Which way should a door swing?

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There is much debate over the correct way to swing a door. Even experts can sometimes have trouble determining whether the door should be installed to swing out or in. Much of this confusion is due to the fact that the direction of swing can change based on the application, or in accordance with building codes and standards.

Understanding Swing

When buying and installing doors, it's important to understand that there are four ways in which a door can swing. To determine the swing, stand on the outside of the door, which is usually the side where you would need to use a key. If the hinges are on the right, you have a right hand door, and if they are on the left, the door is left hand. Now check whether the door pushes away from you or is pulled towards you. If it pushes away, it has a regular swing, which is known in layman's terms as "inswinging." If the door pulls towards you, it has a reverse swing, which is often known as "outswinging."

Residential Applications

There are little to no building code regulations governing which way a door should swing in a residential building. Because of the lack of regulations, residential doors should swing in whichever direction is most logical in any particular situation. For instance, interior doors should swing so that they rest against a way when they are open. This keeps them out of the way and frees up space. Exterior doors are more secure when they swing out, as this prevents thieves from kicking them in. These doors should only swing out when there is enough room in the immediate area to accommodate the swing of the door.

Fire Codes

Door swings in commercial structures must meet the fire safety requirements of the National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA). According to NFPA, doors must swing in the direction of egress (towards the exit) under four specific circumstances. These include doors leading from spaces that hold more than 50 people, areas equipped with hazardous or combustible materials, doors leading from a staircase, and doors leading to the outside. All other doors may swing in whichever direction is most desirable to the building owner.


Doors in commercial settings must also conform to accessibility standards created by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Under ADA guidelines, a door may swing out of a room as long as there is a 48-inch clear area in front of the door to allow those in a wheelchair to safely manoeuvre. For the door to swing in, there must be a full 60 inches of manoeuvring space in front of the door, as well as 18 inches of clearance along the side of the door. The swing on a closet door or other inaccessible space is not subject to ADA guidelines.

Speciality Doors

Some doors have their own unique swings. Schools and hospitals are often equipped with pairs of cross-corridor doors. These doors are installed so that one door swings in one direction and the other door swings in the opposite direction. This allows for quick and easy access without the risk of hitting someone on the other side of the door. As a general rule, cross-corridor doors are always reverse swinging, which allows for an exit device pad to be installed on the push side of the door.

Common Sense

The majority of doors are not subject to any regulations, and can swing in whichever direction makes sense for the user. For example, a door should not block a window or interfere with another door when opened. The door should also not block cabinets or other frequently used spaces. It is almost always best to swing a door so that it will rest against a wall when opened to 90 degrees.

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