Measure Electrical Outlet and Switch Height Without a Tape Measure

Outlet Faceplate
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  • 01 of 04

    Why It's Important to Get the Height Right

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    If you're using standard heights for outlet and switch boxes, try these tips for setting the heights of boxes without pulling out your tape measure. The National Electrical Code, or NEC, doesn't specify a height for standard wall outlets (receptacles) and switches, so it's often just a matter of preference. However, local code (not necessarily the NEC) is the law of the land, so it's best to check with your city's building department for any specific requirements. One reason for getting the height uniform for each stud is because any variance in height slightly increases the friction on the Romex® or other NM (non-metallic sheathed) wire as you pull it through.

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  • 02 of 04

    Make a Story Pole of Desired Box Heights

    Make a Story Pole of Desired Box Heights
    Make a Story Pole of Desired Box Heights. PeopleImages / Getty Images

    A story pole is a homemade tool that's nothing more than a straight board clearly marked with any height you need, so you only have to measure once. You can use a single story pole for all of your box heights. Simply stand up the pole next to a wall stud and mark the stud at the appropriate height. Make sure to mark the pole clearly. Notes like "Bottom of wall box" and "Center of switch box" help prevent mistakes. 

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  • 03 of 04

    Setting Box Heights with a Drywall Square

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    For Outlet Boxes

    If you have a drywall square, place the long end of the square's "T" perpendicular to the floor. Hold the longest part of the square roughly parallel to the floor. Mark a line across 4 studs by running your pencil along the bottom part of the straight edge. Drill holes at this height. This gives you a height of 14". If you then lay subfloor and wood flooring, thus raising the floor level, you end up with a hole height of about 12". This also is the height that I like to mount the wall receptacles.

    For Switch Boxes

    Wall switches in most rooms (excluding those over kitchen counters) are installed in boxes that are centered 48 inches above the floor, making a 4-foot level just the right height. Stand the level straight up and mark the wall stud across the top of the level. Center the box on the mark when you install it. 

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  • 04 of 04

    Use a Hammer

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    The standard height for wall outlet boxes is about 12 inches from the finished floor to the bottom of the box. Many hammers are a little over a foot long. Set the hammer on the subfloor with head down, then set the box on top of the hammer handle. If you wish to be perfect about your foot-high outlet, place the box on-center to the top of the hammer handle. When the flooring is installed, the extra height makes the box close to 12 inches. If the floor is already finished, it's fine if the box is a little higher than a foot, or you can set it right at 12 inches using the same trick with a ruler.