Residential dwellings shall have at least one egress door. This is unlikely to be in the kitchen. Some house layouts may necessitate a second egress, which can be in the kitchen. Otherwise, installing an egress or external door in the kitchen is your choice. Removing an exterior door requires permission.
An external door for a kitchen might be the ultimate finishing touch to your home. Or it may be the source of your kitchen nightmares; worrying about whether you will need to compromise on your design aesthetic by adding a door or adding a style of door you don’t want.
There are some situations in which installing an external door in your kitchen can help your house to be code-compliant. In all other cases, the choice is yours to make based on the benefits and drawbacks of external kitchen doors as well as the styles you prefer. There are also some rules governing the removal of certain external kitchen doors if you are looking to fill yours in.
What Do the Codes Say?
The International Residential Code (IRC) makes no mention of the necessity of an exterior kitchen door.
Section 1016.2 of the International Fire Code (IFC) says that egress is not permitted through kitchens with this exception:
“Means of egress are not prohibited through a kitchen area serving adjoining rooms constituting part of the same dwelling unit or sleeping unit.”
This regulation confused me at first, I will admit. But it makes a bunch more sense when you know that, unlike the more familiar IRC, the IFC does not just apply to domestic dwelling units (houses). It also applies to multi-dwelling space units (like apartment buildings) and commercial buildings.
So, reading this regulation in context, it means that egress doors are not permitted to be through kitchens in places like restaurants and hotels, but in a house, where the kitchen only serves the people in the house and the adjoining rooms, you can have an egress door in a kitchen.
I recommend checking your local codes for any amendments to the international codes because it is possible that your area has made adjustments or additions to the IRC and even the IFC.
Egress Doors Vs. External Doors
Before we go any further, I think it is important to mention that there is a difference between an egress door and an external door. You can have multiple external doors, but only one (Section R311.2 of the IRC) needs to meet the specifications of an egress door to ensure a safe exit in case of an emergency.
So, one is the minimum number, but you can have more than one egress door in your house, and not all exterior doors need to be egress doors.
You almost certainly have a front door that has been designed as an egress door. So, unless the unique nature of your floor plan makes a second egress door necessary, installing an egress or even just an external door in your kitchen is a choice, not a requirement.
What Are the Rules for Egress Doors?
If you decide to install a kitchen egress, the door must comply with the following specifications detailed in Section R311.2 of the IRC:
- A side-hinge.
- A width of 32” or more between the actual door (face) when opened at 90° and where it rests against the door frame to close (stop).
- The height (with no obstruction) should be 78” or more from the head jamb (or top part of the frame) and the floor area at the bottom.
- The door must be easy to open from inside without a key, code, or any jimmying or tricks necessary.
In addition to that:
- Floors or landings (36″ in the direction of travel) are required on both sides of the door (Section R311.3 of the IRC).
- The floor or landing must be less than 1.5″ (38 mm) below the top of the threshold to ensure that there is not a big step up or down, which could cause a problem (Section R311.3.1 of the IRC).
- There is an exception to the above point: the step down can be between 1.5″ and 7.75″ (196 mm) IF the door does not swing out over the landing or floor.
The egress door must also open up into a public space or a yard that opens into a public space (IRC Section R311.1).
Should the Door Swing in or Out?
There are no specifications in the IRC regarding swing direction of an egress door beyond what I mentioned above regarding doors at the top of stairs. This applies not just to egress doors, but external doors, in general, shall not swing out over staircases.
Still, there are many pros and cons associated with each egress door swing direction. I have a whole post devoted to these advantages and disadvantages, which I will be publishing soon.
Style Options for the Door
The permissible style options for your exterior kitchen door depend on whether your door is an egress point or not. As mentioned, egress doors need to be a side-hinge door, so you cannot have a bi- or trifold door, barn-style door, or sliding door.
If your exterior kitchen door is merely a door with no special function, then you are at liberty to choose the style that you want most. However, I will mention that, from a security and weather-tight point of view, sticking with a side-hinge door or a glazed sliding door (not a barn-style slide) is better.
According to Section R609.1 of the IRC, the regulation for installing a door requires you to follow the manufacturer’s instructions.
If you live in a place like I do, where the heat makes you want to leave your door open, but the bugs make me think again, then a screen door is a great addition.
Section R311.3.3 of the IRC says that:
“Storm and screen doors shall be permitted to swing over exterior stairs and landings.”
You should have no code issues with installing a screen door in compliance with the direction of travel that dictates the inward swing of your egress door.
If you install a door that is properly manufactured according to the safety standards for glazing and tempering, then you can install an external glazed door in the kitchen.
This door must comply with the impact and weathering requirements, which you can find in IRC Section R308.
Provided the glazed door is permitted by manufacturer directions for use as an exterior door, you should be clear (check your local codes to be sure) for installing it and trusting that it is designed to withstand the weathering and impact.
Benefits of an Exterior Kitchen Door
- If your kitchen door is merely another exterior door, it does provide another unofficial exit point for an emergency or just for general travel in and out of the house. If your kitchen opens onto your backyard, it can be a helpful means of taking food and drinks out for those summer meals with friends and family.
- It probably pays to have an exterior door if your kitchen happens to be the central hub of your house as it provides easy access to and from the outside.
- If you cook, you know how hot your kitchen can get when you use the broiler and hob. Especially in summer! Having a door to the outside that you can open to help move that hot air out of the kitchen and to let in a nice breeze sounds lovely.
- A door is a great way to provide natural ventilation for your kitchen. Kitchens come with a lot of greasy and cooking fumes. A door that you can open to the outdoors would help improve the air quality, which is always a bonus if your kitchen is central to family time like mine is.
Drawbacks of an Exterior Kitchen Door
- A door to the kitchen that gets left open is going to take up space if it opens inward. If your kitchen is not the biggest, you might find that leaving it open is not worth any benefits if you struggle to move around the kitchen.
- On a similar note, you may have to worry about people opening the door into the kitchen as you are busy.
- A door may impact your broiler and cooking by stealing heat or putting out flames in a gas broiler and stovetop. There is a particular type of frustration to be preparing food only to find that the gas flame has been extinguished instead of your meal being almost cooked.
- If you prefer to maintain a quiet kitchen (especially a smaller one), then having an exterior door providing convenient access to the house may encourage foot traffic. You may end up with guests walking through the kitchen to find the bathroom, which is definitely a drawback if you don’t want guests seeing behind the scenes.
I Want to Remove My External Kitchen Door
Maybe the drawbacks of the kitchen door are the reason you are here. You don’t want an exterior kitchen door anymore. So, can you remove it?
Am I Allowed To?
The IRC does not make any stipulations regarding the removal of egress or external doors. However, as with everything, it is essential to check your local codes for this.
The IFC states in Section 504.2 that:
“Required fire department access doors shall not be obstructed or eliminated.”
While the IFC does apply to residences, a lot of the regulations make more sense when applied to commercial buildings. If the external kitchen door was installed as an extra egress door, but it was not required to be code compliant, then it can probably be removed without issue.
If your kitchen door is a code-required egress door, you are going to have to apply for permission to alter the building. In this case, you may or may not be allowed to remove the door.
It would be prudent to apply for a permit through local fire officials to ensure that you comply with building regulations for removing any external door.
Do I Need Permission?
Yes. You will need permission to alter your house in such a way that removes an exterior exit door.
Section 504.2 of the IFC says:
“Exterior doors and their function shall not be eliminated without prior approval.”
You are going to need to apply through a fire official for permission and permits to alter the building.