertop space deeper than 12-inches and at least 24-inches long must have receptacles following the same spacing rules and installed in the side of the cabinets no more than 12-inches below the countertop, which, incidentally, shouldn’t have any more than a 6-inches overhang.

4. Under Countertops

The code allows for the installation of electrical outlets inside the cabinets but they must be within 12-inches below the countertop.

5. Cabinet Height

There is no specific height at which receptacles are typically installed behind a countertop. But one thing that you can be assured of is that the finished layout will not look as good if the outlets are not all at the same height. Don’t forget that at the height you’ll be installing them, they will be highly visible, even with appliances in front.

What the code specifies is to install at a general height between 15 to 20-inches from the counter’s surface. So what you can do before starting is make certain that there are no obstructions along those walls that would cause one of the outlets to be off by just a bit but enough to ruin the overall appearance of your finished work.

Never forget that a poorly laid out kitchen will leave you running to get take-out food instead of letting you enhance your cooking skills and experiences in your own space.