Should a Back Door Swing In or Out


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If a back door opens up over a staircase with no landing, then it must swing in to be code compliant. If you wish to install a storm or screen door over the back door, it must also swing in. In all other cases, the choice of back door swing direction depends on your home layout and preference.

When you undertake to do a renovation, no matter whether it’s re-doing your upstairs or just replacing the old back door, a wise DIY-er always pays attention to the little details. Details like the swing direction of the door. Maybe your old back door swung one way and it drove you crazy, so you want to flip it around. Can you make this change, or was there a reason it opened that way?

The choice of whether your back door should swing in or out is not as trivial as it may seem, so it’s a good thing you are looking it up! Building codes, local weather, and home safety all play into this choice, and should not be neglected.

Back Doors Shouldn’t Swing out Over Stairs

According to Section R311.3.2 of the IRC:

“A top landing is not required where a stairway of not more than two risers is located on the exterior side of the door, provided that the door does not swing over the stairway.”

Entrance of a house at night with a back door facing a short staircase

If you have been on stairs trying to open a door that swings over the stairway and towards you, I’m sure you understand why this regulation exists.

As you are standing on the steps, unlike when there is a landing, you have to reach up higher to grasp the doorknob, since the steps are below the level of the door.

Not only this, but the fact that the door swings towards you is very uncomfortable, and as you open the door, you may step back so that you aren’t hit by it, causing you to fall down to a lower step, or even down several, which could easily result in an injury. 

Furthermore, when you open the door, you take a step forward. Now, for an adult, this is fine. You know the step is there. But have you ever seen a kid stretching their hand up, standing on their tippy-toes, and opening a door? They pretty much swing out with the door, feet barely skimming the ground. Having steps right outside the door makes this rather dangerous.

So, this rule is 100% a safety matter.

In-Swinging Back Doors Are Most Popular

As recommended by the IRC and as most people would agree, in-swinging back doors are superior to the alternative, even when the door does not open out onto steps.

Check out the pros and cons of outwards swinging doors.

Reasons for This Popularity

Snow Build-up

When a door opens outward and if snow is piled up high enough, you may not be able to get the door open, whether you’re exiting your home or entering.

Snowbanks can easily impede the path of the door and the only way to prevent this is to shovel in front of your back door. This is a hassle, though. 

With a door that opens inwards, no matter how high the snow is, and as long as you have your winter boots on, you can exit your home with ease.

Hinge Pins Aren’t Exposed

Doors that swing out have their hinge pins exposed, which can be a major security threat. 

It is fairly easy to remove the hinge pins of a door, and once they are removed, the entire door can be taken off. This can be much quieter and safer for the intruder than breaking a window, and this method would also be a greater threat to the homeowner. 

Doors that swing in have their hinge pins on the inside of the home, on the other hand, are safe from both weathering and from potential intruders.

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Protected From the Elements

An in-swinging back door is on the inside of the door frame, while an out-swinging door is on the outside. This is a difference of only a few centimeters, but this difference greatly affects the integrity of the door.

A door on the outside of a door frame is subjected to a greater amount of various types of weather (snow, rain, wind), as well as more sun. Each of these factors will deteriorate the quality of the door’s paint and potentially the wood. 

An in-swinging back door is more protected from the elements and your paint will last much longer.

Screen/Storm Door Installation

Screen or storm doors cannot open inwards, thus the main door in the same door frame must open inwards. 

It is impossible to have two doors for the same entrance that swing the same way (out), since the inside door wouldn’t be able to open without the outside door opened.

The only way to install a screen or storm door would be if your back door swung inwards. 

Better Control in High-Wind Conditions

With outward swinging doors, there is danger in high-wind conditions. High wind can make it hard to open, difficult to close, and hard to control in general. In a worst-case scenario, the wind can rip off the door or even harm you by throwing the door against you.

This is not a concern with inward-swinging doors since the inside of a home is sheltered from these high winds and the wind that does enter dissipates in the different environments. 

Welcoming Guests

Being a welcoming host often involves waiting for a knock on a door or a doorbell and then opening the door for your guests. In a situation with an outward swinging door, it is very likely that you might hit your guests as you open the door from the inside.

Although this is not a pressing issue, it would be easy to avoid awkward situations if an inward swinging door was installed instead.

Entering With Bags

Entering a home with groceries, luggage, or anything that might make opening a door difficult is much easier when the door swings inward.

Smiling African woman arriving home from grocery shopping

An outward swinging door means that you must back up as you open it, and in this scenario, your hands are fairly full and your movements aren’t as steady from the weight. It would be likely to trip, drop something, or just get frustrated.

An inward swinging door can be opened and then pushed open with a shoulder or foot. You would not have to back up while still holding the door, making the process much easier. 

Are There Benefits of Outward Swinging Back Doors?

Although the general consensus is that inward swinging doors are the way to go, outward swinging back doors still have their benefits.

Room Space

For a door that swings in, the furniture it may come in contact with is important to think about. The entire route of the door must be completely clear, and it subtracts usable space from this room. 

An outward swinging back door would not impose on the space of your home, and the placement of furniture would not depend on the route of this door, giving you more freedom.

Security

As stated before, inward swinging doors’ hinge pins cannot be taken out, but an outward swinging door’s can. If your outward swinging door has its hinge pins secured, though, there isn’t a risk to your safety. 

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An inward-swinging door can be kicked in, though, while an outward one cannot. So in the long run, it may be safer. 

Easy Escape

In the event of a fire or other emergency where the house must be exited promptly, a door that swings out is the safest.

A door that must be pulled in to exit can be difficult to keep open while many people exit. When an escape takes longer or is more complicated, this can mean extreme danger.

This is the exact reason most public buildings have doors that swing-out. 

Should Patio Doors Swing In or Out?

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Since a patio door has much in common with a back door, whether it should swing in or out can be weighed with similar factors, as if it was a back door. 

Whether there are stairs leading to your patio can affect your decisions since doors swinging over stairs without a landing go against the IRC. If an outward swinging door would violate the IRC, it would be wise to have a door that swings in.

Also, security must be contemplated. An inward swinging door cannot have its hinge pins tampered with, but can potentially be kicked in. An outward-swinging door cannot be kicked in but its hinge pins are exposed. 

An outward swinging door could be the safest as long as its hinge pins were secured through welding or a special mechanism. 

In-swinging patio doors are much easier to find and with greater variety than out-swinging patio doors. The limited market for out-swinging patio doors could affect your decision.

Finally, the local weather must be addressed. If snow is known to pile up during the winter, your patio cannot be accessed with an out-swinging patio door. 

If high winds and dangerous storms are common, an out-swinging door would not fare as well as an inward-swinging door in this situation.

Sources

https://codes.iccsafe.org/content/IRC2021P1/chapter-3-building-planning#IRC2021P1_Pt03_Ch03_SecR311.3.2

https://www.bobvila.com/posts/17190-why-do-outside-doors-open-inward

https://www.quora.com/Why-are-doors-generally-constructed-to-open-in-towards-the-room-instead-of-the-other-way-is-it-mainly-a-security-feature

https://www.quora.com/What-is-the-scientific-advantage-in-having-outswinging-doors

https://innovativebuildingmaterials.com/inswing-vs-outswing-patio-doors/

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