Problem door widths

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Q: Our city hall is older and the entrance and other doors don’t meet ADA standards. Can we install a wider door without tearing out walls?

A: Ah, yes, there are multiple problems related to doors — so many, in fact, that I’ll revisit the topic often.

Of course, your absolute first concern should be ensuring doors be at least 32 inches wide as required in the ADA Accessibility Guidelines: (See 4 .13.5 Doorway Clear Width, 4.2.1* Wheelchair Passage Width, and 4.3.3 Width.)

Also, the recently released 2010 ADA guidelines include a comment that clears up confusion about doorways with crash bars (see image: In this picture I’m trapped between double-leaf doors with crash bars):

    404.2.3 Clear Width. Doorways shall have a clear opening of 32 inches (815 mm) minimum. Clear openings of doorways with swinging doors shall be measured between the face of the door and the stop, with the door open 90 degrees. Openings more than 24 inches (610 mm) deep shall provide a clear opening of 36 inches (915 mm) wide minimum. There shall be no projections into the required clear opening width lower than 34 inches (865 mm) above the finish floor or ground. Projections into the clear opening width between 34 inches (865 mm) and 80 inches (2030 mm) above the finish floor or ground shall not exceed 4 inches (100 mm).

The following are common-sense solutions to common doorway problems:

Problem: Too narrow, a problem often seen in restrooms but also at offices and even building entrances.

Solution: If possible, add swing-away hinges that put the door behind the actual frame. This usually widens the doorway by 2 inches, increasing clearance to the 31- to 31½-inches acceptable for an existing facility.

Problem: Double-leaf doors but both doors are too narrow.

Solutions: According to 4.13.4 Double-Leaf Doorways, if doorways have two independently operated door leaves, at least one leaf must meet the minimum 32-inch specification. Try installing:

    1. One leaf with the required width (a 36-inch door guarantees the required width); the other with a smaller door or enclosed window that provides aesthetics, better light, and the ability to see what’s on the other side
    2. Swing-away hinges
    3. A single centered door that meets the requirements, with either a wall or glass enclosures on both sides of the door.

Problem: Double-leaf doors with both doors too narrow and a stanchion between.


    1. Use the same approaches suggested for double-leaf doors and reinforce the overhead support so the stanchion can be removed completely.
    2. Move the stanchion to the side to allow for the new panel, or use the glass frame for support.

Problem: Sliding doors that are too narrow when open because of hardware.

Solution: Installing a handle to open and close a sliding door is a great accessible addition but can decrease the passing width space allowance. Be sure to allow an opening that meets the 32-inch clearance by ordering a wider door. A 36-inch door works perfectly.

Next month I’ll discuss doorways that don’t provide the side space that people with disabilities need to open a door.



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About the Blogger

Michele Ohmes

thumbnail image Michele S. Ohmes is an Americans with Disabilities Act specialist and wheelchair user who works with public works departments, facility managers, and contractors. Her design manual — ADA and Accessibility: Let's Get Practical — is available on CD-ROM through the American Public Works Association's Web site. Author's note: Michele & Associates does not render legal advice and has no enforcement authority regarding the ADA or other federal disability-rights legislation.