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I'm getting ready to install bookcases for my home office (SouthWest USA). One wall floor to ceiling consisting of four units screwed together. In one place there is a duplex outlet right behind the joint between two bookcase units... If the duplex outlet was in the middle of a bookcase (and not at the carcase edge) I'd just add an extender and leave it in place, but there is no way to do that in this case. I'm thinking I'd just like to remove the outlet, add wire nuts to the wires in the box, then cover the outlet. Based on other work I've done in this house , I'm not convinced I'll ever be able to find the other end of that wire, to disconnect it and leave it 'abandoned in place'.

As I understand it I can safely (and legally to code) cover the unused junction box with a cover plate. What I'm not clear about is must that cover plate remain accessible? In my case you'd have to move about a thousand books and a built in bookcase to get to the cover. I intend to screw the bookcase units in place.

Two series of questions here:

  1. How accessible must that cover plate be? Is there a specification (NEC code?) on what defines accessibility? Must the cover plate be easily visible? In my case I intend it hidden behind a built in book case assembly.

  2. The cover plates I've seen stick out nearly 1/4 of an inch. So this one outlet pushes the entire book case 1/4" away from the wall. Think like a machinist. Every thousandth of an inch counts. If I get a blank metal cover plate, hammer the curved edges flat (so the top surface of the plate now only sticks out only 1/32" or so) am I still legal?

Anybody have a solid handle on the NEC code, as it regards these questions?

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Thanks for asking this -- I don't think there are any outlets or junctions on the walls I'm planning to cover with bookcases (and if there were, I'd probably want to rewire and relocate them to the bookcase baseboards so they remain available), but you've reminded me to check. ... Of course it's not uncommon for people to bury outlets behind mostly-immovable furniture, but it's better to Do It Right, especially if you think you might be leaving your changes in place when you eventually sell the place. – keshlam May 27 '14 at 1:16
up vote 4 down vote accepted

Article 100 of the 2014 NEC is on point for you:

Readily Accessible Capable of being reached quickly for operation, renewal or inspection without requiring those concerned to use a tool, to climb over, remove an obstacle or other.

But personally I'd move the outlet using an old-work box then cut a matching hole in the back of the bookcase. If it's a normal stud wall construction you've got a 14 inch wide cavity to work with (subject to a wire length constraint). One day you may appreciate having available electric power within the bookcase wall... lighted nick-naks anyone?

Or, move the outlet to the other side of the wall (per @TomG).

Abandon in place is possible, but beware that the wires might daisy chain to other outlets. Any junction of any wires must itself be accessible by the above definition. You can't really win :-). If you want to abandon, places like the Berkeley Tool Library rent or loan circuit finders. These come in two halves: one half plugs into the hot outlet, the other is a sensor that can trace the matching wire or breaker.

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Practically speaking, since the bookcase is so large and will be attached to the wall, it becomes part of the wall and would be obstructing the box. The box needs to be accessible if there are any hot wires in it. i like the idea of extending the box and making it protrude into the bookcase, or have an opening or panel that makes it easy to access the box if needed. – shirlock homes May 23 '14 at 8:50
Because of the room layout, thats extremely difficult to do. It may be worth the three days it will take to find the other end of the wire, disconnect it, and mark both ends "Abandon in Place". Question. If I do that, am I required to cover the box behind the bookcase? I assume not, but who knows... – zipzit May 23 '14 at 8:59
@zipzit The folks who write the code have to be paid. They also MUST remain independent, so as not to be swayed by those paying them. And so they have to charge for the resource. – Tester101 May 23 '14 at 12:22
If this is an interior wall, you may be able to flip the box around and move it to the adjoining room. – TomG May 25 '14 at 2:44
@zipzit - cut the big hole on the bookcase side, you won't have to worry about matching paint, etc. – TomG May 26 '14 at 20:06

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