Electrical Panel Location and Installation: Clearances, Bathrooms, Closets, and NEC

If you’re reading this article, you’re likely considering relocating your current electric panel box. Electrical panels are usually located on a wall in an out-of-the-way area of your home. In older homes, electric panels are commonly found inside cabinets, behind refrigerators, or inside clothes closets, all against current National Electrical Codes (NEC).

To be NEC compliant, electrical panels need to be installed 4′ off the ground with the center grip handle of the highest circuit breaker is no more than 6’7″ high. The clearance around the electric panel must be at least 30 inches wide with 3′ of front workspace clearance. The electric panel door must be able to open to a 90-degree angle. Ideally, electric panels should be located in an unfinished basement or garage but can be located inside any room that meets the NEC requirements and local building codes.

A home inspector or electrician may have recommended to you that an electrical panel be relocated. Electrical panel locations are often cited in home inspection reports for relocation at the inspector’s discretion. Existing installed electrical panels are not required to meet current NEC codes.

However, home inspectors, particularly, must cite safety concerns to a homeowner or home buyer during an inspection.

During planned renovations or electrical system upgrades, relocation of an electrical panel would require the entire electrical panel and all its components to meet current NEC codes.

When it comes to the location of electrical panels, there are specific codes we recommend you follow. There are certain places in your home where electrical panels shouldn’t be placed. In this article, we will discuss where electrical panels can be located and why.  

Are Electrical Panels Allowed in Bathrooms?

Specific regulations are created to be as safe as possible when working with residential electricity. The National Electrical Code includes many electrical wiring rules, and this also contains regulations regarding electrical panels. As per the National Electrical Code, electrical panels cannot be located in a bathroom. 

The NEC does not allow electric panels to be installed inside bathrooms. NEC 240.24 (E) states “Not Located in Bathrooms – In dwelling units, dormitories, and guest rooms or guest suites, overcurrent devices, other than supplementary overcurrent protection, shall not be located in bathrooms.”

Thus, the above code mentions that installing electrical panels in the bathroom is prohibited. However, many home inspectors have reported having seen electrical panels that are located in the bathroom. 

Most home inspectors state that this usually is when the homeowner has remodeled the house and paid little attention to the electrical panel or had no idea where to locate the electrical panel. Hence, it ends up in the bathroom. 

You may find an electrical panel in the bathroom of a house built before the NEC created the code. Within modern electrical guidelines, an electrical panel cannot be located in bathrooms and violates the code. 

The main reason behind this is the safety hazard it poses. Having an electrical panel in a bathroom can be extremely risky as it is in close vicinity with water. It is a known fact that electrical components should be stored away from moisture or water of any sort. If moisture manages to enter the electric panel, it can cause the panel to rust, and the wiring may even be affected. 

The circuit breakers can also rust and corrode over time, making the entire panel ineffective. Water contact with circuit breakers will cause them to malfunction, and the running through the circuit will increase rapidly. This malfunction can lead to the panel getting charged or the wiring becoming charged, and thus, even opening the electric panel can put you at risk of an electric shock. 

Alongside this, slight contact with water can lead to highly hazardous situations like short circuits, which can eventually lead to fires if there is no fuse present, and in the presence of a fuse, you will have to replace the fuse. 

Therefore, due to the abovementioned reasons, electrical panels are not allowed in bathrooms, as these risky situations need to be avoided at all costs. I urge you to relocate and upgrade your electrical breaker panel if yours is located inside a bathroom.

 Are Electrical Panels Allowed in Closets?

Another common question that many people have is whether or not electrical panels can be situated in closets. At first thought, it might seem like a safe place for an electric panel. However, this is not the case.

According to the NEC, electric panels are not allowed to be installed in closets. NEC 240.24(D) states, “Overcurrent devices shall not be located in the vicinity of easily ignitable materials, such as a clothes closet.”

The code mentioned above clearly states that electrical panels with overcurrent cannot be located in areas with flammable material and are at risk of fire since clothing, boxes, and other flammable materials are often stored inside.

The electric wires in an electric panel are so complicated that one can not identify whether or not there is a loose wire. A simple loose wire can cause minute sparks, and these sparks can quickly light a fire to the clothes hanging in your closet. The fire can spread rapidly and easily, so it is against the code to locate an electric panel within a closet. 

Often, when homes are remodeled by owners who pay little attention to placing electric panels, they might end up in the closet. In this scenario, according to the code, the panel has to be moved to a safer area within the house.

However, there is no doubt that moving electric panels from one place to another is quite an enormous task and needs to be done with precision and expertise. Most homeowners do not want to go through the hassle of moving the panel, so they often wonder if it is necessary to move it. 

Therefore, they usually consult home inspectors and electricians on what to do to solve the issue. This code is also a heavily debated topic within the community of home inspectors and electricians. Many electricians argue that having a panel in the vicinity of clothes is debatable because you can avoid the risk of sparks and fires by ensuring that the panel is at a safe distance from the clothes. 

Some also argue that since the code specifically mentions ‘clothes closet,’ one can resolve the issue by removing the clothes hanging within the closet and eliminating all the risks. 

Regardless of this, the main reason behind NEC and the panels’ location regulation is to ensure your safety to the maximum level possible. Saving yourself the hassle and money of moving the panel is not recommended because it is a safety hazard at the end of the day that you should avoid at all costs. 

Are Electrical Panels Allowed in Over Stairs?

When looking at the stairs, we occasionally see electric panels in stairways of a basement or where a homeowner added a garage or addition, usually before the NEC was written.

You can’t install electrical panels over the steps of a stairway. According to the NEC 240.24(F), it states, “Not Located over Steps: Overcurrent devices shall not be located over steps of a stairway.”

Are Electrical Panels Allowed in Bedrooms?

Now that we are aware of two locations within our homes that electrical panels cannot be located in, one might wonder if the National Electric Code allows for panels to be fitted in bedrooms.

NEC does allow electrical panels to be installed inside a bedroom. Bedrooms meet the NEC workspace requirements for electric panel installation. Electric panels are commonly found inside bedrooms in condos or small houses where space may otherwise be limited. 

However, having an electric panel located in the bedroom is seen by many people as an odd choice. The panel’s location is more commonly seen within more contemporary apartments and modern condos, while older apartments usually have electrical panels in the living room. 

Electric panels are often found in bedrooms to maintain the living space’s aesthetics. Many people agree that the panel is not the most appealing object to have on the wall, and so, to solve that, newer apartments have panels in the bedrooms instead. Many people feel unsafe and question the panel’s safety risk of being in the bedroom, so many people have the panel moved. 

Although the NEC does allow panels to be in the bedroom, homeowners must be advised to ensure that their beds are placed at a reasonable distance from the panel itself. It is especially recommended for families with newborn babies to ensure that the baby’s crib or cot is as far away from the panel as possible to reduce the potential risk of health problems caused due to being in close vicinity with the panel. 

Are Electrical Panels Required To Be Locked?

The interior electric panel doors have a latch on the front cover door to secure the panel closed.

Exterior electrical panels have a door that latches at the bottom. Often, homeowners will padlock these panels closed to prevent intruders from accessing the breakers or main disconnect and cutting power to the house. Having a padlocked panel is a safety issue that can prevent access to the electric breakers in an emergency.

It’s customary for electric service providers to place a thin tab lock on meters to prevent unauthorized access. However, locking an electrical distribution panel can be a life-threatening situation if emergency personnel need quick access to shut off power to the home, for example, for firefighters to do their job.  

According to NEC, circuit panels should be readily accessible at all times, mainly because if there is a situation such as a fire or electric malfunction, an electrician can access the panel and shut off the supply of current. Therefore, it is recommended to consult a local electrician before deciding whether to lock on the electric panel. 

Are Electrical Panels Required to be Labeled?

When dealing with electrical components, it is essential to know that the breakers are properly labeled. When working with electricity, you need to know that the breaker shut-off cuts power to the intended circuit that you will work on.

The labels must include information that will help identify the panel and its type while also mentioning some safety information. Labeling includes writing in the breaker identification name—for example, Kitchen, Dining Room, Master Bedroom, Garage, etc. Every home’s electric panel will be different, which is why proper labeling is needed. 

However, if you have moved into a home and find that the electric panel is not labeled, it is nothing to get intimidated by. It might feel that labeling the panel will be confusing and highly complicated, but you can very quickly label the panel yourself by following a few simple identification steps. 

Here are some very easy to follow steps you should know which will help you label your electric panel:

Step 1: Try to look for the index of the circuit panel within your new home. The index will help you better understand the breaker panel and make it easier for you to continue with the process. 

Step 2: Now, assign numbers to each of the circuit breakers inside the panel at the electric panel. You can do this by writing the breaker’s number on a small piece of paper and attaching it to the breaker it is assigned to. You can allot the numbers by either counting horizontally or vertically on the panel. 

Step 3: Once you have assigned a number to each of the circuit breakers in the panel, take a page and draw a panel diagram on it. Copy down the numbers exactly in the same order they have been allotted to the circuit breakers, and this step will make it relatively easy for you to remember each breaker’s position on the panel. 

Step 4: Next, turn all of the circuit breakers off so that you can now identify which circuit breaker provides power to which particular circuit in your house. You can do this by turning on one of the circuit breakers and then checking around your home and look for which light fixture or outlet has now turned on. In older houses, it’s common for circuits to control multiple rooms.

Step 5: Once you know which exact breaker provides power to which outlet, it would help if you write down the number of that breaker on a piece of paper and attach it next to the outlet it has provided power to. Repeat this process for all the outlets and circuit breakers. 

Step 6: Ensure to check outdoor lights and such outlets and repeat step 5 until you have a list of all the circuit breakers and their corresponding areas.

Step 7: While you identify the circuit breakers and the outlets, you will also find out which breakers are paired together. Usually, breakers are paired to provide power supply to large appliances such as air conditioners and refrigerators. Make sure to clearly write down which breakers are paired for easy identification in the future. 

Can Electrical Panels Be Installed Outside?

Lately, there has been an increase in electrical panels that have been installed outside the house, which the National Electric Code allows. This is perhaps because, as mentioned before, having an electrical panel can interfere with the house’s aesthetic if it is located in the bedroom or the living area. Another main reason people actually might prefer to have the circuit panel outside their home is to allow easy access to it in case of an emergency. 

For example, suppose there is a malfunction. The outlets in the house have become energized; instead of risking getting electrocuted, one can easily ask for an electrician who can fix the issue without ever stepping into the house. 

However, although NEC allows this, many people question whether it is safe to do so. If the electrical panel is placed outside your home, weather conditions such as rain and snow can quickly get to the panel and cause rust or malfunctions if the panel is located outside. It’s essential to ensure that the panel located outside the house is weatherproof and has a high resistance to dust, water, etc. 

Many people remain skeptical of electrical panel installation outside because they’ll have to go outside if they need to access the breakers. Outside electric panels can be troublesome in places that see heavy rain or snowstorms, as no one wants to step out into the storm to turn a breaker off. There are also security concerns related to electric panels installed outside, as we discussed above.

Installing a panel outside will also mean that you might probably have to put a lock on it as well. This lock will help make sure that people on the street cannot get access to your house’s electrical system and potentially cause some damage. 

Can Electrical Panels be Installed Upside Down?

The National Electrical Code states in code NEC 240.81 that you can install the electric panel box vertically or horizontally provided the “On” and “Off” are clearly labeled. The requirement is that where circuit breaker handles are installed vertically rather than horizontally, the “up” position of the handle should be the “on” position.

Some people refer to panels with the main disconnect on the bottom as upside down; however, this is common with underground utilities. As long as any vertical circuit breaker handles are installed where the “up” position of the panel is “on,” it meets NEC requirements. Circuit breakers with horizontal circuit breaker handle need to be marked “on” and “off.”

Can Electrical Panels be Located Behind Doors?

Many people consider locating the electrical panel behind doors because it saves them the hassle of finding a space with little material surrounding the panel. So, as long as there is adequate space in the panel region, electrical panels can be located behind doors.

The National Electric Code does allow circuit panels to be located behind doors. However, the code states that there should be adequate working space, and nothing should be blocking the panel. According to the code, “the working space around the breaker panel must be at least 30 inches wide and 3 feet of front clearance. When closed, a door doesn’t count as an obstruction to the workspace requirement.

What is the Minimum Clearance Required Around Electrical Panels?

 To reduce risk and make it easier for electricians and home inspectors to work with the electrical panels, a minimum clearance has been set, making sure that there isn’t any object in close vicinity of the panel, which might result in a dangerous situation. 

The NEC requires an electric panel to have a minimum of 3′ of clearance space to the front of the electric panel and 30″ of width on the sides. This distance has to be kept to ensure the electrician has a safe workspace to work in.  

It can also be beneficial to educate yourself regarding any local codes that might exist regarding the minimum clearance space required for electrical panels. However, three feet is adequate clearance for electric panels located in the appropriate areas, and should you face any issues; it is highly recommended to abide by this code. 

Electrical Panel Location and Installation – Conclusion

Understanding the best electrical panel’s location in your house is extremely important because the panel is what controls the supply of power in the entire house. Knowing where an electric panel can be located and prohibited can help prevent any possible hazardous situations and ensure that you do not break any state guidelines. The regulations regarding the location and placement of electrical panels exist to ensure your safety first and foremost.

This article covers the possible allowed areas and installation of electrical panels. You can easily identify where the panel should be located and how exactly you should install it. Remember, safety first. If you can’t do this by yourself or get confused and have doubts if you’re doing the right thing, we strongly recommend hiring a professional electrician who will know what to do and knows the National Electric Code’s regulations.

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Hubert Miles

I've been conducting home inspections for 17 years. I'm a licensed Home Inspector, Certified Master Inspector (CMI), and FHA 203k Consultant. I started HomeInspectionInsider.com to help people better understand the home inspection process and answer questions about homeownership and home maintenance.

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