Accessible, Secure, and Safe: The impact of door hardware specifications

All photos © Dorma
All photos © Dorma

Ensuring architectural door hardware conforms to codes and standards has a close connection with the three essential issues in overall openings performance: accessibility, security, and life safety.

Several sources provide guidelines and standards on which door and architectural door hardware specification writers must rely. These include:

  • Underwriters Laboratories (UL);
  • Builders Hardware Manufacturers Association (BHMA);
  • National Fire Protection Association (NFPA); and
  • American National Standards Institute (ANSI).

Inclusions should also reflect the prevailing local authority having jurisdiction (AHJ) regarding specific building code compliances.

This article reviews issues around the writing of architectural door hardware specifications and how the proper selection of these products plays a major role in the overall safety and security of building occupants. It also details the significance of adhering to such standards to protect the well-being of users and the effectiveness of accessibility requirements. Further, it discusses aspects of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)—as they relate to doors and door hardware—and conformity with construction specifications issues.

Accessibility and ADA
Within the hierarchy of building code authority and compliances, ADA mandates specific design elements that must be considered and included in almost all new commercial construction. Portions of ADA (28 CFR Part 36) were revised in 2010 ADA Standards. When referenced, it serves as a guide influencing all aspects of building design, essentially asserting accessibility as a civil right. Covering several aspects of disability, ADA mandates the provision of accessibility to disabled persons in public places. It is a legally binding guideline, with compliance overseen by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ).

The effect of this landmark legislation has been close to universal. It is encountered from public-access buildings to private offices and dwellings, prescribing ramps, automatic operators, and low-energy operators requiring minimal force to open, is widely seen. Governing these low-energy devices is ANSI 156.19 American National Standard for Power Assist and Low-energy Power Operated Doors, which also requires a door still be capable of fully opening with a manual push, whether actuated by a push-button, push-plate, or motion or pressure sensor.

While ADA establishes accessibility guidelines at the federal level, some differences exist among many states and municipalities that adopted their own variations to accessibility requirements, going beyond those found in the act.

For example, within ADA Standards Section 404.2.9, “Door and Gate Opening Force,” the maximum opening force allowed for interior hinged doors and gates is 2.3 kg (5 lb). There are no guidelines in place for opening an exterior door. However, California Building Code (CBC) Section 1133B.2.5, “General Accessibility for Entrances, Exits, and Paths of Travel, Closer-effort to Operate Doors,” includes and extends the 2.3-kg opening force to exterior doors.

Many projects require compliance with ADA accessibility guidelines, in addition to those enacted by several state and local jurisdictions—International Code Council (ICC) A117.1-2009, Accessible and Usable Buildings and Facilities, can be referenced, making it the only accessibility standard enforceable by the building official unless amended by the jurisdiction. It is worthwhile to look at the distinction here, and its meaning for specification writing.

ICC A117.1-2009 is a companion standard ADA. It is a consensually established standard approved by ANSI and available for adoption and use by jurisdictions throughout the United States. ICC A117.1-2009 was originally developed by industry professionals in 1961 and was the first of its kind used for defining buildings’ accessibility requirements. Having preceded ADA by almost 30 years, elements of its evolution were adopted by local, state, and even federal jurisdictions as part of their building codes.

When operated manually, this low-energy power operator demands little physical effort.
When operated manually, this low-energy power operator demands little physical effort.

From one municipality to another, selective compliance with reference standards can significantly vary. Special accessories contributing to accessibility may or may not be cited in local code language. Manufacturers do not specifically advocate anything aside from what is required by the local AHJ. Nevertheless, many accessories can be of value, including bilingual egress instructions, braille markings, and photoluminescent (PL) pathway markings. Whether or not local codes require them, such accessories may be worth the extra cost, as they can enhance accessibility and safety. Additionally, the benefits may apply not only to persons with disabilities, but also to children, the elderly, those with temporary injuries, and the general public.

Door security
Architectural door hardware plays a vital role in establishing and maintaining both the building’s exterior and interior security. Industry-recognized standards that cover the security elements of architectural door hardware specifications are developed and administered by ANSI, BHMA, and UL.

In total, there are 37 lock standards designed to challenge the product to demonstrate its capabilities to meet and exceed buildings’ security demands. To successfully pass these standards, products are subjected to a multitude of demanding operational tests for:

  • strength;
  • durability;
  • corrosion resistance;
  • extended cycle performance; and
  • security elements.

The testing is performed by approved third-party independent testing labs. On successful completion of all tests required by the standard, a manufacturer can submit the test data to BHMA to have the products listed in the certified products directory.

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