What is the Correct Way to Install Electrical Outlets: Ground Up or Down?

You may see electrical outlets with the ground facing up or down. Do you know which is right?

One of the first things people get confused about when trying to install an electrical outlet is which way is right side up! While it’s a topic heavily debated among electricians, the bottom line is, it doesn’t matter if you install the outlet with the ground hole up or down — technically.

Installing Electrical Outlets: Ground Up or Down?

The National Electrical Code (NEC) doesn’t require a certain direction. The NEC allows outlets to be installed with the ground plug hole facing up, down or sideways. It’s up to you, there is no standard electric outlet orientation. So that means there really is no such thing as upside down outlets. 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.

According to John Williamson, Chief Electrical Inspector for the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry (retired), if someone submitted a proposal to change the NEC to require that ALL receptacle outlets be installed with the ground-prong up (or down), they would have to convince industry experts on various code-making panels that the ground-prong up installation was far superior and safer than with the ground-prong down. It’s likely the NEC code-making panels would reject the proposal for lack of substantiation.

Type of Equipment Used

The main reason there is so much debate is because electricians rely on the type of equipment that will be plugged in to determine the orientation of the electrical outlet. For instance, clothes washers, refrigerators and window air conditioners most commonly have cords with immediate-turn plugs, and so the logical way to install the outlet would be to orient it so that the plug inserts without having to loop over itself.

Horizontal Receptacles

In terms of horizontal receptacles, your best bet is to place the grounding slot to the left and the wide neutral slot on top. The logic behind this move is all about safety.

If an accident occurs where a metal object falls on the partially exposed blades, the item will land on the grounded neutral blade, which is safer than hitting the hot blade. If a loosely plugged in cord were to have a metal object dropped on it with the ground slot at the bottom, the object can hit the power contact and short. Especially if you have kids around, this is something you want avoided at all costs!

Choose Wisely

The reality is, just because most of us have grown up with the ground prong slot at the bottom of our electrical outlets doesn’t mean it always makes the most sense! Many people revert back to the fact that there is no code-required orientation, but there are reasons for both orientations, so choose wisely.


Alexa Erickson
Alexa is an experienced lifestyle and news writer, currently working with Reader's Digest, Shape Magazine and various other publications. She loves writing about her travels, health, wellness, home decor, food and drink, fashion, beauty and scientific news. Follow her traveling adventures on Instagram: @living_by_lex, send her a message: [email protected] and check out her website: livingbylex.com