Mother-in-law door - Canadianism? 
Posted: 20 March 2013 08:06 AM   [ Ignore ]
RankRankRank
Total Posts:  340
Joined  2007-02-13

A few years ago a friend from the Catskills in upstate New York told me that when you see one of those doors on the 2nd floor of a building without any stairs leading up to it, that’s called a mother-in-law door.

Yesterday at work I told someone about “mother-in-law doors” and I decided to look up the origin on-line.  The first few Google entries point to a Newfoundland origin.  One explanation was that in 1949 the people of the newly-confederated Province were told by Ottawa that two doors were required in all houses, for fire safety.  The Newfies being good citizens complied with the law by adding another door where needed, yet with a streak of independence they neglected to install staircases and left the doors to just open out into thin air.  The mother-in-law joke naturally followed.

There is no entry in the DCHP online for mother-in-law door.  Does anyone know if it’s really a Canadianism?

Profile
 
 
Posted: 20 March 2013 10:00 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
Administrator
Avatar
RankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  4809
Joined  2007-01-03

Looking at the top Google hits, it does appear to be a Newfoundland term. I’m dubious of the story about the fire safety requirement; that smacks of urban legend.

It’s not in the Dictionary of Newfoundland English, though.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 20 March 2013 10:36 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
Avatar
RankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  1297
Joined  2007-03-21

two doors were required in all houses, for fire safety.

I’m dubious of the story about the fire safety requirement; that smacks of urban legend.

Two doors (entrances/exits) are required for fire safety where I live. It would be against fire code if a person were to live, say, in a basement and there is only one set of stairs and exit door.

In Alberta, for example:

There shall be a separate exit from the secondary suite to the outside. Occupants of each suite must have a direct path to the outside without having to go through another dwelling.

but the line about just a window and no stairs is likely an urban legend.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 20 March 2013 01:18 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
Avatar
RankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  3149
Joined  2007-02-26

So seriously, what is the deal with those stairless doors, then? Just a case of poor planning?

Profile
 
 
Posted: 20 March 2013 02:13 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
Administrator
Avatar
RankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  4809
Joined  2007-01-03

I would guess in most cases they are due to the exterior staircase not being maintained, falling apart, and then being removed. Like decks, exterior stairs don’t last as long as the building proper, especially if constructed under old building codes. I’ve seen similar doors in lots of places, and I’ve never been to Newfoundland. The name may be from Newfoundland, but the phenomenon is global.

In most cases you’re not required to retrofit buildings, especially private homes, to new building codes unless there is some major structural modification. I don’t know what happened with building codes in Newfoundland in 1949, but I find it doubtful that there would be requirement to modify homes.

Profile
 
 
Posted: 20 March 2013 02:53 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
Avatar
RankRankRankRankRank
Total Posts:  3149
Joined  2007-02-26

In my head, I’ll call it the Wile E. Coyote door.

EDIT: In fairness, a first floor (or as you would call it, second floor) door with no staircase might be better than a kick in the head as an emergency fire exit as you’d be unlikely to suffer serious injury jumping one floor.

As Peter Griffin says, “but I digest”.

[ Edited: 20 March 2013 02:58 PM by OP Tipping ]
Profile
 
 
   
 
 
‹‹ datation      Dystextia ››