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Egress Door Swing Direction

Of all the doors in a house, the one you think will be most regulated is the egress door because it plays such a vital role in home safety and security. It is certainly the only door for which the International Residential Code (IRC) specifies a minimum size.

The code also addresses the swing direction of egress doors, although only under specific circumstances. Unless your house qualifies under this stipulation, the choice of swing direction is yours to make based on logic and practicality.

*For the purposes of this article, an inward swinging egress door is one that swings into the house, and an outward swinging door is one that swings out of the house.

If an egress door opens onto steps (no landing), the IRC says it has to swing inward. In-swing doors prevent guests from being knocked over, the hinges can’t be tampered with, and you can have a storm door. Out-swing doors are harder to break into, don’t take up space, and make emergency exits smoother.

IRC Only Specifies for Doors at Stairs

IRC Section R311.3.1 Egress door specifications, rules, and measurements for door swing direction; perspective view

The IRC, which is the guideline for the safe building of residential homes, does not explicitly state that your egress door must swing in or out unless the exterior floor or landing is between 1.5″ (3.8 cm) and 7.75″ (19.5 cm) below the egress door threshold.

If the exterior side’s landing or floor measures 1.5″ -7.75″ below the threshold, then the egress door is not permitted to swing outward.

The landing or floor is not allowed to be more than 7.75″ below the threshold, regardless of swing direction, because it will make the step-down too steep.

You can find all this information in IRC Section R311.3.1.

This stipulation regarding the swing direction makes a whole lot of sense. Egress doors are solid, and thus you cannot see through them. If you were to open the door out and, unbeknownst to you, someone was standing on the outside, you would knock them down the stairs.

In addition, if you were entering through the door, you would have to reverse back down some steps to make room for the out-swinging door, which creates a fall risk.

It is important to note that the IRC makes provisions for the swing of egress doors in Section R311.3.1, but it also mentions general exterior doors, for example, a back door, in Section R311.3.2. Although the differences in code for egress and exterior door are minor, they exist for a reason, so you must not get them mixed up!

egress door swing direction rule; side view; cross section view

Always Consult Local Codes

The IRC is the model code that has been adopted by the individual states in the USA as well as other areas. Many states/areas make adaptations to the IRC to suit that locale.

One of the most influential factors is the weather in an area. As an example, people in places like Alaska will have to make preparation for their doors being blocked by walls of snow. In this case, an inward swinging door is the better option. Residents of Texas will not have to worry about this.

There may also be official recommendations that are not found in the code. For example, Florida residents report that they are encouraged to install outward swinging doors to ensure that they are protected from hurricane winds and the debris carried by the winds, which can easily blow or knock an in-swing door open.

As such, it is always the smart move to consult your local building codes or contact your local planning and development department before making your final choice of swing direction.

Reasons to Choose Outward Swinging Doors

Out-Swing Doors Are Hard to Break Into

While windows often provide an easier method of illegal entry into a home, another option is to break down the egress/exterior door.

Trying to kick an out-swing door in does not work unless you use a great deal of force, more than your average human can produce. The edges of the door sit against the door frame, which is solidly secured into the wall, thus protecting it from forceable entry.

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Have to Protect the Exposed Hinges

Something you must note is that the hinges of an outward swinging door will be located on the exterior of the door. Unless you take steps to protect the hinges, which you definitely can do, the would-be burglar might opt to pop the door off its hinges rather than expend energy attempting to kick it down.

Methods of protecting your hinges include using security pins or security hinges.

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You Save Floor and Wall Space With Out-Swing Doors

Out-swing doors are a logical choice for those living in smaller spaces. The swing arch of an inward swinging door takes up floor space that cannot be used for anything else, lest you render the door non-functional.

Additionally, you cannot hang or store anything against the wall over which the door swings because it can get knocked off or interfere with the full function of the door, which is a safety hazard.

Install an outward swinging door and you suddenly have room for that umbrella stand, coat rack, or your grandmother’s antique table.

Easier to Move Through for Emergency Exit

In the event of an emergency, your egress door should permit quick and easy passage. An out-swing door ensures that you get out of the house quickly without breaking your stride.

Emergencies are also obviously times when you are not always thinking clearly. If you have a fire raging behind you, your natural instinct is just to press forward, which you can do with an outward swinging door. An inward swinging door requires a measure of back-tracking. This is especially true of someone who requires the aid of a walker or wheelchair.

Another issue is that the door handles can get very hot when there is a fire. You are more likely to succeed at kicking an outward swinging door down.

If you are trying to escape your house and something heavy falls in front of the door, you would just climb over it and open the door out. If your door swings in, you could be trapped.

Reasons to Install an Inward Swinging Door

Now, having just read about how an inward swinging door could endanger you in the case of an emergency, you might not believe that there are any virtues that could redeem it, but there definitely are.

In-Swing Doors Mean You Won’t Hit Your Guests

I touched on this in our first section. Inward swinging doors are guest-friendly. Even if you don’t have stairs outside the door, you are still in a position to provide a terrible and potentially bloody welcome to your guests.

If you know that they are coming and they ring the bell, you can alert them to back up before opening the door. But what about those unexpected pop-ins when you are on your way out?

Can you imagine your mother-in-law coming over unexpectedly as you are dashing off to the gym and you bash her in the face! It doesn’t bear thinking about.

Cannot Take Door off Hinges From Outside

The hinges of inward swinging doors are on the inside of the door, which means that they are not readily accessible to thieves.

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I grew up in a country that has a higher crime rate. As terrible as it sounds, it is an unspoken fact that you don’t need the most secure house; you just need a more secure house than your neighbor.

So, if a burglar is faced with your house and its inward swinging door, which they could kick open, but your neighbor has unprotected hinges on his outward swinging door, then you may luck out, and the burglar will rather attack the hinge situation next door.

You’ll Never Be Trapped by High Walls of Snow

If you live in a place that is covered with snow for any portion of the year, then you will definitely appreciate this benefit of an inward swinging door.

When the snow piles up high enough to block even the lower quarter of your door, an outward swinging door is difficult to push open. When it rises halfway up the door or higher—well, you’re just not getting out that way.

Installing an in-swing door in these areas will prevent snow walls from blocking you in, which is especially beneficial in emergencies.

Easier for Emergency Services to Break Through

In an emergency, a few seconds is a long time. An in-swing is the conventionally used door and will take fire or other emergency services less time to get open than the unconventional out-swing. 

Easier for Burglars Too

As mentioned, the inward swinging doors are also easier for home invaders to break down. Without additional security, a healthy kick to the door can cause it to swing open.

According to the FBI Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) program, 67.2 percent of the 1,401,840 burglaries reported in 2018 were on residential homes, and 57.5% of this number was by forcible entry.

Homeowners with inward swinging doors must invest in advanced security to fortify their doors.

You Can Also Have a Storm Door

When you install an inward swinging door, you have the option of also installing a storm door.

Having both doors is possible because they do not swing in the same direction. The IRC allows storm doors to open over the landing stairs if the egress door is an inward swinging door. 

Storm doors are see-through, but most egress doors are not. Hence you can look through the storm door and anticipate the stairs or a guest.

Egress Doors Must Have Specific Dimensions

One egress door is allowed, but two are ideal in residential situations.

To qualify as an egress door, the height from the top of the door to the threshold at the bottom should measure 78″ (1981 mm) and the clear width must be at least 32″.

The clear width does not refer to the width of the door itself, it refers to how wide the doorway is with the door open at a 90-degree angle. It is measured from the face of the door to the stop, so the door will have to be wider than 32″.


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