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Nothing Is Permanent Except Change: Receptacles in island and peninsular countertops and work surfaces

By Mark C. Ode | Feb 15, 2024
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There have been many changes in the design and installation of wiring in homes over the past 20–30 years.

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There have been many changes in the design and installation of wiring in homes over the past 20–30 years. Whenever a new edition of the National Electrical Code is issued, many residential electrical contractors and electricians immediately migrate to Part III of Article 210, which covers the wiring of dwelling units.

In every NEC cycle, many changes in Part III of Article 210 are based on home designs with different applications, often tailored to the various climates throughout the country. Homes located in areas with snow and similar cold weather may have a mudroom or enclosed entry, while homes in warmer regions may have an Arizona room or screened porch. Homes in areas with high heat, humidity and bugs may have an enclosed swimming pool area. 

Keeping up with all these changes would appear to be a full-time job. NEC Panel 2 does an incredible job every Code cycle in dealing with these design issues.

Prior to the 1990 NEC, dwelling unit general receptacle layout for countertops used the same requirements in 210.52(a), with receptacle outlets installed so that no point along the floor line in any wall space is more than 6 feet, measured horizontally, from an outlet in that space, including any wall space measuring 2 feet or more in width. 

This measurement also applied to kitchens. At that time, appliances were furnished with 6-foot flexible cords based on 210.50(c). This cord often draped over the edge, resulting in injuries to people or pets that accidentally pulled the appliance off the countertop.

In the 1990 NEC, text was added to 210.52(c) stating that in a dwelling unit’s kitchen and dining areas, a receptacle outlet must be installed at each counter space wider than 12 inches. These receptacles must be installed so that no point along the wall line was more than 24 inches, measured horizontally, from a receptacle outlet in that counter space. 

Additionally, the UL standards were changed to require a 2-foot cord for small appliances, addressing the many injuries due to the longer cords. Island and peninsular countertops 12 inches or wider were required to have at least one receptacle for each 4 feet of countertop. During the next 30 years, there were many variations and requirements for installing receptacles in kitchen island and peninsular countertops.

Safety improvements in 2023

A task group consisting of electrical industry experts was established to initiate a major change in how the 2023 NEC might deal with the history of accidents caused by receptacles located in islands and peninsulas. 

The task group determined the following: “In the 1990s, receptacle requirements for peninsulas and islands were discussed extensively and added to the NEC. Input was made to delete these receptacles due to the risk of injury to children and others when an electrical cord supplying an appliance is pulled on, or caught as a person is walking by, resulting in injury. 

However, the receptacles stayed on the islands and peninsulas due to the concern that lack of receptacles could cause people to misuse extension cords to power countertop appliances. What was substantiated is that, in spite of shorter cords and limited numbers of receptacles on islands and peninsulas (though still required), injuries still happen due to cords being pulled or caught by people. 

Data compiled by the Consumer Product Safety Commission shows 45 anecdotal reports of burn and other injuries from January 1991 through 2020, as well as an estimated 9,700 burn and other injuries treated in U.S. hospital emergency rooms. 

The data indicates that the injuries were caused by tipping and spilling the contents of countertop appliances, which often specifically involved children pulling on the appliance cord. 

Many of these incidents resulted in second- and third-­degree burn injuries; and 10 resulted in death, including infants as young as eight months of age.”

The major change in the 2023 NEC to the wiring in residential kitchen island and peninsular countertops and similar work surfaces may make some people very happy and others not. The following text now applies to residential kitchen island countertops, peninsular countertops and similar work surfaces: “Receptacle outlets, if installed to serve an island or peninsular countertop or work surface, must be installed in accordance with 210.52(C)(3). If a receptacle outlet is not provided to serve an island or peninsular countertop or work surface, provisions must be provided at the island or peninsula for future addition of a receptacle outlet to serve the island or peninsular countertop or work surface. A receptacle, if installed, must be (1) on or above, but not more than 20 inches above a countertop or work surface, (2) in a countertop using receptacle outlet assemblies listed for use in countertops, or (3) using receptacle outlet assemblies listed for use in work surfaces or listed for use in countertops.”

 

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About The Author

ODE is a retired lead engineering instructor at Underwriters Laboratories and is owner of Southwest Electrical Training and Consulting. Contact him at 919.949.2576 and [email protected]

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