Kitchen Electrical Code: Everything You Need to Know

Kitchen outlet with electric kettle across from mug and french press coffee maker
 The Spruce / Margot Cavin

Meeting residential electrical code requirements isn’t about making the inspector happy or getting an “Approved” stamp on the permit. Electrical code is a flexible set of practices that’s responsive to the continually changing home. Learn basic kitchen electrical code to create not just a safer space but a better-functioning kitchen.

GFCI-Protected Small Appliance Circuit

  • Requirement: Provide at least two 20-amp, 120-volt circuits to supply power to GFCI (Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter) electric receptacles for countertop and eating areas.
  • Reason: In the kitchen, 20 amp outlets are required (vs. 15 amp) for higher power requirements due to appliances like toaster ovens, blenders, coffee makers, and mixers. Two circuits are required to spread out the coverage area. This way, the total load is not entirely served by the same circuit.
  • Comments: Providing frequent plug-in points has long been a mainstay of the NEC so that homeowners are not tempted to stretch power cords too far. Newer countertop appliance cords are usually only 2 feet long now, and electrical outlets in the kitchen are not to be greater than 4 feet apart. For this reason, the kitchen outlet height should also not exceed 20 inches from the surface of the counter.
Kitchen outlet with two white switches on tiled wall
 The Spruce / Margot Cavin

Basic Lighting Circuit

  • Requirement: Provide at least one 15-amp, 120-volt circuit feeding a ceiling fixture, recessed lights, and any under-cabinet lights. This cannot be on a GFCI circuit.
  • Reason: Less amperage is required for light fixtures. However, if you desire more lighting, you will have to bring up the amperage and other attendant factors (such as wire gauges, etc.) to meet those needs.
  • Comments: The electrical code requires at least one lighting circuit to ensure that kitchens have at least some kind of permanent lighting. The lighting circuit cannot be on GFCI in case it is accidentally turned off by other services.
Kitchen with brown wooden cabinets and architectural tile wall behind stovetop
 BanksPhotos / Getty Images

Distance Between GFCIs Over Countertops

  • Requirement: Allow no more than 48 inches between countertop receptacles.
  • Reason: A homeowner should not be tempted to stretch a cord more than 24 inches (i.e., half of the required 48 inches) to plug in a small appliance. It is considered good practice to provide GFCIs more frequently than every 48 inches.
Kitchen electrical outlet on tiled wall next to stove
 The Spruce / Margot Cavin

Tamper-Resistant (TR) Outlet

  • Requirement: All 15 amp and 20 amp outlets, whether GFCI or not, must be tamper-resistant in the following kitchen-related places: small appliance circuit, countertop space (including kitchen island countertop outlets), walls, and hallway space.
  • Reason: Responding to the danger of children shocking themselves by sticking conductive items (paper clips, bobby pins, etc.) into outlets, the NEC began to require the installation of outlets that have a strong shutter inside.
  • Comments: This shutter can only be opened when two electrical prongs are pushed into an outlet at the same time—and with great force. These outlets are identified by the letters “TR” on the front yoke of the outlet.
Scissors in Outlet
 Image Source / Getty Images

Countertop Section 12 Inches Wide or More

  • Requirement: Countertop sections 12 inches wide or more are considered a wall and must have a receptacle (GFCI).
  • Reason: This requirement ensures that even in small areas, any appliances that are used will have their own power source.
Kitchen Countertop
 jodiejohnson / Getty Images

Dishwasher Circuit

  • Requirement: Provide one 15-amp, 120-volt dedicated circuit wired with 14/2 cable. NEC Code cycle 2017 now requires dishwashers to be installed on a GFCI circuit.
  • ReasonDedicated is the operative word in the dishwasher electrical code requirement about circuits. This means that the dishwasher gets its own circuit separate from the refrigerator and other appliances so it cannot accidentally trip off (at the circuit level), thus turning off power to other areas of the kitchen.
  • Comments: 14/2 is the standard cable for a 15-amp circuit. Higher amperage circuits are allowed (if within the appliance’s operating capacity). If so, the cable and the outlet would need to be changed out.
dishes in dishwasher
 Getty Images

Garbage Disposal Circuit

  • Requirement: Provide one 15-amp, 120-volt dedicated circuit wired with 14/2 cable.
  • Reason: Garbage disposals do not have an extended run, like ranges or microwaves. The initial surge is so high that it can easily trip off the circuit breaker, thus turning off other appliances in the kitchen.
Garbage disposal installed in a kitchen
 Tinatin1 / Getty Images

Microwave Circuit

  • Requirement: Provide one 20-amp, 120-volt dedicated circuit wired with 12/2 cable for microwave ovens. GFCI protection may be required if 2023 changes are applicable in your area.1
  • Reason: The 20 amp circuit is needed to handle the higher power requirements of microwaves. A 12-gauge cable is standard for any 20-amp circuit.
white microwave
Valentyna Yeltsova / Getty Images

Electric Range Circuit

  • Requirement: Provide one 50-amp, 120/240-volt dedicated circuit wired with appropriately sized wire cable. This circuilt should not be GFCI.
  • Reason: Electric ranges draw more power in the kitchen than nearly anything else. Everything about this circuit is super-sized and segregated: a large cable, high-amp circuit breaker, and a dedicated circuit (so as not to trip other appliances or lights).
How to Wire a 120/240-Volt Outlet for an Electric Range
 The Spruce / Kevin Norris

About Kitchen Electrical Code

The U.S. National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) is the group that creates and updates the National Electrical Code (NEC), which then is adopted in whole or part by your municipality.

Electrical code basics may seem pointless, but electricians, contractors, and other industry professionals hammer out electrical codes over detailed discussions and many revisions. No change comes without much consideration.

For the homeowner, the electrical code is less restrictive than it is illuminating and constructive. For example, most small appliances like mixers have short cords. Code requirements for GFCI outlets in the kitchen state that outlets must be located no more than 4 feet apart from each other.

The NFPA updates the code every three years to meet the increasing requirements of the modern kitchen. If you remodel your older existing kitchen, most jurisdictions require you to bring your new kitchen up to the current code requirements.

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