Saturday, 26 January 2013

Door number 1 or door number 2

Hi Joe,

I have a question regarding a door on the outside of my house.  Leading into my porch I have a metal door with a window into it.  There are 4 steps up to the door and at the top of the steps this door opens outward onto the stairs.  This is fine as you are walking out the door, but nearly impossible to navigate walking up the stairs and into the house.  What is the best way to fix this issue?  Can I save this door?  Can I just flip it around?  Thank you so much for your help,



Hey Dan,

Thank you so much for the great question.  I see this often enough.  People have a door, or find a deal on a cheap one and just put it in with no consideration as to the functionality of that door.  A door like any device has a purpose and an intended mode of operation.  If you deviate from that, the door will either not work properly or you will hinder flow of traffic through the opening thus impacting the enjoyment and usability of your home, not to mention the safety concerns of doors opening into high traffic areas or onto stairs…ever had a door opened into your face?

First let’s understand the function of doors and why they operate the way they do.  You will notice that most commercial doors open outwards. This is to facilitate egress in times of panic, so large mobs of people no matter how distraught can find their way out.  On residential doors of late, you will see that most open inwards. This is for several reasons.  Firstly for safety, if the hinges are mounted on the outside a thief needs only pop out the hinge pins to remove your door and gain access to your house.   If there is a fire the firemen have a ram which will break in the door to allow access into your home, much easier to do if the door swings in.  And, lastly, most homes since the seventies at least have aluminum storm doors mounted on the outside to allow a breeze through in the summer and an extra measure of air tightness in the winter.  Can’t mount a screen door on a door that swings out…

So now we know the why we can go about selecting a suitable door for your porch.  When choosing a door, there are a couple things to keep in mind.  We need to consider the flow of traffic, any obstructions in the immediate area, any other doorways immediately adjacent to the door, weather patterns, and do we want a screen door.  Ideally you will want what is called an inswing: a door that opens in.   Whether it swings to the right or to the left will depend on the layout of the room inside the door.  So if there is a wall to the left of the door then the door should open to the left, against the wall, unless there is another doorway, or a light switch behind the door within its swing.  In that case you will want it to open right.  If it opens onto a landing with stairs below you will want to make sure you have at least 36 inches square for a landing at the top of the stairs.  If you don’t you will probably want to opt for an outswing, a door which opens outward, for safety’s sake.   Now be aware that an outswing door is not the same as in inswing door.  There are several differences which make the distinction necessary.  Firstly drainage;  all doors are designed to drain outward, so if you turn an inswing outward, the out is now in and any rain or snowmelt will drain into the house, not what we want.  Outswing doors have special hinges which even with the pins removed cannot be taken off without opening the door knob. 

So in general terms you will want a door that opens in, into the closest wall provided it works with the traffic flow, not against it.  It cannot block doorways, hallways or controls but can open into a closet as the closet only needs to be accessible whilst the door is closed. And if all else fails opt for an outswing as long as you have no desire to have a screen door on it in the future, and don’t have stairs to contend with. In your case Dan, I would choose a proper inswing as it will be safer than what you have now.

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