How do architects/builders decide which way a given door should open?
September 7, 2016 10:46 AM   Subscribe

How do architects/builders decide which way a given door in a house should open? Are there a set of typical considerations? (some of the choices in my home seem suspect)
posted by basehead to Grab Bag (23 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
 
Exterior doors and doors to rooms typically open inward. Closet doors typically open outward (for obvious reasons). In cases where one side isn't clearly the "inside" (like a door between one large room and another) it's a little more ambiguous. I guess the door should ideally open in whatever manner makes it least in the way.
posted by mekily at 10:56 AM on September 7, 2016 [2 favorites]


Generally speaking, doors open inward into a room, because opening a door into a hallway may encroach on the limited space available in the hallway.

Here's an article (PDF) from the indispensible 'Doors and Hardware'
.
posted by pipeski at 10:57 AM on September 7, 2016 [2 favorites]


I have no idea if this is true, it is probably not true, but when I was little and asked my dad the same question, he said it was so the person on the more private side of the door can physically hold the door shut with their body to keep out intruders.

Whether or not that's The Reason, it seems to have held true for all the doors where I've lived.
posted by phunniemee at 10:58 AM on September 7, 2016 [10 favorites]


Sometimes these things are decided* by the construction crew, regardless of what is on the plans or done by convention.

*By which I mean, they made a mistake and didn't notice, or decided not to fix it.
posted by hydrophonic at 11:01 AM on September 7, 2016 [1 favorite]


One of the reasons doors often open inward is for security reasons, specifically that when a door opens inward, the person inside has access to the hinges. If exterior doors open outward and this puts the hinge on the outside, you could potentially open a locked door by removing the hinge pins. Ability to remove the hinge pins from inside the room makes it easier to keep people out and harder to imprison someone in their own room or for someone to become trapped there accidentally.
posted by Michele in California at 11:04 AM on September 7, 2016 [10 favorites]


Another thing is that, all else being equal, the doorknob should be on the side that you reach first during the typical flow of traffic.
posted by karbonokapi at 11:08 AM on September 7, 2016 [2 favorites]


Commercial entrances almost always have doors opening outwards.
posted by sulaine at 11:51 AM on September 7, 2016 [1 favorite]


A door that is on an exit path will often be made to open inwards, towards the space being exited. That way objects blocking the door can be moved by a person trapped behind that door.
posted by aubilenon at 12:00 PM on September 7, 2016 [1 favorite]


Outswing exterior doors are used more in areas with tornadoes or hurricanes. They hold up better against the wind.
posted by Trifling at 12:09 PM on September 7, 2016 [1 favorite]


Bedroom doors usually open into the bedroom and with the hinge on the bed side, so that when one person leaves the bedroom the door obscures at least some of the view of any scantily clad people who are still in there.
posted by emilyw at 12:31 PM on September 7, 2016 [1 favorite]


Inswing exterior doors tend to be more waterproof. The hinges aren't actually so much of an issue, if you get an outswing exterior door then you get it with security hinges. Also, if you live somewhere where storm doors are normal, the storm door has to swing outward which means the main door swings inward.

Commercial doors swing outwards for fire code reasons; if there's a fire in a crowded building and the doors swing inward, people can stampede, get squashed up against the doors, and be unable to open them due to the press of panicking humans behind them. See the Cocoanut Grove Fire.

For interior doors, it mostly has to do with keeping them out of the way when open. There aren't any hard and fast rules, and in a renovation (or a bespoke new build) the contractor should generally ask the homeowner their preferences. In most cases though, it's obvious which way the door should go because there's one way that's much less in-the-way than the others.

Sometimes it really doesn't matter one way or the other and you just pick one.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 12:36 PM on September 7, 2016 [7 favorites]


Internal doors should open "into" a room, as long as there is an obvious "into" direction.

On top of that, doors into reception rooms should open in such a way as to give the maximum view while entering (so in the case of a door near the corner the door should open against the wall). Bedrooms are the opposite, such that someone already in the room has the maximum possible amount of warning that the door is opening before the person entering gets to see any part of the room. In the case of a door near the corner this means that the hinge side should be away from the wall.

Bathrooms are also ideally like this, but it's not so critical if the space available doesn't permit this as there's usually a lock anyway. If possible, it's a good plan for the initial view of the bathroom not to have the WC visible as you open the door.

Public entrance doors open inwards (to avoid whacking the visitor as you open them). Private entrance doors, however, are often best opening outwards particularly if they're part glazed, for maximum weatherproofing and faster escape in an emergency.
posted by tillsbury at 12:52 PM on September 7, 2016 [3 favorites]


Keep in mind, your door placement may have not been decided by an architect or a careful professional.

There are a number of factors to balance with door swing. For my clients I am looking at path of travel, function of space, placement of light switches, views into and out of rooms and security. Sometimes there is a tight space where the swing options seem non-optimal no matter what. Then you discuss all the factors and make your best guess.

Plenty of people in the world don't care to mess with all that. And they will likely choose poorly.
posted by amanda at 1:07 PM on September 7, 2016 [3 favorites]


A door that is on an exit path will often be made to open inwards, towards the space being exited. That way objects blocking the door can be moved by a person trapped behind that door.

In commercial buildings in the US, this is almost completely backwards. Doors serving a space of any appreciable size are required by code to have doors swing outwards so that there isn't a pileup of people at the door trying to get out that thus prevents the door from being able to open. The only exemption is for spaces that have less than 50 people in them (as calculated per code). Places built before this code requirement still exist though.

Most of the statements above about which way doors open in residences are correct. Except for egress requirements as noted in the previous paragraph, you'd generally much prefer a door to swing into a space for security of those inside, and for weatherproofing at the exterior. There is no convention for whether the knob is on the right or the left, no matter which side of the door you're on - revsersing the "hand" of a door is pretty easy and it's not like left- or right-hand doors are always some custom order. Generally, doors open into a room and lay flat against a wall that's at least 4 inches away from the hinge of the door, but things don't always work out where that's the best way to do it.
posted by LionIndex at 1:15 PM on September 7, 2016 [2 favorites]


I disagree on bathrooms: doors should swing out, not in. This is a safety issue, particularly with elderly people in the house.

If someone collapses in a bathroom and falls against the door, it can be very hard to get them out. This happened to a neighbour of our in-laws and she was stuck there for quite a lot longer than was healthy.

This is the opposite of how many bathroom doors are hung, but every one I do from now on, I'm turning around.
posted by bonehead at 1:53 PM on September 7, 2016 [2 favorites]


One other factor I haven't seen mentioned: A door at the top of a staircase (such as to a basement) should open away from the staircase. A door that opens onto the staircase creates a risk that someone will open it expecting a level floor and fall down the stairs. This said, it's very common for doors to open onto the stairs, as a door swinging that way is more likely to be out of the way.
posted by not that girl at 2:00 PM on September 7, 2016


This is the opposite of how many bathroom doors are hung, but every one I do from now on, I'm turning around.

That's an interesting idea. As bathrooms tend to be smaller spaces, it seems the risk for this is a bit higher. However, you still have to work with adjacent spaces. I would guess that bathroom doors get open and closed more frequently than any other kind of door, and you wouldn't want to impede the hallway or injure someone standing outside the bathroom door. That is probably the likeliest scenario for injury in your example. How about a pocket door for the bathroom?

A door at the top of a staircase (such as to a basement) should open away from the staircase.

This is actually the code in most jurisdictions. Not only could the person travelling through the door fall down the stairs, a person standing on the stairs has to walk backwards down the steps in order to open a door that swings over the stairs. It's just a bad idea all around. Generally, in the situation of a door swinging toward the steps, one requires a landing – for code and for safety.

But don't get me started on stairs. I'm always trying to get clients to fix their front steps which have likely over time sagged or settled in a way that makes them uneven in their rise. They are dangerous for regular folks but especially so for anyone with any kind of mobility issue.
posted by amanda at 2:33 PM on September 7, 2016


How about a pocket door for the bathroom?

Seen a bunch. Never had one that didn't turn out to be craptacular after a few years. They aren't highly reliable in my experience.
posted by bonehead at 2:40 PM on September 7, 2016 [1 favorite]


That's cost. A good set of hinges can be had for $20; Latch another $20. A good set of tracks start at $200 and go up from there and you still need latch and pull hardware. They also require quite a bit more work to install. The zero clearance sliding doors leading into the WC/Shower room in my shop are ten years old and slide perfectly. They also cost $300 for the hardware and mounting shell.
posted by Mitheral at 3:25 PM on September 7, 2016 [2 favorites]


reversing the "hand" of a door is pretty easy

This is not trivial- the non-hinged edge of a door can have a bevel so the outer-side door edge does not catch on the frame as it opens along the arc of travel. If the door is flipped so the 'hand' is reversed this bevel may cause the door to bind in the frame, or at least to fit poorly.
posted by TDIpod at 4:42 PM on September 7, 2016


The honest truth is that door swings are one of the most fraught aspects of residential construction, with many conflicting rules of thumb, schools of thought, and priorities to consider. It's really an art more than a science. If you want to do a good job you honestly have to take each door on a case by case basis, look at all the factors (amanda has a good list above of some of the major ones) and then use your judgement.

It is often the case that there is no perfect answer but multiple good ones, and it can come down to a matter of user preference. Sometimes there is a single obvious solution or the building code rules out certain options, but a lot of the time there will still be two or three reasonable possibilities and you just have to weigh all the factors and either ask the user what they want or, if they're not available or time constraints preclude it, use your professional judgement. If you're the professional, that judgement is one of the things you're being paid for.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 6:01 PM on September 7, 2016 [1 favorite]


I've worked with several architects and home designers and they often got door placement wrong, sometimes egregiously so. So the factors above are good ones to take into account, but if you're asking about why your doors are the way they are it's probably because someone didn't put enough care into it.
posted by Joe in Australia at 9:17 PM on September 7, 2016


I've seen the argument that residential exterior doors could open outward to deter kick-in's, which is apparently the preferred method for breaking in. I don't know enough about it.
posted by bongo_x at 11:10 PM on September 7, 2016


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