Which Way Does Your Door Swing?

Previously I mentioned how doors – especially pre-hung ones – are susceptible to being kicked in, and I offered a cheap and fairly easy way of diminishing that threat.  Another thought that may occur to folks is some approximation of, “Well, if doors are hard to kick in, why not make it so the door swings out?  That way the attacker has to fight against the whole door frame!”

Strictly speaking, yes, it is massively harder to kick in an outward-swinging door than it is to kick in an inward-swinging door, however, there are two significant details you should be mindful of before flipping all your doors around.

First, average residential hinges are meant to be easily disassembled.  It does not even take special tools – all you really need is a hammer and a flat-head screwdriver with a narrow head (if not, a normal flat-head and a Phillips-head).

Put the narrow-head screwdriver directly beneath the hinge, in the hole for the pin.  Use the hammer to gently pop out the top of the pin, and then you can remove the pin entirely with the flat-head screwdriver and some more taps from the hammer.

And that is literally all it takes.

Once the hinge pin has been removed, no matter how many deadbolts or locks you have on your door, the aggressor can simply twist it out of its door frame and set it to the side.  Obviously if an intruder wanted to be a little more aggressive, he could use an angle grinder to simply cut off the hinges, but that brings us back to “every house can be broken into by a reciprocating saw”; we are trying to protect against the sneakier kinds of attacks.

There are three significant ways to protect against this happening, but only one adequately defends against removing the pin and grinding off the hinge.

  • Non-removable hinge pins.  These hinges are exactly what they sound like – at the factory, the hinge pin is mushroomed on both sides of the hinge, and cannot ever be removed.  These are probably the least-recommended option, because replacing the door requires unscrewing it, rather than just removing the pins.
  • Set screw hinges.  In this case, a small set screw – inaccessible when the door is closed – locks the pin into the hinge.  Unfortunately, neither these nor hinges with non-removable pins will protect against destructive attacks.
  • Stud hinges.  Thankfully, this design does hold fast against both attacks.  These hinges integrate any number of studs that project off one hinge plate and slot into the other.  Thus, even if the hinge itself is ground off, the studs and deadbolts will hold the door in the frame.  Modifications to the door are probably required, but, conveniently, studs can be retrofitted on existing hinges.

But, really, if someone can grind off your door hinges, they can probably just cut clean through the door, too.

Second, an outward swinging door gives an intruder direct access to your deadbolt bolt and doorknob latch.

img_20170207_175747963That small gap between your door and its frame is more than enough space for someone to fit a circular saw blade, the aforementioned angle grinder, or even a crowbar.  And as you may have learned two weeks ago, even the highest ANSI-graded deadbolt only has to withstand five minutes of sawing.

Worse, if you do not employ a deadbolt, a doorknob latch can literally be defeated by a credit card, just like in the movies.

Both cutting and “credit card” attacks can be delayed/defeated, but the solution is to literally mount a plate of metal to the exterior of your door that covers the latch area of the door and frame.  This is far from the most aesthetically-pleasing home improvement, and may not even work with certain types of trim.

I mentioned crowbars above, and while the firefighter in this video is not using a crowbar in the traditional sense and is not working on a residential door, it will give you an idea of how easy that kind of attack can be on a non-commercial door with a wooden frame.

(As an aside, firefighter training videos are a wonderful repository of destructive entry methods.)

Truthfully, there is really no way to defend against this kind of attack.  You can delay it massively by using steel doors, steel door frames, and a masonry surround, and then making the door flush with the frame, with the whole assembly sunk into the masonry… but I think we just sailed clear past a “residential” solution.

In my opinion, for whatever that is worth,  unless there is a legitimate reason, structural, environmental, or otherwise, for having one, outward-swinging exterior doors should generally be avoided.  You are trading the danger of the door being kicked down – which can be mitigated – for the danger of it either being removed from its hinges or simply popped open.

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