Room-By-Room Electrical Codes

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Electrical codes are in place to protect you, the homeowner. These general guidelines apply to new installations and remodels and will give you the basics of what electrical inspectors are looking for. Be sure to check with your local building department because local codes may vary from the recommendations here. Most local codes follow the National Electrical Code (NEC), but there can be variances, and the local code always takes precedence.

Bathrooms

Bathrooms use a lot of power and may need more than one circuit. The outlets, or receptacles, must have a 20-amp circuit. The same circuit can supply the entire bathroom, provided there are no heaters (including vent fans with built-in heaters) and the circuit serves only a single bathroom and no other areas. Alternatively, there should be a 20-amp circuit for the receptacles only, plus a 15- or 20-amp circuit for the lighting. Vent fans with built-in heaters must be on their own dedicated 20-amp circuits. All receptacles in bathrooms must have ground-fault circuit-interrupter (GFCI) protection. Light fixtures in the shower or bath area must be rated for damp locations unless they are subject to shower spray, in which case they must be rated for wet locations.

Kitchen

Kitchens must have at least two 20-amp "small appliance" circuits serving the receptacles in the countertop areas.

These are for portable appliances. Additional circuits include dedicated circuits for fixed appliances, such as an electric range or oven, a microwave, a dishwasher, and a garbage disposal. Refrigerators often have their own circuit, but this is not commonly required. All countertop receptacles and any receptacle within 6 feet of a sink must be GFCI-protected.

Kitchen lighting must be supplied by a separate 15-amp (minimum) circuit.

Living Room, Dining Room, and Bedrooms

These rooms require that a wall switch be placed beside the entry door of the room so that you can light the room before entering it. It can either control a ceiling light, a wall light, or a receptacle for plugging in lamp. The ceiling fixture must be controlled by a wall switch rather than a pull chain. Wall receptacles may be placed no farther than 12 feet apart on any wall surface. Any wall section wider than 2 feet must have a receptacle. Dining rooms usually require a separate 20-amp circuit for one outlet used for a microwave, entertainment center, or window air conditioner.

Stairways

Special care is needed in stairways to ensure all of the steps are lighted properly. Three-way switches are required at the top and bottom of the stairs. If the stairs turn, you may need to add additional lighting to accommodate the area to be illuminated.

Hallways

These areas can be long and need adequate lighting. Be sure to place enough lighting so shadows are not cast when walking. Remember, hallways are often escape routes in the event of inclement weather and emergencies. A hallway over 10 feet long is required to have an outlet for general purpose.

Three-way switches are required for the two ends of the hallway. If there are more doors served by a hallway, such as for a bedroom or two, you may want to add a four-way switch near the door outside of each room.

Closets

Closets come with many rules regarding fixture type and placement. Fixtures with incandescent light bulbs (which get very hot) must be enclosed with a globe or other cover and cannot be installed within 12 inches of any clothes storage areas (or 6 inches for recessed fixtures). Fixtures with LED bulbs must be at least 12 inches from storage (or 6 inches for recessed). Fixtures with CFL (compact fluorescent) bulbs may be within 6 inches of storage. All surface-mounted (not recessed) fixtures must be on the ceiling or the wall above the door.

Laundry Room

A laundry room needs at least one 20-amp circuit for receptacles serving laundry equipment; this circuit can supply a clothes washer or a gas dryer.

An electric dryer needs its own 30-amp, 240-volt circuit wired with four conductors (older circuits often have three conductors). All receptacles must be GFCI-protected.

Attached Garage

Inside the garage, there should be at least one switch controlling the lighting. It is recommended that three-way switches be installed for convenience between the doors. Garages must have at least one receptacle, including one for each car space. All garage receptacles must be GFCI-protected.

AFCI and Tamper-Resistant

Virtually all branch circuits for lighting and receptacles in a home must have arc-fault circuit-interrupter (AFCI) protection unless they are required to have GFCI protection. In addition, all standard receptacles must be tamper-resistant (TR) type. These include a built-in safety feature that prevents children from sticking items into the receptacle slots.