We’ve all seen how awkward it can be for an exceptionally tall person to walk through an exceptionally small door frame. When designing a kitchen or bathroom, a lot of thought tends to go in to decisions such as counter height, sink height and even the positioning of shower heads. Why doesn’t the same thought process go into the positioning of door handles?
In 2020, USA Facts reported the average family in America has between three and four people. Further, consider the number of employees businesses have throughout the country. Whether we’re talking about a family of three or a business of 1,500 staff, door handles are something used by everyone in the family, making its accessibility important. As we dive into this topic, we’ll provide tips on choosing the correct door handle height for various spaces and will pose additional questions to consider. I think you’ll find there’s more to this process than meets the eye.
Exterior and Interior Door Handle Height
When you hear the words “door handle height”, your first thought likely goes to a front door, back door, or interior door of a home or office. The correct placement of door handles in each of these situations is important and here’s how you can be sure no detail is overlooked.
Consult with an architect or contractor when installing door handles on exterior and interior doors
The last thing you want to do is work hard on a home remodel or space improvement, only to find out it violates housing codes. There are plenty of resources online to help you decide with confidence the height of your door handles such as the American Legal Publishing Corporation and UpCodes. These sites are search engines and databases that store important, legal information such as housing codes for particular states within the United States.
The code states door handles and other hardware-related operating devices need to be installed between 34 and 48 inches above the floor. (Notice the mention of measuring from the floor up. We’ll discuss this more later.) One of the exceptions to this rule includes security hardware, which makes sense given its purpose. You may not want security handles and hardware easily accessible at all heights (if you have toddlers, you might know what I’m talking about.)
Are you abiding by The American with Disabilities Act (ADA)?
This is so important. By law, contractors and architects are required to follow guidelines submitted by the ADA when designing and constructing employer, government and public sector buildings and businesses.
If you’re researching door handle heights for projects such as these, there are likely going to be a few more hoops to jump through verses a residential project. SOSS Hardware, a manufacturer of door hardware, references sections of the ADA when providing guidance on door and hardware placement.
SOSS Hardware explains on their site, “The height of the door handle must be between a minimum of 34” and a maximum of 48”.
A few exceptions are included in the ADA bill. For instance, “pre-existing locks (most likely not applicable to new builds) and gates protecting pools, spas and hot tubs are allowed to be a bit higher (up to 54”).”
View the ADA bill for more information on this topic.
If installing a door handle in a residential space, consider the height that works best for the existing family and/or potential buyer
This may seem like common sense, but you might be surprised at how small details like these are overlooked with building or remodeling a home.
I recently heard about a house flipper in our neighborhood who initially forgot to have a door handle installed in her main bathroom. Talk about awkward…
As you research the best design and placement for your door handles, here are a few additional questions to consider
Should I choose a door knob or a door lever?
The door handle you choose for your space can help accentuate the design of the space it’s in. According to The Door Boutique and Hardware, benefits of choosing a traditional door knob include:
They’ve been around longer than handles or levers, making it easier to match vintage or original hardware in older homes or buildings.
There tends to be more variation in available styles. Since they’ve been in existence longer, there are more options available. For example, there is a good chance you’ll find a variety of round, oval and even square door knob styles at your local hardware store.
Benefits of choosing a door level include:
Door levers are much easier to grip and use. If the handle will be used by children, elderly or someone with a disability, installing a lever may be the way to go. These handles typically turn with ease and without the need for high hand dexterity.
Additionally, these handles tend to be convenient in spaces like garages, where you may need to open a door with your hands full of groceries or other supplies.
Kitchen Cabinet Door Handle Height
As the case with exterior and interior doors, choosing the right hardware is important. I won’t go into much detail here, but there are endless options for cabinet hardware. I recommend perusing your local hardware store such as Lowes or scrolling through Amazon for a variety of affordable options.
Taylor Craft Cabinet Door Company recommends placing cabinet handles in the center of the door stile (the piece of wood that typically frames the front of the cabinet), between 2-4 inches from the bottom of the cabinet door. For drawer handles, they recommend centering them horizontally and vertically on the front of the drawer.
Garage Door Handle Height
In an instructional manual posted by Home Depot on installing a residential garage door, they provide recommendations on installing the handle as well.
First, they recommend centering the garage door handles horizontally. Because most garage doors have the need for two handles, its recommended to place one handle toward the top of the garage door, centered between the upper door decorative panels (if applicable).
Then, place the second handle on the bottom half of the door, also centered in the same way. This allows for the user to have physical access to the handles regardless of whether the door is all the way down or stuck mid-way. Many people choose to omit the lower garage door handle as in the picture below and instead just grab the bottom of the garage door itself.
Shower Door Handle Height
My husband and I recently purchased two glass shower doors for our master bathroom and guest bathroom. One glass door came with predrilled holes for the handle, making it easier for us to determine the placement of the shower handle. Once installed, it looks like the handle will be perfectly centered on the door.
The second door we purchased, however, is just the sheet of glass without the predrilled holes or hardware. We purchased this item at a discounted price as a special-order return at a local hardware store.
After researching the standard height for glass shower door handles, we found that there isn’t necessarily a standard in terms of inches from the floor. Rather, the go-to installation height is perfectly centered between the bottom of the door to the top. In other words, the first glass door we ordered had this right! Once centered, it is recommended to position the door handle a couple of inches from the edge of the door, as you would a normal interior door knob.
Something to consider with shower doors is accessibility in situations involving handicap residents or users. Since there doesn’t appear to be a housing code specifically for the height of shower door handles, I would encourage families to get creative and make their bathroom work perfectly for its users. As always, its highly recommended to gut check any building or housing requirements with an architect or contractor before installation.
Ready to install your door handle?
Once you’ve chosen the perfect door handle for your project and are confident it meets any necessary criteria, the last step is to install (yay!) Here are a few quick tips when installing door handles at the appropriate height:
Always measure the height from the bottom of the door up to the center of the hole where the handle will be installed
If you measure from the top of the door to the handle, your handle will not end up in the correct spot on the door. Not only will it look a little too high on the door, but it will probably be a little awkward to use.
Secondly, there is a good chance it will fall outside of the required measurements mentioned above.
Don’t jump right to drilling
If installing a handle on a smaller project such as a cabinet, measure where you think you want to place the knob, stick a piece of tape in its place and take a step back.
This trick is often used when hanging frames on walls as decoration and can definitely be useful here as well.
If installing handles on multiple projects such as all of the kitchen cabinets, make sure you’re consistent! Record accurate measurements or even make a drilling template to ensure it’s all aligned. It can be such a sore to the eyes to see a beautifully furnished kitchen with unlevel or inconsistent hardware.
Hardware in kitchens and bathrooms can be an amazing decorative tool – don’t underestimate the impact it can have on a space!