The National Electrical Code (NEC) is a set of guidelines and standards designed to ensure electrical safety in residential, commercial, and industrial buildings. Updated every three years, the NEC reflects the latest safety practices, technological advancements, and industry trends. One of the noteworthy updates in the 2023 NEC pertains to the installation of electrical receptacles in kitchen islands. This change aims to enhance safety and functionality in modern kitchen designs.

For years, one of the necessary, and sometimes annoying, requirements of the Electrical Code was for all kitchen islands to have at least one receptacle to service the island. The intent behind this rule was good: to prevent homeowners from stretching extension cords across walkways to use appliances on the island. Naturally, updating old kitchens frequently meant adding a receptacle to the island where it may have been absent before. In the case of a larger remodel, this was usually not an issue from a technical standpoint, but it did create some unique design considerations for cabinetmakers when considering where to place the outlet on the island.

For us at William’s Handcrafted, we frequently use a 4” top rail on a frame-and-panel end panel on the island. This extra wide rail gives enough space to fit a single outlet.

White oak kitchen cabinets

2023 NEC Updates

The NEC determined that one of the issues with placing receptacles on the end of an island was the ease with which a child could pull on a plugged-in cord and pull an appliance on top of themselves. For 2023, the NEC has made several updates outlined below.

210.52(C)(2) Island and Peninsular Countertops and Work Surfaces.
Receptacle outlets, if installed to serve an island or peninsular countertop or work surface, shall be installed in accordance with 210.52(C)(3). If a receptacle outlet is not provided to serve an island or peninsular countertop or work surface, provisions shall be provided at the island or peninsula for future addition of a receptacle outlet to serve the island or peninsular countertop or work surface.

210.52(C)(3) Receptacle Outlet Location. Receptacle outlets shall be located in one or more of the following:

(1) On or above, but not more than 20 inches above, a countertop or work surface
(2) In a countertop using receptacle outlet assemblies listed for use in countertops
(3) In a work surface using receptacle outlet assemblies listed for use in work surfaces or listed for use in countertops

Receptacle outlets rendered not readily accessible by appliances fastened in place, appliance garages, sinks, or rangetops as covered in 210.52(C)(1), Exception No. 1, or appliances occupying assigned spaces shall not be considered as these required outlets.

Deciphering the code

The 2023 NEC Code update bans the installation of receptacles on the ends of the island. If you want to have an outlet to service your island, it must be a pop-up outlet or other receptacle rated for use in kitchens. This is important: not all pop-up receptacles are rated for use in a kitchen. Kitchens and food prep areas are more prone to water spills and as such, receptacles must be designed to mitigate water intrusion. 

White farmhouse kitchen cabinets

The Options

Many of our customers like a nice, clean empty island without seeing any blemishes in their countertops. The thought of adding a pop-up outlet into the middle of this otherwise pristine countertop gives them shutters! Fortunately, there are options.

Some manufacturers make a pop-up outlet that can be set into the stone top and capped with stone. This leaves just a minor shadow line around the perimeter of the puck but otherwise is unobtrusive. Unfortunately, pop-up outlets are substantially more expensive, usually starting around $150 as opposed to the $5 standard duplex outlet.

Another option? The 2023 NEC does NOT REQUIRE a receptacle for your island as long as there is a provision to install a receptacle in the future. How exactly this is accomplished is up to individual electricians and even individual county inspectors on what they will accept. This could mean simply having a loop of wire in the crawlspace below the island or it could be simply a junction box located in one of the cabinets where power could be accessed in the future.

White oak kitchen cabinets

Key Design Considerations for Cabinetry

With previous receptacle regulations, cabinetmakers hardly needed to consider outlets in the design. The best designers tried to make outlet placement thoughtful and unobtrusive to the overall design of the kitchen island, frequently placing them in enlarged top rails, underneath countertop overhangs, and sometimes even in the face of the cabinet if the design permitted.

With the advent of the 2023 code, cabinetmakers and designers will face unique challenges. Pop-up outlets, while slim and compact on the surface, are actually significantly larger below the countertop. These pop-ups typically extend 6” or more below the surface of the countertop. For an island with drawers in the top of all of the cabinets, this can be a problem. Some designs may necessitate a smaller, less deep drawer box to give room for the receptacle below the countertop inside the cabinet. Other times, if we have the space, we could make the island cabinets deeper than 24” to provide room to fit a pop-up outlet between the end of the drawer box and the back of the cabinet.

Next Steps

While this is a 2023 NEC code update, many local jurisdictions operate 1-2 iterations behind the latest code updates. This means that for many, these codes may not be applicable until 2026. Codes do not require retrofitting your existing space if the code changes, so if you really want receptacles on the end of your island, do it before 2026.

Even though we are personally not fans of pop-up outlets from a user experience perspective, we will eventually have to accept them as the norm. With more and more designs calling for pop-up receptacles and the NEC code changes, we can hope that the cost of the receptacles will continue to fall. 

We understand that code compliance can be a tricky and complicated topic. As a luxury custom cabinetmaker specially licensed as a Class A Home Improvement Contractor, William’s Handcrafted is uniquely equipped to help design cabinetry that meets the latest codes. If you need an experienced cabinetmaker with the knowledge to help you navigate the complex world of remodeling and design, we encourage you to fill out our contact form

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