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

February 1, 2012

All photos © Dorma[1]
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:

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.[2]
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:

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.

Low-energy operators are helpful for children, the elderly, persons with disabilities, or those carrying large objects or pushing carts.[3]
Low-energy operators are helpful for children, the elderly, persons with disabilities, or those carrying large objects or pushing carts.

An important point to note is the standards’ pass/fail criteria represent minimum industry acceptance levels, not upper-end boundaries. Some premium architectural hardware manufacturers market products exceeding these industry standards by factors of 10 or 15. For example, ANSI/BHMA 156.3, Exit Devices, Section 8.1, “Cycle Tests,” calls for actuating the device 500,000 cycles without incident. A few manufacturers have extended cycle testing of their exit devices beyond 15 million cycles, with third-party laboratory-witnessed documentation.

In preparing language for security devices, the specifier may encounter the need for highly specialized devices only used in certain building contexts. For instance, delayed egress unlocking is generally employed in healthcare buildings. The goal is to delay an unauthorized exit long enough for an alarm to alert staff and allow them to respond. As required by code, such a device delays exit hardware unlocking by 15 seconds. A longer delay could become a problem on the life-safety side. More recent applications for delayed egress unlocking apply to various security uses outside the healthcare category.

Ensuring life safety
Strict compliance to current life-safety codes and product listings has saved countless lives. Fire safety is the most critical issue related to door hardware specification. The specifications for fire-rated openings are driven by the local AHJ and prevailing local building codes. The standards that reference model codes making them mandatory include:

Exceptional appearance and accessibility can be achieved in specifying door hardware, even while meeting all life safety requirements.[4]
Exceptional appearance and accessibility can be achieved in specifying door hardware, even while meeting all life safety requirements.

Those unfamiliar with the realities of fire rating regarding doors and hardware may be surprised to learn relevant standards can apply a lower rating than those governing adjacent walls (i.e. the rating for the door/opening is 75 percent of the wall). However, there may be some exceptions. Some doors must have the same rating as the wall while some are permitted to be one-third of the wall rating, as seen in Table 716.5 of the 2012 International Building Code (IBC).

Fire ratings are stated in terms of time, so a given type of wall construction may have a four-hour fire rating, but the doors and hardware might be rated at 75 percent, equaling three hours. The theory behind this 75 percent wall-to-door ratio is rooted in the understanding doorways are to be kept clear of obstructions and debris, while an adjacent wall can have combustible material stored up against it.

This applies to the whole assembly, including the door itself and its moving and locking hardware. It should be noted the door’s resistance to penetration by flame is important, but not the only reason its fire rating becomes part of the finished specification. In terms of protecting life, a door structure’s integrity as a barrier to smoke and fumes (the toxic combustion produced by burning carpet, upholstery, plastics, and paper goods) may be more critical.

Contemporary fire-rated doors maintain performance in actual fires through fusible mechanisms causing doors to lock and remain locked at sustained high temperatures for the time required by AHJ and life-safety code.

One critical element of life-safety door hardware is the exit device—not unreasonably called the ‘panic device’ or ‘panic bar.’ In modern practice, this device, along with any other fire-listed locking component, delivers one-motion egress, a crucial capability in dangerous, high-stress situations. With the exception of residential applications, life-safety occupancy and building codes require rooms or gathering spaces with 50 or more occupants to have exit doors swinging in the direction of egress.

For assembly, educational, and daycare occupancies having 100 or more persons, the life-safety code generally requires the use of one or more exit devices, as per NFPA 101. The IBC sets the number lower to 50 or more occupants in high-hazard structures, and on doors in electrical rooms with over 1200A, greater than 1.8 m (6 ft) wide, and having over-current, switching, or controlling devices.

With care and skill by the specifier, entrance solutions can deliver both code compliance and an appealing contemporary design.[5]
With care and skill by the specifier, entrance solutions can deliver both code compliance and an appealing contemporary design.

The one-motion imperative requires users to simply push to actuate an exit device or rotate a lever for unlocking. The device must be operable even when hands cannot touch the hardware. The concept of one-motion egress dates back well over a century, to many fires in high-occupancy structures. Locked, poorly designed, or malfunctioning hardware has trapped people in some instances.

Regardless of what is contained in commonly cited reference standards such as NFPA, it is incumbent on specification writers to maintain a full knowledge and understanding of all local codes influencing the project for which they are writing architectural hardware specifications. Such codes are commonly more stringent than performance requirement standards, and the AHJ is the final authority whenever such a question arises. There is also a hierarchy of importance among general considerations specification writers confront. Therefore, a fire code governing door hardware must prevail over accessibility guidelines; it is a common-sense situation because of the relative impact of the two considerations.

Thorough understanding of the requirements for architectural door hardware—plus careful interpretation of all code requirements—make for huge challenges for the specification writer. Naturally, it is also necessary to satisfy the aesthetic interior design demands of the building owner.

It takes focus, skill, and expertise to ensure specified architectural door hardware is in full compliance with commonly referenced and recognized standards and listings such as those issued and maintained by ANSI, BHMA, and UL, and maintains compliance with all federal, state, and local accessibility requirements.

Robert Hasty, CSI, CDT, is a product marketing manager at Dorma. He has more than 20 years of experience in the building products industry. Hasty can be contacted via e-mail at[6]. 

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