An inwardly opening external door feels familiar and welcoming. It is easier to enter a home with an armload of groceries or children when the door swings inside. But there are also practical reasons for this convention.
Beyond aesthetics, the reasons external doors open inward relate to safety, maintenance, and climate. Outswing doors, although preferable in some circumstances, pose challenges. Homeowners, builders, and remodelers will want to consider the tradeoffs.
Safety Reasons for External Doors Opening Inward
There are several reasons a door that swings inward is safer than one that swings outward.
- Visitors: Outward swing doors run the risk of colliding with visitors if they are standing in the path of the door. This is of particular concern if they step backward quickly or are knocked off balance on the edge of a stoop or landing.
- Lockouts: A door that swings outwards may catch a breeze and slam shut, which could result in having someone be locked outside. This is a much lower risk with an inward swinging door. To be stranded outside an inward-swinging door, the space would have to be in the process of being aired out, on a day with a substantial wind blowing in just the right direction.
- Burglars: The exterior hinges on older outswing doors make it easier for burglars to remove the pins and break in quietly. More modern outswing doors now have security hinges for this exact reason.
- Emergencies: If necessary, first responders will break down a door in the event of a medical or fire emergency. Doors that are designed to open inward are easier to breach in emergencies because the door frame does not provide additional resistance. While “easier to breach” might be a security concern, it is also noisy and draws attention – something criminals try to avoid.
Inswing doors do not have these problems.
Maintenance Is Easier on Inswing Doors
While a porch or overhang gives some protection to any kind of exterior door, an outswing door is still more exposed to the elements than an inswing door.
On nice days when a door is left open to increase ventilation, a door that swings outward becomes vulnerable to gusts of wind. Breezes can create a strain on the hinges of an outswing door that is left open, and perhaps even on the door frame itself. Doors that open inward do not have this problem.
The top surface of an outswing door can be exposed to the elements. The top surface of an outswing door must have a special sealant, and that sealant must be maintained. The top surface of the door cannot dry out on wet days, whether the door is open or closed.
Although it is still wise to do maintenance checks on the coating and hinges of inswing doors, they are more sheltered from wind and precipitation and will not need as much upkeep.
Climate Concerns for Outswing Doors
- Heat: Screen doors are often hung outside inswing doors. Usually, outswing doors do not have screen doors at all, causing insect-free natural ventilation to rely on windows and other doors, often sliding doors.
- Snow and ice: A heavy blizzard causes many inconveniences, including the challenge of opening any door that can only swing into a snowdrift. Snow and ice can seal a door shut.
- Wind: Wind cannot grab an inswing door and knock it against the building – or against a hapless visitor or homeowner.
When Are Outswing Doors Used?
Although those are all excellent reasons for exterior doors to open inward, there are some notable applications for outswing doors.
|Hurricanes||In regions vulnerable to the high winds of hurricanes, exterior doors are usually designed to open outward. This reduces the risk that they will be blown inward or pushed inward by objects bashing into them at 140 mph.|
|Emergency exits||In structures that hold large numbers of people such as theaters, schools, offices, and apartments, emergency exits have push bars to enable crowds to push them outward. Getting a panicky crowd to make room for a door to open inward, and hold it open, would be difficult and could result in precious time being lost.|
|Municipal codes||Local governments may mandate the directional swing of exterior doors. Typically, this will be for emergency exits, but can also be in response to weather patterns such as hurricanes, as discussed above.|
|Apartments||Although the exteriors door of an apartment building may conform to the local norms, there are other considerations for apartment front doors that open into hallways. For very small apartments, architects may determine that an inswing door’s arc costs too much floor space, so front doors will swing into hallways. On the other hand, if the hallway is narrow, this would pose a hazard to neighbors walking down the hall.|
What Materials Are Available for Exterior Doors?
Although vinyl and aluminum are popular choices for storm doors and patio doors, most people choose more substantial materials for front doors and other high visibility exterior doors.
- Wood: Wood is arguably the most aesthetically pleasing material. There are many preexisting design options, as well as customization opportunities. Wood requires maintenance to keep its appearance. Also, it may warp over time and need replacement. Solid wood is more expensive than a veneer over laminate, but both need maintenance.
- Steel: Doors with steel walls over an insulated core have the advantages of strength, security, and energy efficiency. In addition, steel doors are low maintenance except for the need to guard against rust. However, they are less beautiful than wood doors. Also, steel doors are easy to dent or scratch and hard to repair.
- Fiberglass: Fiberglass doors are the least expensive option. They are insulated, low-maintenance, and weather resistant. However, they are also less beautiful than wood and can crack with a hard impact.
- Glass: Glass doors provide natural light and a good view of visitors. They have a lower insulation capacity and provide less privacy. For front doors, some compromises might be made by including sidelights or small panes. Sliding glass doors are another alternative to swinging doors but are not generally used as front doors.
Other Considerations for Choosing Exterior Doors
Energy efficiency is a promoted benefit of inswing doors, but according to this Consumer Reports article, more air is transferred through the gaps around the door, or through the walls and roof of the house, than through the relatively small surface area of the door itself.
Other things to consider when choosing an exterior door include:
- Preexisting door: It will be less expensive to preserve the prior dimensions of the door and its frame than to change them. If you want to change the direction of the door’s swing, you can only do this by rebuilding the doorframe and door jamb so they can stop the door from swinging past the latch. Although some doors come in door-plus-frame systems, it may be less expensive to replace a door than to replace the door and the frame.
- Privacy: Glass doors facilitate the screening of visitors. However, they provide equal visibility to those who are outside, so some privacy is lost. Peepholes, security cameras, and sidelights can help with visitor identification without sacrificing as much privacy as a full glass door.
- Natural Light: Glass panels and sidelights allow natural light into the space. This may be an advantage in winter when daylight is scarce, but a disadvantage in warm weather when the greenhouse effect will challenge the air conditioner, especially for south-facing doors.
- Homeowners Associations: In some communities, there are strict rules about changing the appearance of homes. Exterior doors may fall into the category of disallowed changes.
- Swing Arc: Whichever way your door swings, there will be space where you cannot put a bench, flowerpots, or other decorative objects, either inside or outside. Your door’s radius may determine where people can drop keys, remove snowy boots, and set dripping umbrellas.
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