Should A Basement Door Swing Over Stairs?

You have a multilevel house with a basement and you are considering a door at the top of the basement stairs. In addition to this, you may be wondering whether the basement door should swing over the stairs or in the opposite direction. We have done the research to help you get the right answer.

You can have a basement door that swings over the stairs. Moreover, industry standards dictate that there must be a landing, with a minimum floor area of 36 inches by 36 inches, at the top of the stairs. Otherwise, if the door swings outward, a landing area is not required. 

You may be wondering if basements need doors after all. Safety reason is the first thing that comes into your mind, but there are a lot more. There are a lot of factors to consider to decide on whether or not to put a basement door. Stay on this page as we explore beyond the safety factors.

Interior U shaped staircase with wall mounted handrail and leads to the basement, Should A Basement Door Swing Over Stairs?

Do basements need doors?

A door that swings at the top of the basement steps is a common sight among American homes. Here are a few reasons for installing such a basement door:

  • Secures family treasures, documents, and expensive personal stuff that are kept at the basement.
  • Reduces the noise transfer, like when the basement is converted into a record room or entertainment room. The door can suppress the noise towards other parts of the house. Or if the basement is made into an office or library, the noise on the main floor will not disturb those in the basement.
  • Acts as a safety barrier especially if you have babies and toddlers among the house occupants. This may also apply to the elderlies, too.
  • Acts as temperature control between the main floor and the basement.
  • Pet boundary. For whatever reason you may have, you block entry of your pets to the basement. 

There are instances, though, when certain homeowners choose not to have a door to their basement steps, especially as the disadvantages to having a basement door include the following:

  • The basement looks too isolated from the rest of the house as the door gives a cut of space perception.
  • It blocks some natural light from spilling down the basement.
  • It adds to the humidity and dampness of the basement. 
  • The door decreases ventilation in the basement.

Before heading down the page, check out this post for further reading: Do Basement Stairs Need A Door?

How close can a door be to stairs? 

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The International Residential Code (IRC) sets the minimum standards for the construction of doors at the head of the interior staircase. If the door swings toward the stairs, it requires a landing with a minimum width of 36 inches and a depth of 36 inches. This is a safety requirement to prevent falls and tripping accidents.

A landing refers to the area just above the topmost step of the staircase. It signifies a transition from the stairs to the rest of the house. It essentially functions to provide a safe and stable platform as you open the door on your way down the basement stairs.

In the same way, the minimum 36-inch depth for the landing allows you to pull the door safely as you reach the top of the staircase. The door can be fully opened without reaching the stairway. The door in the fully opened position should not reduce the dimension by more than 7 inches. And lastly, the landing must be at the same level as the floor.

Additionally, the IRC code sets that in no case that the width of the landing should be less than the width of the stairway it serves. Also, the length of the landing should be sufficiently greater than the swing of the door, if a wider door is used.

When is a landing not required for basement stairs?

A gorgeous and nicely lit basement with wooden flooring, carpeted stairs, and white painted walls, Does A Basement Door Have To Be Fire Rated?

An exception to the IRC regulation does exist when your door swings outward from the steps of the stairs. In this case, a landing is not required because it does not present a trip or fall hazard. 

As you ascend from the stairs, you push the door outward in momentum with your climb. And when you go down the stairs, you pull the door towards you with little risk.

This layout can still be found in old American homes. Industry experts, however, express their opinion that this layout is a bad design. Notwithstanding safety precautions, this design has less flexibility in future remodeling and redesigning for home improvements.

How to increase the functionality and attractiveness of the landing area?

In terms of function, safety is of utmost importance. Make sure that your landing area is free from obstructions at all times. With only a 36-inch square area, ensure that the space is free from tripping hazards and that the basement door can be fully opened.

Landings are often thought of as “dead space” in the interior planning of the house. After the safety aspect is met, you can think forward to making the space a more functional and decorative corner of your house.  Here are a few tips to do so:

  • Provide a sturdy platform for moving heavy loads to and from the basement. Imagine yourself moving a bulky bench or a heavy home appliance from the upper floor down to the basement, the landing can help for a better positioning to do the heavy lifting down the stairway.

  • If space permits, install wall cabinets for storage of coats, caps, hats, and footwear, or a mini-library for books, personal collections, and other stuff.  Coats, caps, and the like are the personal things that you should always have a fast and easy access and can be best positioned near doorways.

  • In small-spaced landings, you can have attractive wall decors or wall-mounted shelves and nothing on the floor to add life and color to a rather drab space.

  • Basement stairways may be dark spaces in your house. Installing decorative lightings for better illumination can dictate a bold statement among your house interiors. Consider installing lighting fixtures in the landing area as well as the stair passageway.

  • Big landing areas make an attractive receiving area and a foyer for guests. Decorative fixtures can be displayed such as plants in plant boxes, side tables, long benches, and chairs.   

Should you leave your basement door open?

There are many reasons to keep your basement door open or no door at all. They are as follows:

  • It gives an inviting appeal for people to come downstairs to your basement. There is an open feel in going towards the basement. It allows you to see that there is more living space.
  • It makes the basement look not too isolated from the rest of the house. Without a barrier, there is continuity of interior space perception.
  • Basement stairways are potential fire passages from the basement to the upper levels, so better to keep the door open.
  • There will be no barrier to letting natural light come into the basement.
  • Few collisions happen as the passageway is free from a barrier.
  • It adds ventilation to the basement.

You might want to check out this post for more information: Does A Basement Door Have To Be Fire Rated?

What is the standard interior door size?

Interior doors may come in different designs, however, they still serve the same function. Some designs look more functional rather than artistic, while a few are more of beauty rather than function. At the least, they have minimum standards to follow. 

Standard interior doors should maintain the thickness of their panel. It can either be of these sizes:

  • 5 inches or 38 mm
  • 6 inches or 40.6 mm
  • 7.5 inches or 44.5 mm

Standard interior doors should have dimensions of 80 inches in height and 32 inches in width. With provision for wheelchair occupants of the house, the door width should be adjusted to 36 inches.

In Closing

A basement door that swings over the stairs would be perfect, provided a landing is required with a minimum of 36-inch width by 36-inch length dimensions for the area. This is a safety requirement as provided in the IRC code.

If space permits, you can make use of the landing area to be a more functional and attractive space in your house. And lastly, basement doors should still adhere to the interior standard door size.

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