What's The Minimum Hallway Width Allowed By Law?

Upgraded Home Team
by Upgraded Home Team

Building your dream home can be exciting and stressful at the same time. It can be exciting because you are finally building the home you’ve wanted for years. However, it can be stressful because there’s so much to account for, regardless if you’re planning on building it with your own hands or hiring a contractor. One of the things that stress new home builders out the most is ensuring they build a house according to code.

The official minimum hallway width by law is 36 inches or 3 feet. This is the requirement for your hallway to be considered hazard-free in case of an emergency. We recommend making your hallway wider than three feet for optimal comfort, such as four feet (48 inches).

In this article, we will explain why your hallway must be at least 3 feet wide. However, we recommend building your hallways wider to give you the chance to incorporate some design in your home. We understand that your budget may not allow for wider hallways, and that’s okay! We also share some tips to help create an open look within that cramped space.

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Why Does The Law Require A Minimum Of 3 Feet?

When it comes down to what the law requires regarding your hallway width, this is the width specialists have determined emergency personnel would need in the event you require assistance. If you happened to have a fire or a medical emergency, first responders need to have access to your hallway. This means that the gurney needs to fit down your hallway with at least one fire or EMT personnel standing next to it.

As far as a fire goes, there needs to be room for fire personnel to carry their gear as well as a person down the hallway. If a hallway was less than 36 inches wide, then they may not be able to get into the home with their gear to save someone’s life. So, what it boils down to is home safety and emergency services accessibility.

Reasons Your Hallway Should Be Wider Than 36 Inches

Unless you’ve dreamed of 36-inch hallways in your dream house (Which you probably haven’t, unless you planned on building a tiny home or a hobbit home), you shouldn’t settle for the minimum. It would be best if you considered building a house with a hallway wider than 36 inches.

With a hallway this narrow, you’ll run into a lot of issues, such as:

  • Having complications with moving furniture through the hallway
  • Struggling to limit the crowding and traffic through the hallways
  • Limited ability to design or decorate your hallways the way you want

Moving Furniture Through 3 Foot Wide Hallways

With a hallway that’s 36 inches wide, you’re going to find it difficult to navigate any furniture throughout your home. Whether it’s a bed, couch, or even something as simple as a nightstand, you’re going to have issues getting it down the hallway. Not to mention, what if you decide you want a little plant stand in the entrance to the hallway? Having one so narrow will make this almost impossible.

Let’s use a heavy couch, for example, and assume you’re placing one in the master bedroom at the end of a 3-foot wide hallway. Depending on your sofa, it will weigh anywhere between 280 to 400 pounds. With a couch this heavy, you’re going to want 3 to 4 people to carry it. If you have a hallway that’s 36 inches, how will anyone fit on the sides of the couch to assist you?


If small spaces make you feel uncomfortable, this is just another reason to consider making your hallways bigger than 36 inches. Three feet is the bare minimum, and it’ll make it feel like you’re walking down a mouse tube. Your claustrophobia will be even more amplified with any furniture occupying an already limited space.

Also, don’t forget about the individuals that will live in the home with you. How much hallway traffic do you anticipate having? Are you someone who hosts dinner parties or events at your house? If you’re claustrophobic, the last thing you’ll want to do is ‘squeeze’ by multiple people when trying to walk down your own hallway.

Larger Hallways Open The Opportunity For More Design Options

There is a lot you can do with a taller and broader hallway that you can’t do with a smaller one. For instance, you can:

  • Use divots in the ceiling or wall to display features of your house.
  • Opt to have a wooden beam in the ceiling like an arch
  • Use the wall divots to display art, photos, or objects such as surfboards.
  • Build furniture into your hallways, such as shelves for books or some drawers.

Creating an arch with your hallways allows you to create more focal points in your home. The focal point should be centered at the end of the archway, drawing your eye in. Guests will feel propelled by curiosity to see what’s at the end of the hall, like a child drawn to candy.

Built-In Furniture In Your Hallway

You can also have furniture built into the hallway. Having a dresser built-in would allow you to save on space while enhancing the look of the area. Another build-in to consider would be library shelves. With a wide enough hallway with ample lighting, the hallway could even host a reading nook.

Without the help of a seasoned architect, it’ll be hard to make your home flow into a 36-inch hallway without it looking like a black market alleyway. As stated before, most furniture you put in a hallway that’s only 36 inches will either obstruct the path or make it look more awkward.

What If Your Budget Doesn’t Allow For Larger Hallways

We understand that sometimes, your budget doesn’t allow you to do what you want to when it comes to building or home renovations. While it would be ideal for you to have a hallway that’s larger than 36-inches, it might be impossible for your situation, and that’s okay! So, what can you do in this situation?

Raise Your Ceiling

Some ways to make your hallway appear larger is by raising your ceiling. The minimum ceiling height of a hallway is 7 feet, but with an already narrow width, having a ceiling of only 7 feet will still leave it feeling cramped. Raising the ceiling will allow for more ceiling decoration, which may take away from the fact that your hallway is so narrow.

Have Adequate Lighting

Lighting is essential in a 36-inch hallway, so consider lights in the ceiling of the hallway. Don’t let your hall look like a path through a sketchy New York alley. The only decorations you can get in a 3 feet hallway comfortably are photos and art. With ample lighting, this should also take away the cramped look.

You can also install a couple of skylights throughout the hallways. This will allow the natural light to penetrate the hallways, giving them more of an ‘open’ feel. In addition, if your hallway runs along an exterior wall, it might be a good idea to install several windows.

Paint Your Hallway

Of course, when you’re finished building, you’re going to need to paint your home. As far as your hallways go, the most essential thing that you’ll want to do at this stage is to choose a color that creates an open feel.

Some colors that are great for narrow hallways are:

  • Light gray
  • Tan
  • Taupe
  • Light greens
  • Light Blues
  • Creams

No matter what color you choose, it’s a good idea to add a gloss or satin finish to the paint. This will help to reflect the light more, and not to mention; it is easier to clean!

Points To Consider When Choosing Your Hallway Width

When deciding what width is right for you, you have to also think about several other factors, such as:

  • Ceiling height
  • Any furniture you want in the hallway
  • The layout

Also, a wide hallway is excellent, only as long as the ceiling matches. If the space is too wide, but the ceiling is too low, it could be disorienting. While the hall will be beautiful and spacious width-wise, your guest may find their eyes drawn to the ceiling and wonder why it feels so close compared to the walls. So, when increasing the width of your hall, increase the height of the hallway.

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Wrapping Up

A home isn’t just a space that you exist within. It’s meant to reflect your character and your personality. So, while the building codes call for a minimum of 36-inches in width for your hallways, it’s a good idea to make them wider. Choosing to build your hallways wider allows more choice for design and decoration.

However, your budget might not allow you to widen your hallways. If that’s the case, you can raise your ceilings and install sources that will allow natural light to flood your hallway. In addition, you can paint your hallway a color that will help to open the space. If you mix all of these elements, you’ll have created the ultimate open space illusion.

Upgraded Home Team
Upgraded Home Team

We are a team of passionate homeowners, home improvement pros, and DIY enthusiasts who enjoy sharing home improvement, housekeeping, decorating, and more with other homeowners! Whether you're looking for a step-by-step guide on fixing an appliance or the cost of installing a fence, we've here to help.

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