Should Basement Doors Swing in or Out (building code explained)


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Your basement door must swing outward according to building codes unless you have a landing or floor at the top of the stairs. If you have a landing, then you may choose the direction, although inward swinging doors are generally perceived to be more dangerous.

If you know anything about home renovation and DIY, you know that building codes have a lot of instructions that control a lot of things. Even when you are surprised to find something is regulated, when you take time to think it through, it makes sense that it would be regulated. This is exactly the case for the direction in which a basement door swings.

Choosing whether to hang your basement door so that it swings into the basement area or out into the hallway is controlled by both the building codes and logic. There are both advantages and disadvantages to each option, which can help you decide which you would prefer if your options are not limited by the code.

Basements Without Landings: Door Must Swing Out

Section R311.7.6 of the International Residential Code (IRC) states that according to regulation, a landing or floor is required at the top and bottom of all interior staircases with a single exception:

“A floor or landing is not required at the top of an interior flight of stairs, including stairs in an enclosed garage, provided that a door does not swing over the stairs.”

This means that if your basement staircase has no landing at the top, then you have no choice regarding the swing direction: the door has to swing out into the hall as opposed to into the basement. This code is purely based on safety and makes complete logical sense.

Logical Reasoning Behind the Regulation

When you open a door, you generally need some room to maneuver. Automatically, you are probably taking a step back to open a door towards you and a step forward to open it away from you.

Without a landing, the safest thing would be for the door to open away from the staircase. That way, when you are opening the door, you won’t need to take your first step forward to swing the door down onto a step.

Moreover, when opening that same door from the staircase side, you will not be required to reverse down steps to open the door from the stairs, nor would you be at risk of being knocked down the stairs if someone was opening the door from the other side.

Basements With Landings: You Choose

With a landing that provides you the space to make the necessary door-opening maneuvers, you have the choice of which way the door swings. For a basement with a landing, the code considers these safety issues to be resolved and you have your choice of swing direction.

Swinging Out Is Most Common

Unlike bathroom doors and bedroom doors, which most often swing inwards (i.e., into the rooms), popular opinion favors the outward swing for basement doors for multiple reasons, including the fact that many people are not as confident as the powers-that-be that the safety problem is solved with a landing.

They still believe that outward swinging doors are the safest, and this can even be a point that affects house sales, especially since people tend to associate basements with darkness and a higher risk of tripping down the stairs.

Either you will need to consider changing the direction of the door before showing the house, or you may just want to go the conventional route from the beginning.

Advantages of an Outward Swinging Basement Door

  • If you have a basement garage, you are likely going to need to carry groceries and other shopping items up the stairs. It will be easier to swing the door outward instead of juggling your items right above the staircase to swing the door towards you. Having a cooperative door handle design makes this even more pertinent. If you will have to put your groceries down either way in order to open the door, it’s less of an issue.
  • You don’t need to be worried about someone opening the door in your face when you are coming up from the basement. Even if you have a landing that you could stumble back along, instead of tumbling straight down the stairs, the fright can be significant when you think what might have happened.
  • If someone tripped coming up the stairs, you would be able to access them as they would not be able to fall against the door and block it.
  • You will have no trouble with sufficient space for installing safety gates for your children if the door swings away from the top of the stairs, where the gates are generally placed. This will also leave you ample space to move around and open the door and the gate as the gate will likely also swing away from the stairs.

Disadvantages of an Outward Swinging Basement Door

  • An outward swinging door is going to block your hallway whenever it is open. Basement doors commonly open onto hallways, which means you don’t have the luxury of space in an open room. Furthermore, this may lead you to keep the door closed, which can interfere with basement ventilation.
  • You face the risk of being surprised by a door opening at you when you are walking along the hallway.
  • If you use your basement for functions such as a living space, bedroom, or laundry room, you are probably going to have a lot more traffic going in and out of the door throughout the day. Making the outward-swinging direction more inconvenient.

Inward Swinging Basement Doors

Advantages

  • The door will not take up valuable hallway space if it opens inward, instead, it will use the space on the landing, which naturally cannot be used in very many ways.
  • Inward swinging doors are considered more secure as they are more challenging for intruders to kick in. While this is irrelevant for basements that have no other viable points of entry, it is definitely something to think about with a basement garage, walkout basement, etc.
  • Should you live in a state and area that experiences many or has a high risk of tornados, a basement is an excellent place to take shelter if you don’t have a storm cellar. If you have an inward swinging door, you lessen the risk of becoming trapped by preventing your door from being jammed and blocked by debris during a storm. 

Disadvantages

  • Inward swinging doors are easier to block, and you would not easily be able to get into the basement if someone fell against the door and was unable to get up again.
  • It may minimize the space within the staircase space to have a door that swings inward.
  • If you have children and want to put a child safety gate on the stairs into the basement, an inward swinging door may interfere with this depending on the length of the landing. This would also make it more challenging to move about to open the door for you.

Changing the Swing Direction of a Basement Door

It sounds like a really straightforward thing to say that you will just change the direction that a door swings. However, it takes a bit of work.

You are going to have to rehang the door. This will require you to remove the door and the hinges and strike plate and fill in and repair holes left behind and paint. You will then need to reinstall the hinges and strike plate on the other side of the doorframe. Then you can put the door back up.

This will require some time, tools, and planning. A drill will likely make a handy addition to your toolbox for this project. The WORX Cordless Drill Driver (amazon link) comes with a helpful set of drill bits for your DIY needs.

You might need to acquire correct wall paint colors, and purchase new hinges depending on their age (the National Hardware Swing Clear Hinge (amazon link) is a good option), and you will have to measure out the hinge locations. Not to mention you may have to cut into your doorframe, if not the door itself, for the needed strike plate and lock mechanism.

Below is a video that provides practical and helpful guidance and demonstration for how to change the swing direction of a door:

Sources

https://www.weather.gov/oun/safety-severe-homesafety#:~:text=Being%20completely%20underground%20is%20the,underground%20storm%20cellar%2C%20use%20it.&text=A%20basement%20is%20also%20a,away%20from%20them%20as%20possible.

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