Baseboard Outlets: The Definitive Guide
Baseboard Outlet History
The history of baseboard outlets starts long before the invention of outlets. Prior to the 1900s most homes were built without a thought towards electricity. This applies not only to the Colonial style homes from the 1600s, but also to the Victorian and Edwardian homes popular at the turn of the century. Even early Craftsman homes were often built without any regard to lighting or power.
The Presidential White House (rebuilt in 1817) made no accommodation for power or electric lighting. It's first bulb was installed in 1987, although President Benjamin Harrison was reportedly too frightened to operate it.
Yet when power started to become more standard in America (by 1925 half of American homes had electric power) homes that were already built had to find a quick way to add electricity to every room. Unfortunately, due to the traditional three-coat plaster on lath construction, placing outlets along the walls required complicated cutting, patching, and finishing. The baseboard provided an answer. It was a simple to remove and run the wire behind, and then re-install to hide the unsightly patches. The outlets themselves were then placed along the wiring as it snaked low around the perimeter of the room - typically centered on the overall baseboard height.
Even to this day, builders and homeowners can still encounter antique homes with outlets in the baseboard. It’s so common that “This Old House” has several YouTube videos dedicated to replacing and/or rewiring them!
Why Baseboard Outlets?
As interesting as it is, the history of baseboard outlets does not explain all of the new builds with baseboard outlets that have become so popular on Instagram and Pinterest. In fact, the overwhelming majority of projects that you see with baseboard outlets are either new builds or gut-renovations that didn't have the outlets there in the first place. This begs the question: "why baseboard outlets?"
1. Outlets are Ugly
We finally came out and said it. At risk of being targeted by the outlet manufacturers of the world, we’ve gone ahead and spoke the unspoken rule that drives most interior design photographs (Interior Designer Emily Hendersen discusses this phenomenon casually at the end of her blog post). Flip through Dwell, or Dezeen, or Architectural Digest, or Pinterest: amongst the glossy images and interviews you'll see a stunning variety of homes, living spaces, and furniture. Yet you're unlikely to see any outlets. This is not because these spaces lie within magical code-free zones, but often because the outlets have been hidden with furniture, or flowers, or just deleted entirely in Photoshop. Turns out that Vogue isn't the only magazine airbrushing their "models." Baseboard outlets release designers from the ugly outlet curse, keeping them low and out of sight. This is evidenced by the fact that designers and builders will often even leave them in publication photos - a subtle sign of the care they take with home design and construction.
2. Baseboard Outlets are Functional
Outlets and baseboards are of a kind. Both perform vital functions for the home, and often have the scuffs and scratches to prove the point. By consolidating the functional elements of a space together, we double their utility, and halve their distraction. Now the baseboard not only protects the wall, it's also a design element for organizing 80% of a homes wall clutter! Baseboard outlets also keep cords low to the floor, and allow outlets to be hidden easier behind furniture. Online you'll find forums bemoaning the additional distance required to reach the outlet, but we believe they're missing the point. Many outlets within the home are seldom used for frequent plugging and unplugging; many are installed only for code compliance. Undoubtedly, you wouldn't want to depend on a baseboard outlet to charge your phone, but for satisfying code or plugging in lamps in a home's formal spaces, they cannot be beat.
3. Baseboard Outlets Elevate Spaces
“A house is a machine for living in” LeCorbusier famously stated. Yet many parts of our homes are far from purely functional. Sure - the wall holds up the roof and divides space into rooms - but in day-to-day life the wall's effect is much more ephemeral. We experience it as a canvas that displays color, or art, or the gentle play of light. While normal outlets shatter this illusion, baseboard outlets elevate our spaces through subtraction. They don’t compete with art or statement walls and afford a wonderful sense of calm and elegance by tidying away the distractions.
Are Baseboard Outlets Legal?
One of the biggest questions about baseboard outlets is their legality, and although its impossible to speak for every municipality, generally they are legal for private residences. We'll elaborate further on this below, but please note - this blog post does not constitute a professional opinion. Always speak with your local “Authority Having Jurisdiction” (AHJ) before investing in baseboard outlets on your next project.
Baseboard Outlets and Building Code: NEC-2020
The National Electric Code or NEC is released every three years and is generally referenced directly within local municipality codes nationwide. Most places in the U.S. use 2017, with references being updated every few editions.
Per NEC 2020, Article 210 is the most specific in regards to locating outlets, and aside from specific instructions in kitchens, the code only stipulates the maximum distance between outlets. The code makes no comment on minimum height of outlet.
For those of you interested in going deeper into the NEC, we recommend finding a copy of the NEC handbook (not the NEC codebook) as this will have use-cases and interpretations applied to the text of the code.
Baseboard Outlets and Accessibility: FHA, ADA, & Baseboard Outlets
Two major pieces of federal legislation that govern new construction are the Fair Housing Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act. Although many in the building industry use ADA as a blanket term to cover all accessibility considerations, the FHA standards tend to govern living places, while ADA standards typically deal with government, public, and commercial spaces.
Standard accessible reach diagram (FHA Handbook)
There is considerable overlap between the standards referenced by these Acts, with many of them utilizing ANSI A117.1 as a base by which to define accessibility. The accessible reach standard is cited in both, which stipulates the minimum and maximum heights for a disabled person's reach along a wall. Although baseboard outlets do not satisfy these guidelines, they typically do not apply to the majority of homeowners, as neither the Fair Housing Act nor the Americans with Disabilities Act apply to detached single-family homes. This means that although baseboard outlets would not be legal for large multifamily housing developments or for government buildings, they are usually acceptable for single-family homes.
So are baseboard Outlets to Code?
If you’re building or renovating your single-family home then the answer is probably yes - as neither the NEC or accessibility standards apply to this occupancy. Speaking from experience, we’ve had FLUSHTEK systems successfully installed and inspected all over the United States. However, users should always consult their local AHJ first, and keep in mind there might be two different entities for electricity and accessibility.
How to Install Baseboard Outlets
The final hurdle after deciding you want baseboard outlets (you do) is understanding how they’re installed. We’ll run you through a few different popular methods, and highlight our personal favorite as well (we’re a little biased).
Before and After photos of a study with Baseboard Outlets by AH Design GroupJigsaw / Oscillating Multi-Tool: This is probably the most common technique, utilizing a saw to cut a rough opening for the outlet back box. The process is simple:
- Using your an old work box as a template, trace the outline of the box onto the baseboard.
- Drill a relief hole into the baseboard for your tool's blade.
- Insert the jigsaw blade into the relief hole and follow the outline of the box drawn onto the baseboard.
- Once the hole is clear, install the box - fastening the ears to the baseboard with wood screws.
- Pull the wire through the box, and install the baseboard onto the wall.
- Once everything is set, have your electrician install the outlet as they normally would.
"This Old House" using an oscillating multi-tool to install a baseboard outlet
Router: This technique is great for knocking out a series of baseboard outlets throughout a room or a home. Instead of cutting each box individually as discussed above, you utilize the first cutout as a template for routing out the rest. See the steps below:
- First, you must create a template. Do this by following the jigsaw steps above or by free-handing a cutout with your router bit. This template can be on a piece of scrap for ease of maneuvering, just be sure to test that your box works within your template before cutting multiple pieces.
- Once you have your template created, now you can use the a flush trim bit to copy the cutout onto pieces of baseboard.
- Align and clamp your template onto the baseboard & set your router depth so that the bearing is riding along the template.
- Drill a relief hole for the bit or utilize a plunge router to make the first hole and then follow the template with your router until the hole is cut away.
- Once the hole is cut you can install your box, feed the wire, position the baseboard, and install the outlet similar to the jigsaw method.
FLUSHTEK: Our preferred method takes the installation of baseboard outlets one step further. Using computerized fabrication, we created a template that not only guarantees perfect alignment between outlet and baseboard, but also installs the face of the outlet flush with the adjacent material. If you want your outlets to disappear - this is the way.
The FLUSHTEK template has integrated markers so there’s no measuring, guessing, or mistakes. Just follow the template and you can have flush baseboard outlets in every room throughout your home.
The Ultimate: Flush Baseboard Outlets
A flush baseboard outlet in our featured Modern Farmhouse Project
If this 1500+ word blog post is any indication, we seriously love baseboard outlets. We love them so much, that we invented a tool designed to make them easy, accessible, and affordable. Yet FLUSHTEK goes far beyond your typical baseboard outlets - the system is designed to give everyday homeowners access to high-design details that can be ten times the price (see our reviews of Bocci and Trufig for example). With this in mind. we'd like to close the article with a brief comparison between a standard baseboard outlet and a FLUSHTEK outlet.
Standard Baseboard Outlet in a Luxury Brooklyn Townhouse
Standard baseboard Outlet: This baseboard outlet is in a fully renovated townhouse in Brooklyn’s Park Slope, a project with a construction budget well over $5 Million. The baseboard outlet here is way better than an outlet on the wall - especially considering that this is a highly visible art wall. Yet, this code-required outlet is still extremely prominent. Unfortunately, due to the art lighting it’s casting a major shadow below, and really stands out from the high-end flush baseboard. It’s not a tragedy, but for a house that took detailing so seriously, it really feels like a miss.
Flush Baseboard Outlet by FLUSHTEK
Flush Baseboard Outlet: Contrast this with the home of one of our users that we’d profiled previously. This project had a shoestring budget, with the owner doing much of the work himself, yet with FLUSHTEK, he was able to achieve seamless integration of the outlet and the baseboard. It's a small detail with a huge impact - and flush is a MAJOR improvement.
Baseboard Outlet Summary
If you’re a designer, builder, or homeowner the appeal of baseboard outlets should be apparent. At FLUSHTEK, we’re not only pushing for baseboard outlets, we’re pushing for systems that make outlet integration easy and affordable. It's never been easier to upgrade your outlets and elevate your home.
Check out our How it Works page to see if FLUSHTEK is a good fit for your next project. And don’t forget to see our Testimonials page - where you can hear from users of all types about how much they love the FLUSHTEK system.
Thank you for reading!!