When designing any space, it can be quite tricky to determine the optimal position to place switches. You want the switches to be easily accessible to anybody who may use them, and it may be difficult to determine where the best location would be. Thankfully, we’ve researched this topic thoroughly to give you the best chance at successful switch placement.
The standard used by most professionals is 48 inches, or 4 feet, from the floor. In most rooms, this will work just fine. However, if you’re designing a room where the switches will be frequently used by children, the disabled, or individuals that are shorter than average, you will most likely want to place them lower. Remember to always check what is allowed and what isn’t with your local building department as local law supersedes all other regulations.
After reading that, you may think that you are ready to start installing your light switches, but don’t grab your tools just yet. Keep reading on and we will discuss the rules and regulations of light switch placement, as well as a few of our recommendations, to set you on the right path. Don’t worry, there aren’t too many rules to get caught up in, but the rules that do exist are important!
Light Switch Location Code Requirements
While the NEC - National Electric Code - doesn’t regulate the specific location of light switches on the wall, they do regulate when they must be placed in a room. In all habitable rooms (rooms designed with the intention of being used for sleeping, eating, cooking, and in general living), there must be at least one outlet controlled by a wall switch used for lighting.
However, in rooms other than kitchens and bathrooms, you may instead have a switch that directly controls the lighting unit rather than the connected outlet receptacle.
Something else to note is that you can bypass the regulations on using a wall switch by instead having motion control/occupancy sensor-operated light receptacles in a room. That may be more useful to you if you prefer not having to use your hands or if you have a disability making it harder to operate wall light switches.
Besides habitable rooms, all hallways, stairways, and garages connected to power must have at least one lighting outlet controlled by a wall-mounted switch. In spaces such as attics or basements, you will be required to place a wall-mounted switch that controls a lighting outlet at the entrance, but only if there is equipment that requires servicing or maintenance in the room.
What Is ADA Height For Switches?
To be ADA compliant, a switch can be no lower than 15 inches from the floor, and no higher than 48 inches from the floor. However, when there is an obstruction protruding from the wall, such as a counter, the maximum height of the switch may be lower.
If the obstruction sticks out less than 20 inches, you may still place the switch at a max height of 48 inches from the floor. If the obstruction sticks out 20 to 25 inches from the wall, then the maximum height to remain compliant drops to 40 inches from the floor.
How Close Can A Light Switch Be To A Sink?
The answer to this question is that you can place the switch as close to the sink as you’d like. However, that doesn’t mean that you should put the switch right behind the sink. While the NEC does not have a specific rule regarding the distance between a light switch and a sink, we recommend that you place the switch at least a foot away, just to be safe.
An important thing to note is that when wiring the bathroom, you are required to have at least one GFCI 20 Amp outlet for the room, and it should be at least 6 feet from the bathtub and at least one foot from the sink. If you are planning on only putting in the single required outlet, it may affect switch placement.
Is There A Maximum Distance Between Light Switches?
When placing a light switch in a room, you will most likely want to place it near the door. As there are no regulations for this in the NEC, you will be left to your own imagination and common sense. In most cases, you don't want to place the switch too close to the door as it is possible to encounter studs from the door jam. And of course, placing it too far will send you on a goose chase through the darkness every time you need to turn the light on.
There are also no regulations regarding the distance between light switches so again, you are left to use common sense. We highly recommend placing your light switches somewhat close together, so you have a singular access point for all switches you would need in the room.
However, you may find that there are also advantages for placing them further apart, such as instances where you would want 2 or more switches to be connected to the same light source and you want the ability to control the light from multiple places in a large room.
Typical Outlet Height
When talking about how high to place the light switch, we should probably mention how high you’ll be placing the outlet that it’s connected to. While there aren’t any NEC regulations regarding outlet height specifically, the same ADA regulation from light switch height still applies, meaning that you should place outlets between 15 and 48 inches from the ground.
Despite this, the standard used by many professionals is the bottom of the outlet being a foot off the ground, and the top of the outlet being 16 inches from the ground. If you plan to have disabled people using the outlet, you will likely want to place it a little higher than that.
What Is Code For Outlet Spacing?
Depending on the purpose of the room you are designing, the NEC’s - National Electrical Code - requirements differ greatly. Also, while most areas follow the NEC’s guidelines, some communities have their own regulations. It is essential that you check with your local building department to confirm you are following the regulations in your area. Please note that these requirements mainly focus on the minimum space you can allow between outlets, meaning that you can reduce the spacing and add more outlets as you see fit in many cases.
In general areas, such as living rooms, dining rooms, bedrooms, etc., the minimum space between 2 outlets is 12 feet. However, you must also have an electrical outlet within 6 feet of any breaks or obstructions in the wall, such as doorways. The most important thing to keep in mind is that these regulations are in place to ensure that electronic appliances always have an outlet available to be plugged into. You should also assume that the cord of the appliance is 6 feet in length.
Kitchen appliances usually have shorter cords, meaning that when installing outlets above the kitchen countertop, you will need to space them closer together. You should assume that the cords of appliances will be 2 feet long instead of 6 feet. Position outlets no further than 4 feet from each other. If the counter is wider than 12 inches, it requires an outlet to be placed, and you will only place a second outlet if the counter is more than 48 inches in width due to the spacing rule.
In bathrooms, you are required to place at least one outlet for the entire room. This singular required outlet must be within 3 feet of the edge of the sink, though you probably shouldn’t place it too close to the sink as that could prove to be hazardous. You may, of course, place additional outlets in the bathroom, but they may not be counted as the required outlet for the room without being within 3 feet of the edge of the sink. Also, if the bathroom has multiple sinks, you are required to place an outlet for each sink.
Time To Get To Work!
Now that you have read up on the rules and regulations regarding light switch placement, you can be sure that you’re placing them appropriately. Please remember that while most areas follow the NEC, you may be faced with additional rules or even more laxity with the rules where you live. So, make sure you are confirming with your local building department before you place your switches. The most important thing is keeping the switches accessible, so always consider who will be using them!
Before you go, check out these other posts that may be of interest to you:
12 Types Of Wall Switches And Dimmers You Should Know