Requests to add keyless control to a door often start with the customer saying, “I want to buzz in.” Besides revealing to the locksmith that an electric strike needs to be installed, the customer inadvertently is telling the locksmith that he or she doesn’t know what an installation entails.
Keyless hardware is required to operate safely, securely, and reliably while complying with applicable fire and building codes. Keyless hardware is held to more stringent use requirements; therefore retrofitting requires reevaluating existing usage. Sometimes, after talking with the locksmith, the customer is introduced to alternatives that are more apropos to the application.
IN PURSUIT OF CONVENIENCE
What motivates the customer to request installation is convenience. There usually is some repetitive action requiring a key or action that costs the customer time or effort.
Medical offices need electric locks to separate public waiting rooms from service areas. Warehouses and parts stores require back doors where delivery services can ring and then be “buzzed” in.
Pizza stores that stay open after hours secure their front entries with electric locks. When patrons or returning delivery jockeys are at the front door, they can decide when to allow entry.
You can bet that when a customer approaches a locksmith in regards to electric lock installation, that customer has weighed cost to implement to get the convenience. What usually hasn’t been considered is how the installation will impact liability, impede life safety, or become a maintenance nightmare.
Fortunately there are solutions to address every concern. Sometimes these solutions cost more than the customer originally anticipated.
Problems occur when an electric strike is installed without considering the brand and model of lockset or exit device with which it is matched. It is common to see electric strikes that allow the dead latch button portion of a latch assembly to fall into the latch cavity of the strike. When this occurs, the latch can be “carded” or “loided.”
There have been cases in where employees, working alone, were accosted by criminals who made entry by “carding” or “loiding” the lockset. Companies have been held to be negligent by disregarding the employee’s safety under after hour conditions.
Electric locksets can be a problem in this regard. Locksmiths should always check with the manufacturer of the electric lockset they install to make sure that the lockset can’t be bumped open.
Electric locksets have been around since the sixties. Back then many electric locksets could be “slapped” open with the bottom of a shoe. The technique required applying a slight amount of turning pressure on the knob (there were no levers then) with one hand, and then slapping the lock with the bottom of your shoe (shoe in hand) quickly. This would bounce the internal solenoid and allow the lockset to be opened, without hurting the lock.
Back then, the makers of many electric locksets weren’t interested in fixing the flaw until levers became popular. Levers accentuated the problem as the lever made for the perfect built-in “tension bar.”
Today almost all electric locksets incorporate components that thwart this trick or they use internal motors rather than solenoids. In spite of vast improvements, locksmiths needs to check to make sure their favorite electric lockset can’t be “bumped” or “slapped” open.
Electric deadbolts can be a liability. Of course electric deadbolts need to be fail-safe, but always consider that any bolt can be held shut if pressure is first applied to the door before releasing. Where this usually is not a problem, imagine pressure being continually held against a door in the case of an emergency where persons congregate at a require exit.
Electric deadbolts are especially vulnerable during an earthquake. Where a deadbolt could normally work fine, during an earthquake the door could shift and lodge the deadbolt so that it can’t retract.
Electric deadbolts are also sensitive to weather as any build-up of the bolt could create a situation where the bolt seizes while in the door.
In Figure 03, the only entry into this old building was through this door. The door would not open as the bolt was seized-up inside the door. An emergency opening required removing the shunt switch and plate, left of the deadbolt, and then using car-opening tools to realign the bolt for retraction.
(A side-note to this is that this could have been dangerous as it was assumed that this was a low-voltage deadbolt. It wasn’t.)
Before delayed-action electric hardware is installed, check with the AHJ (Authority Having Jurisdiction) who is usually the local fire marshal or building inspector. These devices require their approval before implementation.
Liability can occur if these are installed without specific approval. There is a case in which persons needed to leave an area immediately and could not. Later when it was discovered the company installed these without specific approval, the company was successfully sued.
Special knowledge is another concern regarding the egress of all types of electric hardware. It isn’t always evident how to exit a door equipped with electric locks, especially in the case of delayed-action exit devices.
Check with the AHJ for proper signage. It will vary by location and jurisdiction.
Sometimes the AHJ will require large buttons that will shunt the power to a lock for a specified amount of time.
Remember that the “single-action” out rule applies to all electric lock installations. If an electric lock is being added to a door and is working in conjunction with a mechanical lockset, the release of all locks on the door must take place with a “single action.”
WORKING WITH THE AHJ
It is important to be in compliance with the AHJ. Details relating to the installation can be upgraded by the AHJ and the locksmith is responsible for knowing those details.
In Figure 05, and electrified exit device has been added to a storefront (aluminum and glass) door. Although it wasn’t required by uniform code, the AHJ required concealed power transfer normally used when applying electrified doors to fire assemblies.
This wasn’t a fire assembly, but the AHJ noted that the alternative means to transfer power to the exit device called for an offset electrified pivot. He cited that in his jurisdiction the electrified pivots often failed, and he also wanted to see thicker wire used to carry the voltage. Had the locksmith installed these and it was later caught, it would be the locksmith that would be paying for the correction.
On a later occasion, because of the close working relationship of the locksmith, the AHJ approved the use of a prototype cabinet lock (see Figure 06) for use in a hospital.
FIRE AND BUILDING CODES
Of course and electric lock installation is required to comply with all applicable fire and building codes.
Electric locks conform to both general regulations for locks and specific regulations for electric locks. This means that an existing use for a mechanical lock may need to be reviewed if an electric lock is retrofitted.
Electric locks enable electronic control. Fire and building codes are concerned with the enhancement that electronic control brings. Any function that inhibits egress (for example; delayed-action systems) are made to be regulated by the building emergency control center. When auxiliary electric locks are synchronized with the primary mechanical locks, these systems are also tied to the emergency control center to guarantee immediate egress when signaled.
There are ingress concerns. First Responders need immediate access into all areas of buildings. There is always great concern and attention towards those doors equipped with electric locks without a means to access those doors (mechanical override) with a key. Electric locks that provide the convenience of keyless access should still offer mechanical override by a master key that is available to first responders.
It isn’t just the fire department; many local law enforcement agencies are adopting new policies that concern immediate access to all parts of a building. The Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department has adopted an “Active Shooter” policy. Recent shootings reflect a trend where a crazed shooter runs wild through a school or shopping mall. Where in the past law enforcement's policy was to contain the situation and move carefully, an “Active Shooter” policy involves bringing overwhelming force into the area to limit the carnage.
What this means is that areas of a building that will be converted to electric locks should always be immediately accessible by mechanical key override.
When added to a fire assembly, electric locks need to maintain the integrity of the door and frame. Remember that the integrity of fire assemblies require that all parts will be operable to certain temperatures and then will deliberately fail at higher temperatures so that the doors will remain attached to the jambs. Every component added to a fire assembly can potentially degrade the integrity.
For example, something as harmless as a sign stating the hours the door can be electronically accessed, can create a problem if mounted to the interior skin of a fire door. During a fire, the fastener could melt and then drop the sign onto the lever where the door then comes open and everything burns. The sign isn’t required to be fire-rated, but the example shows how easy it is to degrade integrity.
The locksmith must consider the impact of switches, contacts, door transfers, indicator lights, and other components that might be added to the fire assembly.
Doors must be self-closing. Before talking hardware and pricing, the locksmith should inspect doors that need to be converted.
If the doors are in poor working condition, they must be fixed prior to installing new hardware. If the locksmith goes forward with the installation without repairing doors, problems will mount, and when called out to address the problems, it will be difficult to discriminate warranty issues.
Most electric lock installations rely on doors that are positively self-closing. Anemic door closers need to be replaced. This is especially true with storefront doors.
Center-hung storefront doors usually are closed using a concealed door closer mounting inside the top rail. The forte of these types of closers is being able to operate in both directions. When asked to mount electric locks on these types of doors, the locksmith must perform the following tasks. The closer needs to be deactivated or removed; a pivot conversion kit or new top rail needs to be installed; door stop needs to be installed so the door can only swing outward; and then a heavy-duty closer installed.
Storefront doors that only open outward but are still self-closing via a “J”-arm attached to the concealed closer will need the “J”-arm removed; and then a heavy-duty closer installed.
Hollow metal or wooden doors with weak closers will have their closers removed and heavy-duty closers installed.
Double doors present special problems when installing electric locks as latching must occur at the top rail and threshold, simultaneously.
Electric locks that can be used on double doors are: electric-retracting exit devices, shear locks or magnetic locks working in conjunction mechanical vertical-rod exit devices.
For added convenience, both leafs of a set of double doors are sometimes electrified. This is a bad idea as both leafs release upon activation. The leaf that is accessed is allowed to swing closed and latch. The leaf that was not accessed might have come unlatched and without the momentum of the door being swung closed, the leaf might not securely latch, creating a situation where the door can later be pulled opened when it should be latched.
Additionally, only one leaf needs to be electrified. Electrifying both leafs is an unnecessary expense and increases the complexity of the installation twofold.
Whenever possible talk the customer into having a removable mullion installed in the center of the doors as it will make for a stronger installation by allowing an exit device to fasten in the middle of the frame versus top-and-bottom latching at the top rail and threshold. The cost of the removable mullion will be offset as electrified vertical-rod exit devices are much more expensive when compared with single-point latch equivalents. Before installing the removable mullion make sure that the AHJ approves.
AVOID MAINTENANCE TRAPS
Assuring the right hardware is installed eliminates needless callbacks. Let the customer know upfront if the hardware the customer has in mind to install is going to require callbacks.
For example, the customer might be set on using magnetic locks in an area where air pressure constantly fluctuates. During times where the air pressure is great, the closer might not be strong enough to bring the magnet close enough to grab the armature. The closer might be adjusted to compensate for this. At other times when the pressure is weak, the armature slams against the magnet, requiring another closer adjustment.
Up front, a power-assist closer needs to be recommended to address the air imbalance. If the customer balks at the added expense, note the condition during the original assessment and the fact the customer declined the suggestion.
Weather conditions can accelerate the need for maintenance.
In Figures 07 and 08, rust creeps in under an electric strike mounted less than 90 days. This is near the ocean where all types of electric hardware take a beating when exposed to the elements.
The installation of under-sized electric strikes can require continual maintenance, especially in high-traffic areas.
STANDALONE ELECTRIFIED LOCKSETS
Today’s standalone electrified locksets are outstanding choices for alternatives when considering the installation of electric locks. They are easy and less expensive to install; they usually comply with all codes; they are inexpensive as the cost to install saves many labor hours.
Modern standalones feature long battery life, and integrate several of the components that are normal parts of the installation. Some standalones offer wireless operation by key fob.