Electrical Panel Location and Installation: Clearance, Bathrooms, Closets, & NEC Code

If you’re reading this article, you’re likely considering moving your current electric panel box or installing a new breaker box. Electrical panel boxes, aka breaker boxes, can be on a wall in an out-of-the-way area of your home. You can find electric panels inside cabinets, behind refrigerators, or inside clothes closets in older homes. Current National Electrical Codes (NEC) allow none of these locations.

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 to be NEC compliant. 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, you should install a breaker box in an unfinished basement or garage, but you can place them inside any room that meets the NEC requirements and local building codes.

A home inspector or electrician may have recommended that you move an electrical panel. At the inspector’s discretion, the inspector may cite the electrical panel location as a deficiency in home inspection reports for relocation. Existing installed electrical panels are not required to meet current NEC codes.

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

During planned renovations or an electrical system upgrade, relocating an electrical service panel would require the entire electrical breaker box and its components to meet current NEC codes.

When it comes to the location of electrical panels, there are building codes we recommend you follow. There are certain places in your home where you shouldn’t place an electrical panel. This article will discuss where electrical panel placement is and why.  

What are the NEC Codes Regulating Electrical Panel Locations?

Electrical panels need to be installed in areas that conform to the National Electrical Code and the electrical code in your state. For the NEC, this means that the service panel has to be in a location that is:

  • Accessible
  • Reachable
  • Available to occupants
  • Safe from physical damage
  • Away from flammable materials
  • Not in a bathroom
  • Not above any stairs

The ideal location for an electrical panel is safe, accessible, and gives proper clearance. In general, the most common places include:

  • Basements
  • Garages
  • Large Storage Rooms
  • Hallways
  • Entryways

Keep in mind that the location must be free from excessive moisture and humidity, flammable materials, or obstructions. NEC code states that panels must have clearance of 36 inches in front, 30 inches to the sides, and a working area with a clearance of 6 foot 5 inches. You’ll likely need a permit to move an electric panel.

A garage or basement is ideal because it meets all these requirements. However, both spaces can potentially contain flammable materials. If building shelves or storage within such areas, be sure to maintain these requirements to prevent a fire. 

There’s an average of about 24,000 residential electric fires per year in the US. The panels are designed to contain a fire, and ensuring adequate clearance can prevent the worse case scenarios from happening. 

Electric Panels Must Be Accessible

Section (A) of the NEC 240.24 code states that the panel must be accessible. To be accessible means that it cannot be in any spaces blocked by large appliances such as a washer or dryer. It also means that it cannot be in an area too small to walk into and access. 

When planning your electrical panel installation, be sure to plan for accessible areas such as a garage, basement, or hallway. If you are remodeling or selling your home, ensure that there is nothing obstructing access to the service panel, and remove it if needed. 

Electric Panels Must Be Reachable

Section (B) explains that it must be reachable for an average adult. This means that the height of the highest breaker cannot be greater than 2 meters or 6 foot 7 inches. There are exceptions for industrial locations, but you must adhere to this standard for residential areas. 

Occupants Must Have Ready Access 

Section (C) explains that the panel must be accessible to occupants as defined in section (C), which pertains primarily to multi-family units such as apartments. Occupants living in the home should have access to the circuit breaker panel or subpanel that controls their living area. 

An exception to this rule would be in the case of apartments where management has full access and control, often outside the unit or inside a central location. But it would most likely not apply to a mother-in-law apartment or efficiency added to your home. 

Electrical Panel Boxes Can’t Be Exposed to Physical Damage

Section (D) explains that a panel cannot be exposed to physical damage. Usually, this means that it cannot be in a location where it could be exposed to corrosive forces such as water or high humidity. As long as the panel is inside your home, you should be ok in most cases, as this applies primarily to commercial and industrial applications. 

Electric Panels Should Be Clear of Flammable Materials

Section (E) explicitly mentions clothes closets and states that you must install the panel away from flammable materials. Another section of the code says that the breaker panel must have 3 feet (36 inches) of clearance and must be in a space at least 6 foot 5 inches high. 

Some people have challenged the first code about closets, pointing out that it should be allowed for large closets such as walk-ins where 3 feet of clearance is theoretically possible. However, the NEC ruled against this and kept the blanket statement that panels “should not be installed in clothes closets.”

The reason for this is that clothes are indeed quite flammable. Furthermore, it is a closed room, and also clothes and shelves would make it difficult to access the panel when needed. 

Where Are Residential Electrical Panels Not Allowed?

Electrical panels are not allowed in these rooms according to electric code:

  • Bathrooms
  • Clothes Closets
  • Small Storage Rooms
  • Cubbies or under stair areas with less than 6 foot 5 inches of clearance
  • Pantries
  • Greenhouses
  • Behind large appliances or equipment
  • Any place that is not easily accessible

While the above list is not extensive, it sometimes means that finding a location for a panel in a small apartment or custom home can be difficult. These locations are unsuitable either because they contain flammable materials, expose the breaker box to physical damage, or are not large enough for the required clearance. 

If you must have a panel in an area exposed to high humidity or moisture, like near a pool or in a greenhouse, you may be able to use an outdoor panel. Such panels are water and corrosion-resistant but cost quite more than a standard breaker box. 

Check with local restrictions to see if this can be possible. Even though outdoor boxes can be more expensive, it is probably cheaper than relocating the entire panel. 

What is the Minimum Clearance Required Around Electrical Panels?

A minimum clearance reduces risk and makes it easier for electricians to work with electrical panels, ensuring that there isn’t any object near the breaker box, which might result in a dangerous situation. 

The NEC requires a minimum of 36 inches in front and 30″ inches of width on both sides of an electric panel to ensure the electrician has a safe workspace.

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, should you face any issues. We recommend abiding by this code. 

Can an Electrical Panel be in a Bathroom?

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 guidelines regarding electrical panels.

The National Electrical Code is clear that electrical panel placement cannot be in a bathroom. 

The NEC does not allow electric panels to be 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 report still seeing electrical panels inside a 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. An electrical panel cannot be located in bathrooms and violates the code within modern electrical guidelines. 

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 close to water. It is a known fact that electrical components should be stored away from moisture or water of any sort. If moisture enters the electric panel, it can cause the breaker box 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 branch 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, electrical panels are not allowed in bathrooms due to the abovementioned reasons. It would be best if you avoided these risky situations at all costs. I urge you to relocate and upgrade your electrical breaker panel if yours is inside a bathroom.

Can an Electrical Panel be in a Closet?

Another common question that many people have is whether or not electrical panels are allowed in closets. At first thought, it might seem like a safe place for an electric breaker box. 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 combustible materials are often stored inside.

You cannot install an electrical panel in a clothes closet as per the National Electrical Code section 240.24D. The code standards state that electrical panels “cannot be close to flammable materials,” such as clothes. So, you would either have to move the electrical panel or designate that closet for utility use only and not for storing clothing. 

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, so it is against the code to locate an electric panel within a closet. 

Often, when in home remodeling, homeowners who pay little attention to electric panel placement might end up in the closet. In this scenario, the breaker box needs 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 qualified 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 breaker box is away 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 breaker box is not recommended because it is a safety hazard at the end of the day that you should avoid at all costs. 

So, generally, if you are selling or buying a home with an electrical panel in a closet, it may fall under the grandfathering clause, and you won’t have to relocate it. However, sometimes a building inspector might decide it has to be moved before you can sell the house. 

While you can try arguing about grandfather clauses, if it is deemed unsafe, you may not be able to get it under contract without moving it. 

Moving the panel can be costly, with 2022 average prices between $1,500 and $2,500 for parts and labor. It will also take time and slow down the sale process. 

If the cost is too high or you do not have another suitable location for the electrical panel, you might try re-designating the closet. Instead of storing clothes in there, take out the hanging rod and use the area as a utility closet. 

Doing so may work in some cases to save you the time and money of moving a breaker box if the home inspector approves of the change. 

If you are building or renovating your house, be sure to plan and find a good location for the electrical panel to avoid this issue altogether. 

Can an Electrical Panel be in a Bedroom?

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

NEC does allow for electrical panel installation inside a bedroom. Bedrooms meet the NEC workspace requirements for electric panel installation. You can find electric panels 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 newer apartments and 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 breaker boxes 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 breaker box moved. 

Although the NEC allows panels inside bedrooms, it’s advised homeowners to place beds a reasonable distance from the breaker box 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 breaker box. 

Although the NEC does not prohibit a breaker panel from being installed in a bedroom, it is best to avoid doing so due to growing concerns over EMF exposure and the related impact on human health. 

Circuit breaker panels give off EMF that measures around 100V/m, dropping once you move a couple of feet away from the breaker box. 

That said, it is still not advisable to place a bed near the panel, especially if a child or baby is sleeping there.

Exposure to EMF radiation can be dangerous and has been shown to cause;

  • Sleep issues
  • Memory problems
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Mood disturbances
  • Breathing issues like asthma
  • Fertility issues
  • Digestive problems

A study at the University of Melbourne’s Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering concluded that regular exposure to EMF radiation significantly reduces our ability to produce melatonin. 

Melatonin is the sleep-regulation hormone and is crucial to proper bodily function. Our bodies mistakenly process EMF as daylight resulting in less melatonin production.

So, although you can technically install a breaker panel in a bedroom, it is not advisable to do so for health reasons. 

In addition, bedrooms are not ideal for an electrician to access and maintain your breaker panel.

Breaker panels may be located in a bedroom because they are considered unattractive for a central living area. Hanging a piece of art over the breaker panel fixes the problem. 

This solution will get rid of the eye-sore and won’t cause any issues with the functioning of the breaker panel.

Can You Reduce the EMF Radiation from a Breaker Panel?

Electrical breaker panels are one of the primary sources of Electromagnetic Frequencies in our homes. The energy that comes into our breaker panels is static, meaning it is low frequency and (fortunately) easy to block.

If you are concerned about the EMF coming off your breaker panel, you can try lining your panel with MCL61.

MCL61 is a lightweight fabric that you use to block EMF radiation. To line your breaker panel, cut strips of the material to fit the dimensions of your panel box and attach them to the interior with glue. MCL61 retails for around $200.00 for a 6×2′ piece. 

It is important to remember that you should switch off the power to your breaker panel before attempting this project. If you have any questions or concerns, always consult with a licensed electrician beforehand. 

Can an Electrical Panel Be In a Storage Room?

Unlike clothes closets, there is no specific language in the NEC saying you cannot put an electrical panel in a storage room. Doing so can often be a convenient location to put an electrical panel, as it is accessible and easy to locate. Plus, it keeps them out of sight, unlike a hallway.

To place an electrical panel in a storage room, you have to ensure that it is compliant with the rest of the codes, most notably:

  1. The storage room must not be used primarily to store flammable materials such as clothes, fuel, rags, paper, etc. A pantry or broom closet would work, as neither contains an abundance of combustible materials. 
  2. The room must be large enough to comply with all proper clearance requirements. It must be at least 6 feet and 5 inches high and allow 30 inches to either side of the panel and 36 inches in front. 
  3. Lastly, it needs to be free of corrosive substances, and the occupants need to have access to the storage room at all times. 

If you can fulfill those requirements, a storage room is a great place to put your electrical panel. 

Are Electrical Panels Required to be Locked?

The interior electric panel doors have a latch on the panel 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. A padlocked electrical 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 life-threatening if emergency personnel need quick access to shut off power to the home, such as 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 breakers and shut off the supply of current. Therefore, we recommend you consult a local electrician before deciding whether to lock on the electrical panel. 

Are Electrical Panels Required to be Labeled?

It is essential to know that the breakers are adequately labeled when dealing with electrical components. When working with electricity, you need to know that the breaker shut-off cuts power to the intended circuit.

The labels must include information that will help identify the panel and its type while also mentioning 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, so proper labeling is needed. 

However, if you have moved into a home and find that the electric panel is not labeled, it is easily remedied. It might feel that labeling the breaker box will be confusing and highly complicated, but you can very quickly label the breakers 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 to continue with the process. 

Step 2: Now, assign numbers to each of the individual circuit breakers inside the panel at the electric panel. You can write the breaker’s number on a small piece of paper and attach it to the assigned breaker. 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 allotted to the circuit breakers. 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 looking for which light fixture or outlet has now turned on. In older houses, it’s common for electrical circuits to control multiple rooms.

Step 5: Once you know which exact breaker provides power to which outlet, it would help to write down the number of that breaker on a piece of paper and attach it next to the outlet it has provided power. 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 list all the regular 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 write down which breakers are paired for easy identification in the future. 

Can Electrical Panels be Installed Outside?

While it may come as a shock to many living in the city, in rural areas, many times, the electrical panel is located outside the home. This is done so that no home area needs to be sacrificed or made less attractive to accommodate a panel.

One of the other benefits of an outdoor panel is that it allows emergency services to disconnect power before entering the home. This availability can be beneficial if your home uses natural gas, as when you smell a leak, you can go outside and turn off all the electricity before calling 911. 

No codes prevent installing electrical panels outside of the home, as long as they are protected from the weather by using an appropriate weather-proof panel box. 

In densely populated areas, security may be of concern, in which case you would want to add a padlock to the panel. Doing so will keep unwanted people out of it and make it a bit harder for you to access the panel. 

You may want to get a combination lock and ensure that everybody in your home knows the code to it in case they need to flip a breaker at any time. 

The other drawback to an exterior mounted panel is that it can be inconvenient to access during rain or heavy snowstorms. When choosing a location, try to find an area covered by an awning or roof, or install one to protect you from the weather if you had to access it during a storm. 

People prefer to have the circuit panel outside their homes 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. 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 is essential to ensure that the panel outside the house is weather-proof 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. As we discussed above, there are also security concerns related to electric panels installed outside,

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 requirements state 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 the vertical circuit breaker handles “Up” position of the panel is “On,” it meets NEC requirements. Circuit breakers with horizontal circuit breaker handles must be marked “On” and “Off.”

In some cases, it may make more sense aesthetically or logistically to install a panel upside down or sideways. Installing in this way is permitted by the NEC as long as all other codes are followed. 

The main concern is that the “On” and “Off” switches are clearly labeled. It must be very apparent which direction the main breaker needs to be moved to shut off the power. 

You can install a panel upside down or sideways as long as you have marked the main breaker and which directions it must move.

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 for the placement of breaker boxes 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.”

A door doesn’t count as an obstruction to the workspace requirement when closed.

Are Electrical Panels Allowed Over Stairs?

When looking at the stairs, we occasionally see electric panels in stairways of a basement or where a homeowner added an 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.”

Conclusion

Understanding the best electrical breaker box location in your house is extremely important because the circuit breaker box controls the supply of power in the entire house.

Knowing where to install a service panel helps prevent 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 quickly identify where you should locate the breaker box 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.

Photo of author

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.
DISCLAIMER: The content published on HomeInspectionInsider.com is not professional advice. You should consult with a licensed professional and check local permit requirements before starting any project.
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