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Should Exterior Doors Swing In or Out?

Shopping for an external door can be trickier than it might first appear. As well as considering the surrounding décor and type of wood to choose, you’ll also need to think about the way your door will impinge on its surroundings as it opens and closes. After all, doors that open into confined spaces can make life difficult. Unless you’re opting for a sliding door that runs along a single plain, you’ll need to therefore consider the direction in which your door will open.

Do Exterior Doors Have to Open In?

open front door

The majority of external doors will open inwards. This is particularly so in the case of front doors. You get home, you unlock the door, and you push. Whoever heard of a front door that needed to be pulled? But, however often we enter a house through an inward-opening door, we don’t often stop to think about why it’s inward-opening. The prevalence of the design can be explained by three main factors.

Security

The primary function of an exterior door is that of securing the property against would-be intruders. Historically, outward-opening doors would need to have their hinges on the outside. This would provide criminals with the opportunity to sabotage the hinges and thereby remove the entire door. Nowadays, you can find outward-opening doors with their hinges protected – but they’re still more vulnerable than their inward-opening counterparts.

We should also consider that in the case of a front door, having it open inward will make it easier to shut the door on unwelcome doorstoppers, who, if the door opened outward, would be already standing within its arc if they were to move onto the doorstep. Inward-opening doors can also be more easily equipped with extra security features like latches and chains.

Weather

When an external door opens outwards, it’s exposed to the whims of mother nature. A stray gust of wind might slam a set of French patio doors so hard that the glazing shatters – or hard enough to cause anyone nearby to jump out of their skin. Wooden doors that open outward are also more exposed to rainwater than their inward-opening counterparts – particularly if the top of the door hasn’t been finished with the same attention as the front and back. After heavy snowfall, you might also find it impossible to open an outward-opening external door – which in some extreme cases might render the occupant housebound for days on end.

Safety

In some rare circumstances, inward-opening doors can be safer than outward opening ones. In the case of fire, it’s easier for rescuers to smash their way through an inward-opening door. Moreover, having the door open inward will preclude the possibility of opening the door into the face of the unsuspecting caller on the other side – a concern that’s particularly pressing if the door opens straight out onto the pavement.

Can Exterior Doors Open Out?

open door

Photo by Jan Tinneberg on Unsplash

There are some situations where doors do indeed open in the other direction. A good example would be fire escapes. During an emergency, people aren’t always thinking clearly, and thus it’s worth making life as simple as possible. Barging one’s way into a large bar-shaped handle and pushing out of the building without breaking a stride is easier than stopping to pull the thing open.

In public buildings, we also need to consider that not everyone using the door will be of equal strength, and that anything that can be done to make things easier for small children and the elderly is welcome. Wheelchair users might struggle to back themselves up and pull the door open. Add to this the fact that fire escapes aren’t often used, and thus the advantages of inward-opening are negated, and the advantages of opening outward become nigh-on inarguable.

The chances are that your home does not come with a dedicated fire escape. But there are still other instances where outward-opening doors might be desirable. If you’re installing your external doors somewhere a little less safety-crucial, such as on a patio, then you might have them open outward in order to free up space for furniture on the inside. You will, however, need to take a few steps to limit the damage caused by the wind.

Many sets of French doors come with small hooks attached, via which the doors can be tethered to the surrounding walls. This will have a minor impact on the way that the door looks, but it’ll ensure that they’re suitably immobile when the breeze picks up. Timber doors can have these modifications made after installation.

Alternatively, you might look to prop your external doors open using a suitably weighty object. Flower pots do the job nicely – though you’ll need to drag them back and forth every time you prop the doors open.

As we’ve mentioned, inward-opening doors tend to be more secure, as their hinges are concealed on the door’s interior. But this isn’t always the case. Clever designs effectively prevent the hinges from being removed or otherwise tampered with. These include ‘setscrew hinges’, which lock the hinge pin to one side of the hinge, thus concealing it when the door is fully closed. You can modify existing hinges to work this way if you’re handy with a drill, but given the importance of the device, it’s almost always best to go with a shop-bought version.

Another option comes in the form of a stud hinge, whose hinge plates are fitted with interlocking studs that prevent the door from coming away from the door frame when it’s closed. Finally, there’s the non-removable hinge pin, which works in much the same way as a rivet. Once it’s installed, it cannot be removed – making security a great deal more straightforward.

What does the Law Say About Doors Opening Outward?

The legislation concerning outward-opening doors come in section 153 of the 1980 Highways Act. As you might imagine, it concerns doors which open straight out onto the highway, and so if yours is at the end of a short path, the chances are that you don’t need to worry. Incidentally, the legislation also covers garden gates, and so should be considered if you’re considering installing one.

Specifically, the law states that:

“A door, gate or bar which is put up on any premises and opens on a street shall be so put up as not to open outwards unless, in the case of a door, gate or bar put up on a public building, the local authority for the area in which the building is situated and also, if the street is a highway, the highway authority consent to its being otherwise put up.”

In other words, if you’re considering installing an outward-opening door, then you’ll need to get in touch with your local authority and the highway authority. If you install your door or gate without letting them know about it, you’ll get a written notice requiring you to alter it so that it opens inwards. If you don’t co-operate, then you can expect to be dragged before a magistrate and made to pay a fine of level 1 on the standard scale, which amounts to a maximum of £200. Add to this the cost of covering the cost of the authority correcting the problem, and you’ve got plenty of reasons not to go down this route.

As we’ve discussed, there are several good reasons why inward-opening doors might be preferable. Unless you have particular needs, therefore, it’s best to stick with them. If you do want to install an outward-opening door, then make a point of making the appropriate checks before work commences. You’ll save yourself considerable stress in doing so.

Why do front doors open out in Sweden?

There are some countries where external doors, more often than not, open outward rather than inward. A famous example is Sweden, along with several other Scandinavian countries. If you’ve seen one of the recent flood of ‘Scandi-noir’ television dramas, you might have noticed this phenomenon.

There are several competing explanations for this difference. One legend posits that a large group of people once died in a single fire, and thus it was decreed that doors should open outward to allow for easier escape. Another theory suggests that at one time lodgings in Scandinavia were very small, and thus space on the interior of the property was at a premium.

A likelier explanation stems from the climate in Scandinavia. As we’ve mentioned, when doors open outward, they’re vulnerable to being blocked by heavy snowfall. Since snow is a more pressing concern in Scandinavia, it is more likely to be dealt with via other means. Moreover, outward-opening doors are less likely to bring snow into the house when they’re opened and closed. Thus, Swedish doors open outward.

Conclusion

There are good reasons that most external doors open inwards rather than outwards. But this rule isn’t as hard-and-fast as it might appear. If the circumstances in your home suggest than an outward-opening door would be better then you’ll be able to get one installed without much trouble.