Article 210: Branch Circuits

By George W. Flach | Oct 15, 2002




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210.52(C)(5) Receptacle Outlet Location

Provisions stipulating the placement of receptacle outlets are covered in 210.52 through 210.63. Requirements for placing receptacles in dwelling units are located in 210.52(A) through (H). Last month's In Focus covered requirements pertaining to kitchen and dining room counter spaces. The discussion started with peninsular counter spaces and concluded with the main rule in the section titled, "Receptacle Outlet Location." This month, the discussion continues with the exception to the main requirement in 210.52(C)(5).

When the conditions specified in (a) or (b) of the 210.52(C) exception are met, receptacle outlets for counter spaces can be located below the countertop. The first condition pertains to the type of cabinet construction in the kitchen. If the kitchen is constructed for the physically impaired, receptacle outlets are permitted below the countertop. [210.52(C)(5) Exception (a)] Unlike the next condition, mounting receptacles below the countertop in accordance with this condition is not limited to island and peninsular countertops.

The second condition pertains to the type of cabinet or counter in the kitchen. Receptacles can be mounted below island and peninsular countertops where both the following stipulations are met: the countertop is flat across its entire surface (no backsplashes, dividers, etc.) and there are no means to mount the receptacle within 20 inches (500 mm) above the countertop. [210.52(C)(5) Exception (b)] The last part of this stipulation has a slight change from the 1999 edition of the National Electrical Code. In the 1999 edition, the space between the countertop and overhead cabinet was only 18 inches (458 mm).

If means are available to mount the receptacle within 20 inches above the peninsular (or island) countertop, the receptacle must be installed above the counter. For example, a kitchen in a dwelling contains both island and peninsular counter spaces that are flat across the surface. Although no cabinets are above the island countertop, cabinets have been installed directly above the peninsular counter. The bottom of the overhead cabinets is 18 inches above the peninsular countertop. While the island's required receptacle can be mounted below the countertop, the receptacle for the peninsular counter space cannot. Because of the cabinets above the peninsular countertop, means are available to mount the receptacle within 20 inches of the countertop. A fixed multioutlet assembly could be mounted to the underside of the overhead cabinet to meet the requirements of this section. Since these receptacles serve countertop surfaces, they must be ground-fault circuit-interrupter (GFCI) protected. [210.8(A)(6)]

If a wall, backsplash, overhead cabinet or similar area is available, the receptacle must be mounted above the island or peninsular countertop. If the space between the peninsular counter and the overhead cabinets were more than 20 inches, the required receptacle could have been installed below the countertop.

When receptacles are installed below the countertop, they must be installed in accordance with the specifications of the 210.52(C)(5) Exception. Two provisions are listed in the main body of this exception. Where complying with both provisions, receptacles can be mounted below the counter and be counted as required receptacles. First, receptacles must be mounted no more than 12 inches (300 mm) below the countertop. While receptacles mounted more than 12 inches below the countertop are permitted, they cannot be included as required receptacles.

Second, receptacles mounted below a countertop must not be located where the countertop extends more than six inches (150 mm) beyond its support base. Receptacles mounted below a countertop, in accordance with this exception, can be included as required receptacles provided the countertop does not extend more than six inches past the support base (bottom cabinet). Remember, the maximum distance below the countertop is still limited to only 12 inches.

Receptacles mounted below countertops extending more than six inches beyond the support base are permitted but cannot be included as required receptacles. For example: a peninsular counter is located in the kitchen of a dwelling. There are no cabinets above the peninsular counter, therefore the required receptacle must be installed below the countertop. While the end and front of the countertop extends one inch beyond the support base, the back of the countertop extends 12 inches beyond the base cabinet. The required receptacle must be mounted on the end (or front) of the cabinet and not more than 12 inches below the countertop. A receptacle can be installed below the 12-inch countertop, but it cannot be counted as a required receptacle.

Mounting receptacles to the underside of overhanging countertops is permitted, but the receptacles cannot be counted as required if the countertop extends more than six inches beyond the base. For example, the backside of a peninsular countertop extends 12 inches beyond the base cabinet. A receptacle has been installed in the end of the peninsular counter, therefore the required peninsular receptacle has been installed. The homeowners want a fixed multioutlet assembly installed under the 12-inch overhanging countertop. They want the receptacles mounted halfway between the counter's outside edge and the base cabinet. Although the receptacles will be within six inches of the countertop's edge, they cannot be counted as required receptacles. Since the multioutlet assembly was installed to serve the countertop surface, it must be GFCI protected.

406.4(E) Receptacles in Countertops and Similar Work Surfaces

Because of new, deleted, revised and relocated requirements, care must be taken with each new Code edition. One provision was removed from 210.52(C)(5) and relocated to a brand-new article in the 2002 edition of the Code. Although this requirement is no longer mentioned in 210.52(C)(5), compliance is still required. Section 210.7(B) states that specific requirements for receptacles are covered in Article 406. Most of the receptacle provisions in this new article were previously in Article 410, Part L (410-56 through 58). Article 406 covers the rating, type and installation of receptacles, cord connectors and attachment plugs (cord caps). The provision removed from 210.52(C)(5) is currently located in 406.4(E).

Receptacles in dwelling units must not be installed in a face-up position in countertops or similar work surfaces. Receptacles installed in a face-up position are susceptible to spilled liquids. This specification applies to all countertops and similar work surfaces, not just countertops in kitchens. In the previous Code edition, this provision was mentioned three times in Article 210 alone: once for wet bar sinks; once for kitchen and dinning room countertops; and once for bathroom basin countertops. Now, regardless of the location, receptacles must not be installed in a face-up position in countertops or similar work surfaces. This provision does not prohibit the installation of receptacles in pedestals, because those receptacles are not installed in a face-up position.

Next month's In Focus, resuming with 210.52(D) will continue discussion of required receptacle outlets in dwelling units. EC

MILLER, owner of Lighthouse Educational Services, teaches custom-tailored classes and conducts seminars covering various aspects of the electrical industry. He is the author of Illustrated Guide to the National Electrical Code. For more information, visit his Web site at He can be reached by phone at (615) 333-3336, or via e-mail at [email protected].


About The Author

George W. Flach was a regular contributing Code editor for Electrical Contractor magazine, serving for more than 40 years. His long-running column, Code Q&A, is one of the most widely read in the magazine's history. He is a former chief electrical inspector for New Orleans and held many other prestigious positions in the electrical industry, including IAEI board of directors and executive committee. He passed away in August 2009.

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