Clearance around a door

Clearance around a door – Building Codes

As an Architect, I interact with clients, engineers and contractors who have acquired bits of information about Building Codes.  Sometimes, those bits are misconceptions and regurgitated information.  The building codes can be intimidating and have no beginning or end. To learn the code, the best way is jumping in feet first.  

Upcoming Blog Posts

In the next series of blog posts, I will explore common simple and more complex Building Codes.    Each City has adopted a code but most in Arizona use the IBC (International Building Code).

The issues to be addressed in the following Blog Posts are:

  1. Door swing direction.  Which way should the door swing, out of a room or in?
  2. Number of exits within a room?
  3. Door Size.  Who said “size doesn’t matter.”
  4. Exit corridor width.  How narrow can a hallway be?
  5. Clearances around a door?  Door arrangement between two doors.  
  6. Door fire ratings.  Is your door fire rated?
  7. Exit Travel Distance.  
  8. When is an elevator required?
  9. Should my door have panic hardware? 
  10. Do I need a drinking fountain?
  11. Minimum size of a single person toilet room?
  12. Small commercial space, is one bathroom enough?

The item in bold is addressed in this post.  As an Arizona Architect, most City’s jurisdictions work with the IBC (International Building Code).   The code analysis is based upon the IBC.

Clearances Around a Door

The ADA (American with Disabilities Act), established in 1990 and in affect in 1988, establishes the minimal clearances required around a door to allow the building occupant to easily approach and open a door with ease.  It begin when parents of children with disabilities who began to fight against the exclusion or segregation of their children to minimize the barriers created within public buildings.

The door clearances are depicted in the following vignettes.  Click on image for enlarged view.

Clearance around a doorClearance around a doorClearance around a door

Door Swinging OUT or in direction of travel


Clearance around a door  Clearance around a door  Clearance around a door

Door Swinging IN


Clearance around a door  Clearance around a door  Clearance around a door

Both doors swing in                      Both doors swing out                Door swinging in same direction


Clearance around a door is established by the ADA.  The clearances allow for the ease of an occupant to open and pass through a door opening, whether on foot, in a wheelchair or using crutches.  A door which swings inward generally increases the required clearances as shown on images above.  Other effects like door closures, automatic door openers can affect the operation of a door, however maintaining the shown clearances makes it easier for the occupants and satisfies the current codes established.

Jeff Serbin

Jeff Serbin is Vice President of Serbin Studio. His responsibilities include architectural design and project management. He coordinates the work of consultants and design team members, and is involved in design from concept through construction.

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