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Jan 23 2014

Decoded: Clear Opening Width and Height (Updated June 2017)

Category: Accessibility,Articles,EgressLori @ 11:43 am Comments (16)

The original version of this post was printed in the February 2014 issue of Doors & Hardware

Updated June 2017

clear-widthAt the beginning of my career in the hardware industry, there was a lot of confusion about how to measure the clear opening width of doors. The codes and standards weren’t specific, so on doors with panic hardware, some fire marshals were taking the projection of the hardware into account when measuring the clear width.  Since then, the codes and standards have been clarified, and now include instructions for how to measure the width of a door opening; acceptable projections into the required clear opening width are also defined.

These requirements are found in the International Building Code (IBC), the International Fire Code (IFC), ICC A117.1 – Accessible and Usable Buildings and Facilities, the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design, and NFPA 101 – The Life Safety Code.  Note that the minimum clear opening width does not apply only to doors on an accessible route, but also to doors in a means of egress.

Clear Opening Width Requirements:

  • Doors must typically provide a minimum of 32 inches of clear opening width.
  • Clear opening width is measured between the face of the door and the stop on the strike jamb, with the door open 90 degrees.  In many cases, swing-clear hinges may be used to increase the clear opening width, by relocating the 90-degree position of the door.
  • For pairs of manually-operated doors, at least one leaf of the pair must provide 32 inches of clear opening width, when measured from the face of the open door to the edge of the inactive leaf in the closed position.  When replacing an existing pair of 30-inch doors, an unequal-leaf pair is usually required.
  • For pairs of automatic doors, the accessibility standards allow the full width of the opening (the clear width of all leaves in the open position) to be taken into account when measuring the clear opening width.  Adding automatic operators may be an acceptable way to resolve clear width problems on existing doors.  Note that the IBC requires one leaf of a pair to provide 32 inches clear, and does not differentiate between manually-operated and automatic doors with regard to clear opening width.
  • Sliding and folding doors in most locations must also provide at least 32 inches of clear opening width.  Accessibility standards require sliding doors – including pocket doors, to have surface-mounted hardware.  This hardware may prevent the doors from sliding fully-open; affecting the clear opening width.
  • PortalOpenings with or without doors which are more than 24 inches deep, must provide a clear opening width of at least 36 inches (see photo at right).
  • No projections are allowed into the required clear opening width between the floor and a point 34 inches above the floor.  This does not necessarily mean that nothing can project off the door; it means that nothing can project into the 32-inch required clear width dimension (note manual doors on an accessible route are not allowed to have any projections in the bottom 10 inches of the door height).
  • Projections into the required clear opening width of up to 4 inches are allowed between 34 inches and 80 inches above the floor.  Since operating hardware is required to be mounted between 34 inches and 48 inches above the floor, hardware is not taken into account unless it projects more than 4 inches into the required 32-inch clear opening.  Note that NFPA 101 limits these 4-inch projections to the hinge side of the opening, between 34 inches and 48 inches above the floor, solely for the purpose of accommodating panic hardware or fire exit hardware.
  • Projections into the clear opening width above 80 inches are not typically limited.
  • Some occupancy types require a greater clear opening width; for example, hospital doors used for the movement of beds are required to provide at least 41 ½ inches of clear opening width.
  • The IBC and IFC limit the maximum width of an egress door to 48 inches.  This dimension is not the maximum clear opening width, but the maximum door size.  This maximum dimension has been removed from recent editions of NFPA 101.
  • There are exceptions within the codes for some applications – for example, the IBC includes exceptions related to some doors in residential occupancies, Group I-3 sleeping rooms, small storage closets, and revolving doors.

The codes and standards also include a requirement for the minimum clear opening height.  The minimum headroom requirement is typically 80 inches nominal above the floor, with an allowance for the projection of the stop on the frame head.  Most publications have an exception for a door closer arm or overhead stop arm, which is allowed to project down into the required headroom as long as a dimension of 78 inches of headroom is maintained.  Other projections, such as electromagnetic locks, are not currently addressed in the codes and standards.

There are some exceptions to the requirements for the 32-inch clear opening width and 80-inch clear opening height, but typically these are the dimensions to keep in mind when specifying or supplying doors and hardware on an accessible route or in a means of egress.  Consult the applicable codes for exceptions.

Graphic:  International Building Code Commentary

16 Responses to “Decoded: Clear Opening Width and Height (Updated June 2017)”

  1. Thomas Howard says:

    Would the clear opening width requirement apply to a pair of double acting impact doors with no latching hardware?

    • Lori says:

      Hi Thomas –

      The codes and standards don’t exempt those doors, so technically I think the one leaf @ 32″ would apply, but it would be up to the AHJ. I could argue it both ways but when there isn’t something specific to point to I try to err on the side of caution.

      – Lori

  2. Ray says:

    Hi Lori,

    REF: projection 34″ AFF x 42″ clear width

    1008.1.1.1 Projections into clear width.
    There shall not be projections into the required clear width lower than 34 inches (864 mm) above the floor or ground. Projections into the clear opening width between 34 inches (864 mm) and 80 inches (2032 mm) above the floor or ground shall not exceed 4 inches (102 mm).

    Can I have a 42″ clear width x surface vertical BOTTOM rod (projection less than 4″)?


    • Lori says:

      Hi Ray –

      There are 2 things to consider here…the effect of the protruding hardware on the clear opening width, and the 10″ flush bottom rail requirement. It’s ok for the hardware to project off the door below 34″ as long as it doesn’t project into the required clear opening width. But because a manual door has to have a smooth surface on the push side, 10″ off the floor, a surface-mounted vertical rod and latch would not meet that requirement. Here’s some more info on that:

      – Lori

  3. Ray says:

    Thanks Lori,

    I will use a less bottom rod SVR or CVR in this case.

  4. Andy says:

    What about a pair of doors within a dwelling (new construction apartment building in this case) where the openings are 4’0 (2’0 x 2’0) or 5’0 (2’6 x 2’6) and are either storage closets or laundry closets? Would the 32″ requirement apply?

  5. Andy says:

    Hi Lori,

    What about pairs of doors within a dwelling (a new construction apartment building in this case) where doors are 4’0 (2’0 x 2’0) or 5’0 (2’6 x 2’6) and are for storage closets or laundry closets? Would the 32″ requirement apply?


    • Lori says:

      Hi Andy –

      Are the dwelling units required to be accessible, and do the doors require someone to pass through them or just reach into a shallow shelf?

      – Lori

  6. Andy says:

    They are ADA accessible units, but the closets in question would not require entry – you would open the doors to access the washer/dryer, or shelves/rods in closets. Thank you!

    • Lori says:

      An AHJ might disagree with me so it’s best to check with them, but the Fair Housing Act Best Practices Handbook ( says that the 32-inch clear width is required for doors intended for user passage and specifies “walk-in closets” as an example of a door that would have to comply. I would interpret that to mean “reach-in closets” are not required to have the 32-inch clear opening width.

      From the handbook:
      Within dwelling units, all doors intended for user passage must provide a “nominal” clear opening of at least 32 inches. The FHA Design Manual defines a “nominal” width as 31 ⅝ inches. Examples of usable doors include:
      • Doors to attached garages
      • Doors to unfinished attics and basements
      • Doors to walk-in closets
      • Doors to exterior spaces (such as balconies, patios and terraces)
      • Doors located in sunken or raised areas (such as lofts or sunken areas within rooms)

  7. Andy says:

    Thank you!

  8. B Chapman says:

    In a hospital patient room, would a door that has a 36″ active leaf and a 22″ inactive leaf be acceptable? The clear opening for bed mobility is around 57 or so inches with both doors open. With only the active leaf it’s under 36.

    • Lori says:

      Here’s what the 2012 edition of NFPA 101 says…according to (4), I would say the answer to your question is yes. The minimum clear width for doors in the means of egress from sleeping rooms; diagnostic and treatment areas, such as x-ray, surgery, or physical therapy; and nursery rooms shall be as follows:
      (1) Hospitals and nursing homes — 41 1/2 in. (1055 mm)
      (2) Psychiatric hospitals and limited care facilities— 32 in. (810 mm) The requirements of shall not apply where otherwise permitted by one of the following:
      (1) Doors that are located so as not to be subject to use by any health care occupant shall be not less than 32 in. (810 mm) in clear width.
      (2) Doors in exit stair enclosures shall be not less than 32 in. (810 mm) in clear width.
      (3) Doors serving newborn nurseries shall be not less than 32 in. (810 mm) in clear width.
      (4) Where a pair of doors is provided, all of the following criteria shall be met:
      (a) Not less than one of the doors shall provide not less than a 32 in. (810 mm) clear width opening.
      (b) A rabbet, bevel, or astragal shall be provided at the meeting edge.
      (c) The inactive door leaf shall have an automatic flush bolt to provide positive latching.

  9. Dr. Nabil Hanna Ph.D. says:

    Hi Lori
    We are always talking about minimum leaf width and height for fire exit doors , but what about the maximum dimensions allowed for fire doors equipped for fire exit devices as what I know is that 4′ wide X 10′ height as indicated in all the exit devices catalogs.
    Where to find in the NFP 80 other than SDI A250

    • Lori says:

      Hi Nabil –

      The IBC includes a maximum width for egress doors of 48 inches. For the maximum door size for a fire door, you would have to refer to the individual manufacturer’s listings to see what their maximum size is.

      – Lori

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