Everything But the Kitchen Sink: Determining number and location of receptacles for countertops in 2020

iStock / ZargonDesign
iStock / ZargonDesign
Published On
Mar 15, 2021

Requirements for the number and location of receptacles for dwelling unit kitchen countertops, islands and peninsulas changes with every National Electrical Code cycle. Many of these changes stem from architects’ and custom kitchen designers’ plans. The 2020 NEC has provided many new requirements and changed the existing text in the previous edition.

Section 210.52 provides the general and specific requirements for 125V, 15A and 20A receptacle outlets in kitchens, family rooms, dining rooms, living rooms, parlors, libraries, dens, sunrooms, bedrooms, recreation rooms and similar rooms or areas in a dwelling. Here we focus on receptacle outlets in kitchens, breakfast rooms and similar areas where there are countertops and work surfaces.

Section 210.52(A)(4) states that receptacles installed for countertops and similar work surfaces specifically covered in 210.52(C) are not considered to be general receptacle outlets as required by 210.52(A). In other words, for general wall receptacle outlets in the kitchen, dining room, breakfast room and similar rooms, no point along the floor line—measured horizontally along any wall space—is more than 6 feet from a receptacle outlet.

The exception is that countertop and work surface receptacles must be closer than general wall receptacles. Remember, 210.11(C)(1) requires at least two or more 20A small appliance branch circuits so additional small appliance branch circuits can be installed for these areas. However, no small appliance branch circuit can serve more than one kitchen.

Sections 210.52(C)(1), (2) and (3) provide specific requirements for countertops and work surfaces in kitchens, pantries, breakfast rooms, dining rooms and similar areas for dwelling units. The phrase “work surfaces” was added in 2017 NEC and opened many different types of working areas other than just countertops, including food preparation and food serving areas in each of these rooms.

Several substantial changes are made to these areas in the 2020 Code . For example, a paragraph was added in 210.52(C) that states where using multi-outlet assemblies to provide for countertop and work surface outlets, each 12 inches of the multi-outlet assembly containing two or more receptacles installed in individual or continuous lengths is considered to be one receptacle outlet. Any countertop or work surface that is 12 inches or wider must have receptacle outlets. The title of 210.52(C)(1) was changed to “Wall Spaces” from “Wall Countertop and Work Surfaces” to simplify the description.

Section 210.52(C)(2) is shown in the 2020 NEC as being new. It is actually a combination of the previous 210.52(C)(1) covering island countertops and (C)(2) covering peninsular countertops. The text in this subsection covering island and peninsular countertops plus work surfaces changed dramatically in the 2020 NEC , with new requirements with different measurements. At least one receptacle must be provided for the first 9 square feet, or fraction thereof, of the countertop or work surface. A receptacle must be installed for every additional 18 square feet, or fraction thereof, of the countertop or work surface. For peninsular countertops, at least one receptacle outlet must be located within 2 feet of the outer end of the countertop or work surface, with the peninsular countertop measured from the connected perpendicular wall. Two figures in 210.52(C)(2) in the 2020 Code help determine the receptacles’ required location. Additional receptacle outlets are permitted to be located by the installer, designer or building owner.

Section 210.52(C)(3) provides information on receptacle location requirements for countertops and work surfaces. Receptacle outlets must be located on countertops and work surfaces or not more than 20 inches above them. This permits 2-foot appliance cords to connect to the receptacles located above countertops and work surfaces.

Receptacle outlet assemblies must be specifically designed and listed for use in countertops and work surfaces where installed directly in them to ensure water and other materials will not affect the assembly. Receptacles cannot be located more than 12 inches below the countertop or work surface or where the overhang of the surface extends more than 6 inches beyond its support base.

Any receptacles that are rendered “not readily accessible” by appliances being fastened in place, located in appliance garages, or behind sinks, range tops or other appliances occupying assigned spaces are not considered to be the required receptacle outlets as required by this section of the NEC .

As we can see from the text in 210.52(B) and (C), the requirements and specifications for small appliance receptacles are certainly clarified in the 2020 NEC .

About the Author

Mark C. Ode

Fire/Life Safety, Residential and Code Contributor

Mark C. Ode is a lead engineering associate for Energy & Power Technologies at Underwriters Laboratories Inc. and can be reached at 919.949.2576 and Mark.C.Ode@ul.com.

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