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Modifying Narrow Doorways

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For Boomers & Their Aging Parents

Modifying Narrow Doorways

 
For those who use a wheelchair or other mobility device, doors and doorways frequently present a challenge. 
 
DOORWAY WIDTH:  Although the standard interior doorway width is 32”, many doorways are narrower and unable to accommodate a wheelchair or walker.  Particularly in older homes, bathroom doorways are often only 24” wide.  Given that a standard wheelchair is 24-27” wide you can easily imagine the problem.  If you take the wheelchair width,  allow an additional 1 ½” on both sides of the chair for finger clearance, then add a couple more inches for maneuvering anything other than a straight approach into the room,  a doorway needs to be minimally 32” and preferably 36” to allow for ease of entry.  So what are the solutions to the narrow door problem? 
 
1.  Replace the entire door and frame with a wider doorway.  This is the most costly solution and involves cutting the wall to accommodate a larger door – either a pocket (sliding) or swing door.  Depending on the size and layout of your bathroom, this solution may not even be possible because of vanity or fixture placement.  Opening up a doorway might also require moving the electric switches often found near the doorway entrance. Anticipated costs could run to $1,000 or more depending on your choice of door (pocket assembly, solid or hollow core, etc.) along with any electrical or plumbing shifts required.  
 
2.  Add Swing Away Hinges.  These hinges will replace the existing hinges on your door and enlarge the doorway opening by almost 2”.   Depending on the size of the existing doorway, this may provide the necessary minimum width for a wheelchair to get through.  If clearance is still tight,  you may want to attach some plastic laminate to the doorway so the wheelchair won’t damage it.   You can easily find these hinges online.  Prices range from $20 - $50/pair depending on the finish selected. 
 
3.  Remove the Door Stops.  The door stops are those narrow lengths of wood attached to the inside of the door jamb which are designed to create a stop for hinged doors when they close. By removing those stops you will add another ¾” clearance to the doorway.  Alternatively, you might want to cut back the stops so that they only are placed on the jamb 3-4' off the ground, allowing them at the top of the door but giving the clearance at the bottom where the wheelchair passes through. 
 
4.  Remove the door and door stops.  If privacy is not an issue, you can simply remove the pins from the hinges and lift off the door.  Or you can remove the hinges and other hardware, fill in the holes and repaint the doorframe.  By removing the existing door and stops you will gain an additional 2 ¼”-2 ¾” of clearance. 
 
DOOR HARDWARE:  It’s not difficult to push open a door or pull it shut if there is no excessive weight involved and the hardware is easy to grasp. Most locks, however, require fine dexterity and finger strength making them difficult to use for anyone who has arthritis.  Lever hardware is preferable to any kind of small twist knob.  Push button locks or sliding bolts are fairly easy for anyone to operate.  There are also magnetic card readers, remote controlled locks and push-button activated combination locks available on the market,  all of which work wellfor most people. 
 
THRESHOLDS: Any change in floor level greater than ½” can create a tripping hazard.  Thresholds can be either ramped or removed so they do not create any type of barrier.  In many cases you may be able to install a small, beveled ramp that abuts the edge of the threshold.  Alternatively, you may need to remove the threshold which entails cutting or prying up the threshold material itself and filling in the floor, or replacing a taller threshold with one that has a lower profile. 
 
When deciding which doors to modify for accessibility, consider easy access through at least one entrance door and all doors along the route between your bedroom and kitchen, dining, bathroom, and living area.  Those doors leading to seldom used rooms like guest rooms may not need to be modified.
 
 
 Susan Luxenberg
 President
 HomeSmart LLC
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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