Locating Bathroom Outlets
Learn about the electrical code requirements for installing an outlet in a bathroom near a tub/shower.
I’m remodeling a guest bathroom where the vanity is located next to the bathtub/ shower. I would like to install electrical bathroom outlets on the wall above the countertop for hair dryers, shavers, and toothbrushes. Based on the location of the existing wiring, it would be easiest to install the outlet on the side of the vanity closest to the tub/shower, which would put it about 16 in. away from where the shower curtain would rest against the wall. What does the electrical code say about how close an outlet can be to a tub or shower?
—Jerry McGargill, Denver, Colo.
Electrical consultant John Williamson replies: To eliminate the hazards associated with extension cords near water, the National Electrical Code (NEC) requires at least one receptacle outlet within 3 ft. of the outside edge of each basin in a bathroom. However, your instincts are correct in that a receptacle cannot be installed that close to a shower. The 2017 NEC simply said that receptacles were not permitted to be installed within or directly over a bathtub or shower stall. No direction was given as to how far this exclusion went beyond the boundary of the bathtub or shower stall. In the 2020 NEC, however, the basic concept of a “restricted zone” for receptacles was introduced and defined.
The 2020 version of the code required a restricted zone that included the area 8 ft. above the top of the bathtub rim or shower stall threshold and out 3 ft. horizontally. No receptacles were permitted to be installed within this space. However, the definition did not take into consideration the wall space below the rim of the bathtub. Technically, you could have installed a receptacle just a few inches away from a bathtub as long as it was below the bottom of the restriction zone. However, this is not recommended for safety reasons. The error was quickly identified by the electrical industry and has been corrected in the 2023 NEC.
If a small bathroom has less than the required zone space to fit a receptacle within 3 ft. of the outside edge of each basin, then a receptacle must be installed opposite the bathtub or shower stall on the farthest wall within the room. There’s an exception related to receptacles for electronic toilets or other personal hygiene devices. A single receptacle outlet (not a duplex receptacle) is permitted to be installed if readily accessible and not located in the space between the toilet and the bathtub or shower stall. In your situation, you will have to install the receptacle on the opposite side of the vanity—provided that it’s outside of the required zone space—and extend the wiring. Just be sure to provide an accessible junction box for any splice you make (wire splices cannot be buried behind drywall), and don’t forget that all receptacles in bathrooms must be on a 20-amp circuit and be GFCI protected.
From Fine Homebuilding #320