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I understand that the NEC requires GFCI outlets in kitchens. But how does it define a kitchen?

If a room has a wet bar, that's not a kitchen, right? What if we add some more appliances (maybe a stove or dishwasher) next to the wet bar? At what point does the room become a second kitchen for the purposes of the NEC?

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  • Perhaps it is how close an outlet is to a “wet area”. Because many places can be wet and they are not kitchens... – Solar Mike Jan 26 at 8:46
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    Are you hoping to avoid your area being designated a "kitchen" and, therefore, skip out on installing GFCIs? That seems like a lot of effort and a potential fail on an inspection to save a few bucks on an outlet. – FreeMan Jan 26 at 12:43
  • Bigger issue then gfci is spacing of receptacles and number of circuits. – manassehkatz-Moving 2 Codidact Jan 26 at 13:32
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    Running the first circuit is expensive. Once you have things open enough to move wire, the rest are fairly cheap. If you have the wiring in place, later you can have a row of 6 food warmers for a buffet party... – Sherwood Botsford Jan 26 at 17:34
  • Where did you hear any of that? NEC doesn't require GFCI outlets anywhere. NEC has rules about proximity to a sink. – Harper - Reinstate Monica Jan 26 at 20:39
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Wet bars fall under a different GFCI requirement

The issue of whether a room is a "kitchen" or not is only marginally relevant to GFCI requirements, as NEC 210.8(A) point 7 requires GFCI protection within 6' of any sink in a dwelling unit, including those found in wet bars:

(7) Sinks — where receptacles are installed within 1.8 m (6 ft) from the top inside edge of the bowl of the sink

However, your question has merit

However, your question does matter as it determines whether your space requires its own small appliance branch circuits. For that, we turn to the NEC Article 100 definition of "Kitchen":

Kitchen. An area with a sink and permanent provisions for food preparation and cooking.

A wet bar has a sink, of course, and also has "permanent provisions for food preparation" in that it has countertop space. However, the lack of provisions for a permanently installed cooking (food heating) appliance is what makes it "not a kitchen" under the NEC.

So, adding a built-in cooking appliance such as a cooktop or hardwired oven would do the trick. What else would make it a kitchen? A "hutch" for a microwave or toaster oven or other such provision obviously intended for a cooking appliance to be left connected/installed 24/7, would also push it over that line. Simply plugging a hotplate/portable induction cooker or other such portable cooking appliance in and leaving it on the counter wouldn't be "permanent" enough in my eyes, though, since someone could readily unplug it and put it away if they needed to use the counter space for something else.

Of course, nothing in the NEC stops you from dropping a pair of dedicated 20A branch circuits to the countertop receptacles on your wet bar, even if there isn't a microwave hutch or other "kitchenette" feature planned there.

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  • I imagine that if the house has another, proper kitchen in addition to a wet bar which kinda sorta meets the definition, an AHJ would likely be willing to grant a variance so that you don't have to install circuits that you won't likely ever use. For example, I sometimes see outdoor kitchens which would meet the definition (a barbecue and sink built into a backyard countertop), but which aren't wired for electricity at all, and I'm sure they were fully permitted. – Nate S. Jan 26 at 16:54
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    @NateS. -- outdoor kitchens are a bit of a weirdo case, but yes, I think a typical AHJ would be reasonably accommodating re: wet-bars and SABCs. (I mentioned the final point because you might want that capability at your wet bar anyway even if Code doesn't call for it) – ThreePhaseEel Jan 26 at 22:29
  • Does a built-in, under-counter refrigerator count as "permanent provisions for fod preparation and cooking"? It's an employee break room. – Harper - Reinstate Monica Jan 27 at 7:34
  • @Harper-ReinstateMonica -- the fridge isn't a cooking device, so no. (Kitchens in other than dwelling units don't need to provide SABCs, but are required to have GFCI on all receptacles, not just those serving countertops) – ThreePhaseEel Jan 27 at 12:31
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From the 2017 edition: "Kitchen. An area with a sink and permanent provisions for food preparation and cooking." This definition will usually lead to the next question, what is permanent? The NEC doesn't define this as a technical term. You and I both know hardly anything called permanent is ever truly permanent. Even stone tablets carved by the hand of God have been reduced to pieces. Permanent could include even a microwave depending on how it's designed or how it's viewed by local authorit(ies) having jurisdiction.

Be aware there may be different rules for residential dwelling kitchens vs commercial kitchens, depending on the code cycle being used, and your local and/or state codes.

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