A friend of mine asked me today why the electrical outlets in my house were
"upside down". They are positioned with the ground pin hole at the top and
the two slots of the outlet on the bottom. I agree that, to me, they "look"
like they are upside down, and I think they would "look" better with the
ground pin hole on the bottom. But, my belief is that the National
Electrical Code (NEC) is silent on this question and that there is no right
or wrong orientation for electrical outlets.
My friend said that he has had code enforcement officials tell him that
electrical outlets with the ground pin hole on top were "upside down" and
that they needed to be reversed to be with the ground pin on the bottom to
pass the electrical inspection.
Is there anything in the NEC that says that one way is "upside down" and the
other way is the "correct" orientation?
This was discussed recently. Some inspectors want the pin up. The
reason is that in an office a paper clip fell and hit the prongs of a
plug that was not pushed in fully. Pin up would not let it short.
IIRC, national code does not mention it.
On Wednesday, September 28, 2016 at 8:57:58 PM UTC-5, Ed Pawlowski wrote:
I've seen a short-circuit twice from metal getting behind the plug. One *wa
s* caused by it being "prong up", a hospital bed was *raised* and came betw
een the wall and 2 prongs. The other was a pull chain that was too long and
hitting the hot wire. In the 2nd case up or down would have made no differ
I can see why there is no code.
On Saturday, October 1, 2016 at 7:02:25 AM UTC-5, bob_villa wrote:
was* caused by it being "prong up", a hospital bed was *raised* and came be
tween the wall and 2 prongs. The other was a pull chain that was too long a
nd hitting the hot wire. In the 2nd case up or down would have made no diff
...if I wasn't clear on this, "prong up" meant "ground prong up".
I don't know about nationally but I know
in the state of MA there's no spec. It can
be either way. State code is what you should
be concerned with.
| Is there anything in the NEC that says that one way is "upside down" and
| other way is the "correct" orientation?
Short answer, No. There is no rule about how they are mounted and
there is even a school of thought that ground up is better. Something
falling between the plug and the wall would hit the ground.
Typically when a receptacle is different than the rest, it is
On Thu, 29 Sep 2016 00:21:29 -0400, email@example.com wrote:
I think they look stupid when they are upside down (ground on top). I
put them with ground on bottom because thats what I'm used to and what
looks best. I dont make a habit of dropping paper clips on plugs, and
actually if a metal object was to fall on a loose plug, it could contact
the ground as well as the hot terminal too (with the ground on top).
Any inspector who wont pass someone's wiring because of the mounting
direction of outlets is an idiot. I'd like to see that one taken in
front of a board of electricians. It's not code, so it cant be enforced
I agree, but I suppose that's due to the way we recognize faces in humans
and most animals. We are accustomed to seeing two eyes on top and a mouth
below. So we tend to see faces even in inanimate objects. When the ground
is placed on top, it just instinctively looks "wrong". At least that's my
Does that cloud look like an electrical outlet? :)
Even if you had an outlet behind a desk and knocked a paper clip off the
back, the odds of it landing in the area of the plug is unlikely. Then it
would have to slide down the wall in such a way that it fits between the
plug and the outlet. Sure, there's an EXTREMELY remote chance it could
happen, but the bigger issue is the plug not being plugged in all the
way. Either the outlet needs to be replaced, or the cord needs to be
relocated so it isn't being pulled out.
Years ago I had some flat plug cords with a tab you could screw to the
center outlet screw to secure it in place. That would solve the problem,
but I can't say I've seen cords like that in recent years.
If someone was really worried about it, you could mount the outlet
sideways with the ground and neutral facing up. Or better yet, put a stop
on the back of the desk to prevent things from getting knocked off the
back in the first place.
Or, you could install those locking outlets where you have to insert the
plug and twist it to lock the plug in place.
We have outlets in our kitchen that are mounted sideways on a half height
peninsula wall where there's not enough space to mount them vertically.
Perhaps, but it's not something I would argue about. If the local
inspector wants them upside down, so be it. I just want to get my work
approved with as little drama as possible. If it really bothers you, you
can flip them over after the work is inspected. :)
HerHusband was thinking very hard :
and quoted someone without attribution.
and then added
As an aside, one of the purported reasons I read for the ground-up
orientation was that children see a face and try to feed it a nice meal
of paperclips. I'm not entirely convinced of that myself, but there it
is. Two other reasons which made sense were that pictures mounted on
walls with metal wires, and the metal escutcheons on the receptacles
themselves are the perceived hazards.
Apparently none of those were compelling enough for NEC to jump on
One person's metallic receptacle escutcheon is another's metal outlet
cover. They're both screwed if it is a shock hazard when becoming
Bottom line, there is no NEC code and no proof yet of any local code
mandating either orientation, and evidence of both can be found in the
wild for plugs and receptacles. I suspect it is an inspector's
prerogative to mess with installation people by saying "It's code".
Sheesh, what's with all the loose screws and plugs falling out of outlets?
I can't recall EVER seeing a loose cover plate screw. Assuming they were
tightened when installed, why would the screw work loose? The screw would
not only have to loosen up, but it would have to back out a half inch for
the cover plate to fall off. Even if that were to happen, a plastic cover
plate would solve that problem.
- Use a quality outlet with a plastic cover plate.
- Don't use the back-stab connectors.
- Make sure the plug is fully inserted into the outlet.
- Position the cord where it won't get snagged to pull the plug out.
- Eliminate situations where things could fall on the outlet.
- Use a protective cover if the risk cannot be avoided.
Orient the outlet however the inspector wants it, or what works best for
your situation or personal preference.
When I was about 5 years old, there was no ground pin on the outlets.
(Neutral was the wide slot, Hot the narrow slot.)
Milk was delivered to the house. A quart milk bottle had a paper cover
held on by a wire.
I knew that there was "electricity" in the outlet, and wire was an
electric conductor. One morning after the milkman came, I decided to
try an experiment. Fortunately I only burned my fingers.
Unfortunately I did not learn my lesson completely. I've been shocked
numerous times since then. Recently I came to appreciate GFCI outlets!
We are people of habit. When I plug in a grounded plug in the dark, I
expect the ground on the bottom. I also expect light switches to go on
when the switch is UP, hot water on the left faucet, and so on. I once
moved into a house that had 2 side by side light switches mounted upside
down. That drove me crazy, so I re-mounted them quickly.
No, but some installations such as hospitals might dictate the ground
up preference. Some equipment designed for hospitals and such might
have cords with right-angle plugs on the end which expect the
ground-up orientation. As someone else has mentioned, there may be
locals codes to consider where NEC is agnostic on the matter.
You are probably right, your friend is probably wrong, and his
enforcement official should be able to cite an official local code to
remove the 'probably' from those statements. If he does cite a source,
I would like to see it because no such source has ever been cited
before as far as I know.
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