Fixed Cabinets Equipped with Countertops are Considered Wall Space- 2017 NEC 210.52(A)(2)(1)

By: Wes Gubitz | Mar 05, 2019

The NEC underwent some big changes in 2017, including the redefinition of wall space, when it comes to fixed cabinets installed along a wall space.  Prior to 2017, a cabinet affixed to a wall in a bedroom, den, library, etc. simply broke that wall space into two separate wall spaces. The measurement along the wall ended once you reached the fixed cabinet, and a new measurement began at the other end of the cabinet – but not anymore! Now, a fixed cabinet equipped with a counter-top or work surface, located in any room (except kitchens and bathrooms, as they already have their counter-top receptacle requirements) is included in the 210.52(A)(1) & (A)(2) wall space measurement. This new requirement for counting cabinets with counter-tops as part of the wall space, will – at times, require the electrician to install a receptacle to serve this counter-top, when the receptacle spacing deems it necessary.

In the late 80s I relocated my family to a little country town in North Carolina where we lived in an old two-story farm house built in 1908. The house sat on just over 2 acres, the rooms were spacious with high ceilings, tall base boards, two fireplaces, three types of heat (electric baseboard, kerosene and propane), and one receptacle outlet in every room except the kitchen, it had 2 counter top receptacles, a wall receptacle and a receptacle for the fridge.

It would be impossible to live in a 3-bedroom 2,200 square foot home today that only had one receptacle per room, no outside outlets, only two 15A general lighting load circuits, a laundry circuit that had been added to the kitchen outlets, and a bathroom circuit that was included on one of the general lighting load circuits.

Fortunately, the electrical code has changed with the times. Many of these changes have been made to discourage the use of extension cords, and to protect branch circuits from continuous overloading. These changes can be seen in the required receptacle outlet spacing for wall space, the number of required general lighting load circuits, the required 20A circuits, required outside circuits, and the required switched lighting outlets, just to name a few. One of the most recent changes concerns wall space. The NEC 2017 has added to or amended the requirements for wall space in 210.52(A)(2)(1). In previous Code-cycles, wall space was defined as (a)ny space 600 mm (2 ft) or more in width (including space measured around corners) and unbroken along the floor line by doorways and similar openings, fireplaces, and fixed cabinets (period)..In the 2017 NEC, wall space is now defined to include fixed cabinets- if they are equipped with counter-tops or similar work surfaces. Prior to 2017, fixed cabinets (with or without counter-tops) broke the wall space and therefore were not included in the linear wall space measurement.

Fixed cabinets that have counter-tops and similar work surfaces are now included in the wall space. This is another example of the Code keeping up with the times. Electronics have become smaller and more plentiful than ever. These work surfaces can now be used to charge laptops, notebooks, phones, and cordless anything. We can even put a 48” flat screen TV on a 12” shelf.

Wall space now includes fixed cabinets equipped with counter-tops or similar work surfaces. This space is now added to linear wall space measurements and considered wall space if 24 inches or more in width. Which also implies that a work surface in a fixed cabinet of 24” or more must be within 6’ of a receptacle. For example, a 24” wide, 18” deep cabinet at counter top height with 6 feet of shelving on both sides, would now require at least one receptacle be installed to serve the potential “work surface”.

The NEC 2017 change defining a break in wall space:

210.52(A)(2) Wall Space. (1) Any space 2 ft or more in width (including space measured around corners) and unbroken along the floor line by doorways and similar openings, fireplaces, and fixed cabinets that do not have counter-tops or similar work surfaces(.)

The National Electrical Code is a living document, and as such will continue to grow… as we do.


6 thoughts on “Fixed Cabinets Equipped with Countertops are Considered Wall Space- 2017 NEC 210.52(A)(2)(1)

  1. Why isn’t the mantle shown in your illustration considered a “countertop”? I have often seen flat screen TVs in that location. Is there a defined minimum width for a shelf to be deemed a countertop.

    1. The new Code specifically states that “fixed cabinets with countertops or similar work surfaces” are considered wall space. This new Code-language actually answers both of the questions that you have asked; let’s take a look.
      For the first question: A mantle is not considered “a fixed cabinet with countertop or work surface.” That is why it is not counted – it does not meet the definition as outlined in the NEC language. The fact that the mantle is a flat surface where things may rest upon, is not a factor when considering this Code change, although it is a good point!
      As to your second question, regarding the minimum width required for a surface on top of a fixed cabinet to be considered a ‘countertop,’ we must again go back to that same Code language. It says: a “fixed cabinet with countertop is considered wall space.” So, that brings us to this question: “HOW WIDE DOES A PORTION OF WALL HAVE TO BE BEFORE IT IS CONSIDERED AN ACTUAL WALL-SPACE, since only a “wall space” is counted as part of the measurement when determining spacing for required receptacles? We find the answer to that question in 210.52(A)(2)(1), which says “any space 2’ or more in width.” So, there is our answer, if we use the Codebook as our guide. If a fixed cabinet with countertop is to be considered part of the wall, then it must be no less than 2’ wide, if AND ONLY IF, that countertop IS LOCATED BY ITSELF, STANDING ALONE, WITH NO WALL SPACE ON EITHER SIDE OF IT. If it does have wall space on either or both sides of it, then the width of the countertop itself becomes irrelevant, as it is just a part of the wall and that wall, as a whole, must equal 2 feet to require a receptacle. In other words, if the countertop is 4” wide, but sits against an actual wall space that is 30” wide, then the 4” width of the countertop makes no difference. On the other hand, if a countertop is only 22” wide, and there is a break in the wall on both sides of this countertop, so that it doesn’t meet the minimum 24” measurement, then it cannot be considered wall space for the purpose of determining the number of required receptacles.
      JADE Learning Instructor

  2. you mentioned getting rid of extension your test you asked how many outlets on a 12 ft wall.I put down two,I was wrong ,the code says one.think of a couch on that wall with two end tables with lamps.that would require cords.Also your question requiring needs a tune up.I had the count right for a house with basement,wrong should state basement or not.98%of Wisconsin homes have a basement

    1. Regarding your comments about a couch with two end tables: The NFPA, which is the National Fire Protection Association, authors the Chapter 70 document that we refer to as the “National Electrical Code.” The NFPA assembles this document with the hope, and intent of doing what they do best: reducing fires within homes and businesses. They lobby strongly against the use of extension cords and assemble the electrical Code in such a way as to minimize their use, while imposing only minimum requirements on building contractors and homeowners.
      The electrical Code for new construction (at minimum) requires that a receptacle be installed so that it is within reach of an appliance wherever that appliance is sitting along that wall – since 6’ is the standard cord length for general use appliances not expected to occupy a counter top. That is why the Code is written as it is for receptacle spacing. It just so happens that when measuring along an unbroken wall space, that requirement turns out to be a distance of 12’ between receptacles. If you stand directly in the center of two receptacles, and they are spaced the maximum permitted distance of 12’ apart, then you find that you are 6’ from either receptacle, on each side of you, and that meets the minimum requirement, as it is written. On the other hand, if you place one receptacle in the center of a wall that is 12’ in length, you have met the minimum requirement as well – for the same reason, since the wall “breaks” would end at 6’ on either side of you.
      A standard sofa is between 6’ and 8’ long. Since one receptacle does meet the minimum receptacle requirement(s) for a single 12 foot wall space, (if the receptacle is located in the center), this would allow a corded lamp to extend 2 feet, perhaps even 3’ beyond the end of the “standard” couch length, to reach the end tables. Of course – couch lengths can vary.
      The maximum distance of 12 feet, allowed between receptacles, does an ample job of covering wall space, based on standard cord length. We must keep in mind, the NEC is a minimum standard, and as such is required to be the least intrusive on the homeowner as possible, while still requiring safe and reasonable design practices. The NEC cannot and should not attempt to impose requirements for every scenario. The contractor, homeowner or both can always contract for additional receptacles to be added anywhere that they like during construction, if the minimum requirements fail to meet their specific needs.
      Regarding your second comment, I understood it to involve the receptacle count (I think) for a home… with a basement? I am not certain as to the exact question/course you are referring to, but we are happy to correct any material that needs to be improved upon – if you can be specific as to the material/question, so that we can review it.
      Based on your description of your concern, it sounds as if there was no basement indicated – when the question asked for a receptacle count. I am not certain if that is what you are saying, but if that is the case, remember- never assume anything when answering electrical questions. When performing a minimum receptacle count, or any other determination for a home, you can only calculate the information that you have, and then apply any Code that is written in stone for those areas. If a question does not indicate a basement, then no basement exists for the sake of determining the correct answer. You will find this mindset especially helpful when applying it to State electrical licensing exams, as we pattern our material after the method of content delivery found in the state-administered exams, for the sake of consistency. You only make calculations / determinations based on the material as provided.
      Let us know if there is any additional help we can provide.
      Thank you,
      JADE Learning Instructor

  3. The Code States “fixed cabinets that do not have counter-tops or similar work surfaces.” The Word “Fixed cabinet” does this reffer to a cabinet that is full height and permantly attached to the wall by fastners? What about a cabinet or dresser that isnt attached to a wall by fasters, would this be considered wall space?

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