Chapter 3: Entrances
These universal design elements address the features of entrances and the areas immediately outside any door that provides access between the exterior and interior of a home.
Residential Universal Design Building Code, 2023 version. © The Universal Design Project.
The width of each exterior door should be no less than 36" (91cm).
This applies to the width of the door itself. Doorways will often have less clearance when considering door jams and the thickness of the door, if on a hinge, when open.
Homes should not be inaccessible to anyone because of an inability to get through a doorway. Wide doorways are useful for all sorts of individuals, including (but not limited to) those who use wheelchairs, those with larger body types, and/or with several kids in tow. Just about anyone with arms loaded with items will appreciate plenty of clearance.
The height of each exterior door threshold should be no more than 0.5" (1.25cm).
This includes bottom rails or tracks for sliding doors and other door hardware.
Low thresholds are accessible and safe for everyone. Flush is ideal but aim for 0.5” or less if some height is necessary to keep water out.
If you can’t easily roll a small ball (e.g., a tennis ball) over the threshold, then the threshold can create difficulty for some people. Just like the ball might stop with a threshold in the way, so will smaller wheels on the front of walkers and wheelchairs. If this happens to someone using a wheelchair, their chair may stop, but momentum will keep their body moving forward, leading to potentially falling onto the ground. This is also applicable for people who might have difficulty picking up their feet or have their arms full and cannot see where to do so.
The size of the landing area outside of each exterior door should be no less than 5×5' (60x60" or 152x152cm).
A 60×60” (or greater) landing area outside any entrance door is ideal. It’s important to have adequate space to maneuver with any kind of personal mobility device, stroller, and/or any items such as groceries and luggage, particularly if any doors swing outward.
The landing area outside of each exterior door should slope no more than 1:50 (1.15º) in any direction.
The slope should be no greater than 1:50 (1.15º) in any direction. Grading an area as close to level as possible will reduce the likelihood of something rolling away. If a ball can roll in any direction, so can anything with wheels (chair, stroller, cart, luggage, etc).
No steps should be required to access any entrance.
It’s common to see the main entrance and a separate accessible entrance because of steps or some other barrier. This is not characteristic of universal design and is segregating.
Zero-step entrances aren’t just for wheelchair users. Think about pushing a stroller or walking with young toddlers, carrying groceries or luggage, or moving furniture and new appliances. Steps are a trip hazard for everyone.
The landing area outside of each exterior door should be covered from the weather.
A covered landing area (like a porch) outside each doorway provides protection from the weather. This provides anyone a more comfortable place to tie shoelaces, set down packages, find keys, or wait for someone inside to open the door.
An outside shelf or space for a bench should be by the door.
If space for a bench is selected, ensure that the landing area still provides 5x5" (60x60" / 152x152cm) of maneuverable space, as indicated in 3.1.3.
A bench or a shelf outside the door can be used to set down items while fumbling for keys, etc while eliminating the need to bend down to the ground. It's also a helpful place for deliveries or packages to be placed.
Door hardware should be operable with one hand while not requiring any pinching or grasping.
Use door hardware that requires minimal physical effort, such as lever handles, pulls, electronic locks, and power door openers. Knobs and handle sets are difficult to use if hand function is impaired. Avoid anything that requires pinching or grasping for use.
The physical actions necessary to open a door can be difficult for maintaining balance and can cause frustration or fatigue. The rule of thumb is that it should only require someone 5 pounds of pressure to open a door.
The door hardware should clearly contrast against the door's color with a minimum contrast ratio of 3:1.
Contrast is a feature that assists anyone who has trouble with vision. The same 3.1 ratio is used in accessible web design. Check color contrast at WebAIM.
An electric door opener should be installed on at least one entrance door, ideally, the most commonly accessed by the primary entrance route from the parking area.
The hands-free operation of an entrance door is helpful in many scenarios, whether someone has their hands full of groceries, luggage, kids, or is using a mobility device that requires both hands. It also has the benefit of reducing the spread of germs after touching multiple surfaces.
Lighting should be strategically placed to illuminate the doorway, landing area, and any door hardware that is manipulated for opening or closing the door.
Lights placed on the same exterior wall as the door can be harsh and obtrusive, similar to looking directly at car headlights. Lighting should minimize shadows and be glare-free, so it is easy to insert keys or locate the door handle.
Recommended: indirect and low lighting:
The use of indirect ambient lighting and low lighting that illuminates the landing area and doorway without visible bare bulbs or translucent covers (from a seated or standing position) is ideal. Indirect lighting reduces eye strain and is more calming than direct lighting.
Lights need to be able to be activated automatically.
Ever come home late at night and realize you forgot to leave the front porch light on? The use of motion detectors, proximity sensors, and/or timers to trigger lights can create safety and security, not to mention adding convenience for those times when hands are occupied by kids, groceries, or some kind of mobility device.
House or unit numbers should be in high contrast and easy to see at all times (night and day) from a distance. The numbers should be no less than 4" (10cm) high.
House or unit numbers should be legible, contrast with the background, and be visible at night. This makes it easy for visitors and emergency personnel to quickly determine the location of a particular home. This is a safety feature that is often overlooked.
A doorbell at the main entrance should be present, with alert(s) that can be heard and seen throughout the home. The doorbell switch should incorporate a light for easy visibility at night.
There are many reasons that people who can hear might miss an audible alert, e.g., listening to loud music with headphones (esp. noise canceling), so visual alerts aren't a specialized feature only useful for the deaf/hard-of-hearing.
There should be two peepholes (high and low) in the front door -or- sidelight windows at the front door.
People should be able to see beyond doors that open to the outside. Windows in or beside (called sidelights) the door is a simple security feature. The ability to see what's on the other side of a door without opening it to potential unknown visitors is smart.
Peepholes are a great idea for multi-family buildings or areas that need more security, but keep in mind that they need to be usable for everyone. A peephole may be difficult to use for individuals with low vision or those who are unable to use it if mounted too high. The easiest solution is to drill another hole and install a second at a lower height.
Storm doors are not recommended for universal accessibility and should not be used unless required (see exception below).
Storm doors create an extra effort to open and close along with the main entrance door and often require more energy expenditure or manipulation than needed to enter or exit a home safely. They are particularly problematic for people who use mobility devices due to the automatic closer forcing the door closed, especially if someone depends on both hands to move (e.g., pushing a manual wheelchair).
Exception: local building code or HOA regulations
If a locality or HOA requires the use of a storm door, especially in regions that necessitate extra protection against wind, rain, and other elements, a storm door may be used if its handle can be operated with one hand and does not require pressing a button to unlatch (e.g., with a lever handle). Additionally, the automatic closer should either be removed or located between 18-48" (46-122cm) from the landing area so someone can operate the hold-open feature with their hand vs. their foot.
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