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Installing Electrical Outlets: Which way is up?

Install outlets (receptacles) with the ground hole either up or down. Both are correct. But be consistent.

By the DIY experts of The Family Handyman Magazine

Ground hole up or down?

You usually see outlets installed with the ground hole down (Photo 2). But it's no better than installing them the opposite direction (Photo 1). Electricians endlessly debate this and vigorously exalt the virtues of installing it one way or the other, but we'll tell it to you straight—it just doesn't matter. Both ways are correct. The electric code doesn't specify which direction the ground plug hole needs to face. One way isn't safer than the other—as long as the outlet is wired correctly.

It all comes down to aesthetics, so install them whatever way looks best to you. Incidentally, the ground plug is typically down in the United States, the opposite of how it's generally installed in Canada.

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February 19, 6:26 PM [GMT -5]

When the ground plug hole is up, it helps protect the hot plug prongs of a partially inserted plug from any conductive material that might fall on it and short out out the plug. When the ground plug hole is on the bottom, it only protects against things "falling" up. Since most thing fall down, installing the ground plug hole up is the best orientation

August 11, 9:34 PM [GMT -5]

This is an easy one for me. I have yet to see an appliance or any electrical device where the obvious orientation is anything but the ground down. Try plugging a hair dryer with a power block in an outlet with the ground up. The cord will curve upward in a very awkward manner. Same with other such devices. We naturally want our cords to face down, so we need to orient our grounds down. Low-hanging fruit.

August 11, 9:20 PM [GMT -5]

Just wondering; Is the ground we walk on up or down? Just askin'.

August 11, 7:23 PM [GMT -5]

Not code............... Article 250.124(A) "

February 18, 7:44 PM [GMT -5]

I have been installing grounding outlets since they first came out. No one could tell you the correct way to install them. I figured since most right anglle cords were made with the ground toward the cord it would be logical to put the ground down so it would not put a strain on the cord.

December 27, 2:36 PM [GMT -5]

I learned a simple approach to use around residential and light industrial outlet installations which is with most boxes, outlets and covers being plastic that installing with the grounding plug hole down is fine. If a metal cover plate is used, typically in some basement, garage and workshop areas, the grounding hole must be up to provide a safety measure in the event the cover plate slips. There is an obvious personal danger if the metal cover plate were to hit a hot plug prong first, like when the plug is being withdrawn. Height placement doesn't become a factor. The material used is drives the up or down placement decision. Seems to make sense and is easy to work with.

December 22, 12:19 PM [GMT -5]

My two cents...
- Where a manufacturer has had to take a decision on a design that required a specific ortientation, most have selected down.
- Plug-in modules like X-10 and Insteon assume a ground down orientation.
- Plug-in adapters (power packs), either 3-prong or Large spade neutral, assume down.
- Power bars with angular power plugs work best with ground down, otherwise you have to plug on top with wire looping upwards.
- A three prong power plug was designed to have a flat spot on top where the thumb can rest nicely and the index finger curl underneat, this allow the safest position to plug/unplug.
- The ground on the bottom makes the live blades the most visible, hence the safest to plug-in/plug-out.
- When unplugging a wire from a receptacle, it is common for people to apply a slight upward motion/angle. With the ground up this augments the chances of breaking the plastic, above the ground pin, on he top outlet.
I have seen this many times in ground up installs, I have never seen this in a ground down installation.
- I have never witnessed, known or heard from somone who witnessed an occurance of a metal object (paper clip or other) falling on the outlet with the ground down, let alone cause a situation that was a safety issue that warrants supperceeding all the points sated above.

September 23, 1:58 PM [GMT -5]

I installed my receptacles with the Ground up for Safety. The Building inspector was impressed, he has not seen many installed with the ground up and agreed it is safer.
There was a problem in the Kitchen though. Most of the Kitchen appliances had plugs that were made for the ground to be down. So they had to be changed. I am surprised that in 2012 that the NEC has not made it code to install the receptacle with the ground up for Safety.

June 16, 2:11 PM [GMT -5]

I install receptacles both ways (and sideways on occasion).

• If using metal cover plates and the screw becomes loose or falls out, the plate can slide down and contact either the hot or neutral conductor (or short them together) if the ground pin is on the bottom. For this reason (among others), I don't install receptacles my my shop this way (handy boxes with metal faceplates that are used for my power tools). I probably should just put Loctite on the faceplate screws in this environment (they do sometimes come loose due to machine vibration).

• In my experience, most outlets have the ground pin down, and that looks more 'normal' to many people. (I'm from Chicago originally, but have lived on both US coasts)

• Many GFCI outlets seem to have the labels facing both directions, although if they are only in one direction I will usually install them so that the text is upside-up and readable. Along the same lines, I try to place outlet labels (e.g. with breaker / source designations) so that they are not obscured when the receptacle is in use.

• The ground conductor on the plug is 1/8 inch longer than the other pins, which causes the ground pin to make first and break last. Because of this:

◦ If the ground pin is down, I sometimes (especially in confined spaces such as behind furniture) have the tendency to brace my hand on the receptacle plate which makes it more likely that I would contact a live conductor. The danger seems to be largest when this action is combined with a loose conductive cover plate that could be momentarily. It seems an unfortunate coincidence that most people are right-handed and the hot/live conductor is on the right in this configuration.

◦ An orientation with the ground pin closest to your hand as the ground pin becomes a sort of pivot point. Some of us get shaky hands when we get older. Once the ground pin finds its hole, any bracing should be unnecessary. To facilitate this, …

◦ If the outlet is below 4 feet or so (e.g. normal wall outlets, kitchen island outlets), I will put the ground pin up. I consider 4 feet to be an average eye level when taking children and adults into account, and it seems to be a reasonable height for most adults to have their arm perpendicular to a wall.

◦ If the outlet is around 4 feet from the floor (e.g. kitchen counter outlets), I fall back on my other guidelines.

◦ If the outlet is above 4 feet from the floor, I have a slight tendency to put the ground pin on the bottom (although I acknowledge that while visibility is less of an issue in this case, the hand bracing issue still exists). Also, for a very high outlet (6 feet or more) with the ground on the top there may be more of a danger of touching the hot pin from beneath if the plug is not fully inserted. This is also one case where I may install the receptacle on its side (horizontal).

◦ Regarding the last three points, a nearly exact opposite argument can be made regarding visibility, especially in tight spaces and when the closest jack is already in use (i.e. the plug and cord are thus blocking view of the empty jack). Make a few mock-ups in your garage at different heights and see what works for you / your family.

• Sideways: above desks and kitchen counters I may consider this, mostly for aesthetic reasons. For outlets much over the mean adult eye level (5-6 feet?), a sideways installation may also improve visibility. A horizontal orientation is _not_ good if you are planning on having heavy transformers or heavy/long cords plugged in that may tend to pull the plug away from the socket. Consider the location of the hot conductor in horizontal outlets similar to how you are locating the ground conductor on vertical ones.

I have several power strips / surge protectors that have plugs with the cord exiting at angle. Based on the ones I can find right now (Belkin and Tripp-Lite), the cord will exit to the bottom-right or bottom-left when used with a receptacle that has the ground pin on bottom. This may be aesthetic or cord-routing consideration for some.

Final notes:
• Eh, it just depends. ;)
◦ Don't mindlessly do things the same as others - understand their reasoning or develop your own.
◦ Each situation is unique. Think about who will be using your product and how they may do so, both now and ten years in the future.
◦ Given two equally valid solutions, choose the one that gives the future user the most flexibility.
◦ Possibly sexist comment: If this is for your home, ask your wife/girlfriend/design-conscious partner first (especially if you are doing something inconsistent with the rest of the home).

• If using metal faceplates and especially if vibration is an issue, make sure the screws are tight and consider using a thread-locking compound such as Loctite Blue (don't use the red one - it's too strong and permanent for this application).

• Purchase quality receptacles if possible.
◦ Use name-brand receptacles (e.g. Bryant, P&S Legrand, Hubbell)
◦ Select specification grade models. While there isn't any universal meaning between vendors, you may also wish to use receptacles with markings such as "industrial ", "commercial grade" or "heavy duty".
◦ These tend to have stronger and more durable contacts which will retain plugs better and over more insert/removal cycles.
◦ These will sometimes take up more box space which may be an issue for an very minute number of cases (e.g. some older homes with smaller electrical boxes or those that have been overfilled by un-licensed electricians).

• Everything here was written with respect to the NEMA-5 three-prong receptacles that are used in the United States. That said, these principles will apply many other types of connectors used throughout the world, especially those with a neutral and/or ground conductor.

• Whoever decided that some home structured wiring panels should have the internal receptacle facing up should be taken behind the woodshed. It makes sense for transformer bricks, but please use tamper-resistant (TR) receptacles or plastic fillers on empty outlets in this environment (or anywhere else where something can fall inside of the receptacle).

• I like the comment from the user "phipsi1237" about using a different orientation for receptacles controlled by a wall switch (but life could get confusing if you are using split-wired receptacles - i.e. one outlet connected to the switch, the other always on). This might also be a place to use a hospital-grade receptacles - you can make use of the green dot on the face to indicate which jack is switched.

• I also agree with user "getsgarth" that in most cases it would be better to place the hot conductor on the bottom when installing receptacles sideways / horizontally.

• User "duryelectric" brings up an interesting point about NEC requirements but assuming that receptacle and plugs are properly built to specifications I don't think there is an issue with the make-first break-last grounding pin, regardless of the orientation of the receptacle. The only (extremely unlikely) scenario I can think of right now that could cause an issue is:
◦ if a cord were pulled in the direction of the hot conductor and the plug were to fail in such a way that the neutral and ground pins sheared off but the hot remained in the socket (bent up to 90°).
Example 1: receptacle installed with ground pin down - single-insulated industrial vacuum in use, cord strongly pulled to the right (such as down a hallway).
Example 2: receptacle installed sideways with the ground to the left and the hot on the bottom. A cord is pulled in the downward direction, such as if stepped on or if a sofa were to placed on a lamp cord in such a way that the front leg held the cord in place and off the floor between the leg and the receptacle (so as not to move the lamp) and then back leg then placed on the cord.

• Finally, apologies if some of these are duplicated in other comments, but I wanted to be thorough. Along the same lines, if you've read this far, I'm impressed. I hope this can be of use to someone.

June 05, 9:12 AM [GMT -5]

One way is safer!

Most people install as per photo one, with the ground down as that is what people people are used to seeing and the other way looks upside down.

However, its safer to put the ground up and if installing sideways (such as on a counter) put the ground to the left.

Why- its simple. Imagine that you have a plug behind your desk and something plugged that has the ground wire. Suppose that plug is not 100% of the way in or may have come loose. Now something like paper or a paper clip falls and hits the plug. Would you rather have the item come into contact with the hot plug possibly causing a short or fire, or would you rather have the hot plug protected by the ground plug?

For me, I prefer to know that the ground plug can provide that extra protection. The same thing applies to the ground to the left when sideways.

March 16, 8:37 PM [GMT -5]

I understand the theory that if the screw of an outlet should accidently fall out then the metal cover plate "could" fall and if the outlet were ground down the metal plate could short out across the still attached plug. but I surmise that if the ground were up, the metal plate would hit the ground and swing into the plug blades anyway.

for this I recommend 1) use plastic plates and 2) tighten you damm screws.

as the for code ruling regarding this debate.... I submit for your consideration Article 250.124(A) "....receptacles shall provide for first make, last break of the equipment grounding conductor..."

if the ground were up and someone stepped on the cord which would be the FIRST conductor that would be disconnected?

If the ground were down and the same conditions which would be the LAST conductor to be disconnected

of the two senerios which comply s with article 250.124(A)?

March 04, 11:18 AM [GMT -5]

I had my Quebec Canada home wired by a local electrician and all of the outlets were installed with the ground hole up. He said that in Quebec, code says to do it this way because if the plug is accidentally pulled out part way (due to tripping on the cord) the ground post would be exposed, reducing the hazard of electrical shock if touched. I have found that may cords have a molded plug that requires the ground to be down to allow two items to be plugged in the same outlet, so I have flipped all of mine to ground down.

February 27, 3:14 PM [GMT -5]

The article mentions that in Canada the ground is generally installed up - I live in Canada (Ontario and Alberta) and I can't say I've ever seen a home where the builder has installed the ground up. ( usually only seen during a DIY alteration) I agree it should be consistent but personally I like it down. A) if the room is dark and I'm trying to plug in a lamp, I assume it's down. B) The ground on the bottom makes the hole pattern look like a cute little face :o C) The argument about things like a paper clip falling behind the plate and shorting the circuit seems far fetched... how would that happen unless it was deliberate or you were tossing a handful of small metal objects at a receptacle? D) If you're installing the receptacle... don't be sloppy to the point the receptacle has a gap!

February 27, 12:48 PM [GMT -5]

As a member of IBEW local 429, I have installed thousands of receptacles 98% of them in hospitals. Usually on a commercial job it will be in the spec sheets as to what type, brand, color, mounting height, and direction it is to be mounted. The hospital where I currently work is ground up. There reasoning is if anything falls and hits the cord cap it will hit the ground first. But I agree match whats in the room, My work will stand on quality and craftsmanship not because it's different.

January 02, 3:15 PM [GMT -5]

One safety measure to consider is with the ground plug up. If you have metal cover plates that come loose or if the plug is partially out and the plate or some foreign object such as a paper clip would drop down it would hit the ground plug first. Ground plug down would short out the circuit. Chot Mattes (retired electrician)

March 21, 10:13 PM [GMT -5]

sorry for the many post ......... Thanks .....

March 21, 9:58 PM [GMT -5]

When i was trained by the FFPA - federal fire protection agency ... they explained to put the growned down .... because when something fall onto the prongs it will through the breaker .... if the ground is up when it gets grounded electricity will go to the shortest ground which will be you .......

March 21, 9:57 PM [GMT -5]

When i was trained by the FFPA - federal fire protection agency ... they explained to put the growned down .... because when something fall onto the prongs it will through the breaker .... if the ground is up when it gets grounded electricity will go to the shortest ground which will be you .......

March 21, 9:54 PM [GMT -5]

When i was trained by the FFPA - federal fire protection agency ... they explained to put the growned down .... because when something fall onto the prongs it will through the breaker .... if the ground is up when it gets grounded electricity will go to the shortest ground which will be you .......

February 12, 3:57 PM [GMT -5]

Most of the communities I have seen in the North Las Vegas area puts the ground plug on top for the ones connected to a wall switch. This is only for identifying the socket used with the switch.

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Installing Electrical Outlets: Which way is up?

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