Taking on Door Closer Service

Aug. 1, 2005
The service life of a lock is directly dependant upon how well the door closer performs.

Door closer service and lock service are inter-related.
The service life of a lock is directly dependant upon how well the door closer performs.

I remember when I got serious about door closers. I was visiting my good friend George Redmond at Redmond’s Key Service. We were about to go to lunch and George wanted to make one stop at a shop a few doors down. He explained that he had to change a top arm on a storefront door and asked if I wanted to help.

I accepted but explained to George that I have never worked on storefront doors or the closers and certainly wouldn’t attempt to pull the door by myself. I further explained that I considered store front doors work for glazers, not locksmiths.

George was shocked and couldn’t understand why I would pass up the “easy bucks.” He also explained that glazers typically wouldn’t just replace the top arm. Instead, the customer foots the bill for an entire closer replacement, top arm included.

Anyone who knew George knew he wasn’t in the best of health and he was a bulldog when it came to servicing anything on a door. George never turned down a job, especially if it paid well.

After picking up a few tools and a stepladder, George and I walked to the location. Because I had never worked on a storefront door, George insisted I watch.

He easily removed the store front door, replaced the top arm of the closer, then reinstalled and adjusted all, in less than 20 minutes. In less than 20 minutes, my attitude changed regarding door closers.

Door closer service and lock service are inter-related. The service life of a lock is directly dependant upon how well the door closer performs.

That was back in the early 80s, and it was hard for locksmiths to get storefront parts. This has all changed with lock distributors carrying all types of storefront and door closer parts.

George has since passed away. He was a great locksmith, and I learned a great deal from him.

Who works on door closers?
Finish carpenters will install door closers as part of the sub-routine when called upon to “hang” (or install) a door. The carpenter will install a door hardware including the closer and lock. Carpenters are not usually associated with servicing the door closer (or lock) once it has been installed and the warranty period has expired.

Glazers routinely install door closers associated with store front doors. Glazers will also provide services after the warranty period. Glazers usually will not replace parts on a door closer.

In recent years, some glazing companies have expanded their scope of operations to also cover commercial doors. These companies will install and service closers (and locks) on commercial hollow-metal doors.

Locksmiths are used to replacing damaged lock parts. Locksmiths will install and service all kinds of door closers, including those found on storefront doors.

ecause this is second nature to locksmiths, they are more likely to replace damaged door closer parts than to install a new door closer.

Why should the locksmith work on door closers?
Door closer parts and fasteners are very similar to lockset or exit device equivalents. Similar tools are used to install and service door closers and locks, with the exception of certain wrenches that are usually included with the door closers.

The door closer, like other door hardware components, must work properly if the lock is to perform well.

Door closer installation and servicing is profitable, and in demand.

Types of door closers
Door closers can be differentiated as either surface-mounted or concealed. Surface-mounted closers are further differentiated by how they are mounted:
Top-mounted is where the closer body is attached to the push side of the jamb face and the closer arm is attached to the push side of the door. The closer arm rod is perpendicular with the door face.

Pull-mounted is where the closer body is attached to the pull side of the door and the closer arm is attached to the pull side of the jamb face. The closer arm rod is perpendicular with the door face.

Parallel-mounted is where the closer body is attached to the push side of the door and the closer arm is attached to the push side of the jamb face. At rest, the closer arm is mounted so that it is tucked into the width of the jamb. The closer forearm is “parallel” with the door face.

Concealed closers can be further differentiated by where they are mounted:
Top-mounted is where the closer body is recessed into the header rail of the jamb and the closer arm is attached to the top of the door.

Floor-mounted is where the closer body is recessed into the door threshold and the arm is attached to the bottom of the door.

Notice the relationship of the closer arm to the closer body in Figure1, Figure 2, and Figure 3. In Figure 1 and Figure 2, the closer arm rod is perpendicular to the face of the door. In Figure 3, the closer forearm is parallel to the door.

It is essential that these relationships be respected. Failure to respect these relationships will cause: failures to one or more of the door controls, rough door operations or an unpredictable maximum door opening.

Once you have committed to memory how the closer arms should look, it will be easy to spot a closer out of adjustment due to the relationship of the closer arm to the closer body.

In Figure 4, it is easy to spot closer arms that are either installed incorrectly or the arms are out of adjustment.

Surface-mounted closers are easier to work on as all the components are readily available and the door does not have to be pulled. They are easier to install as the door is mounted to the jamb during the install.

Concealed closers require the door to be pulled to work on them. When installed on exterior doors, concealed closers are more vulnerable to weather, as part of the closer is extends to the outside of the building.

Floor closer are especially vulnerable to flooding as water hits the closer directly or is drawn in by osmosis through the exterior concrete.

Closers are not necessarily pretty. For that reason, building architects or the agents of architects often choose concealed closers for aesthetics. Surface-mounted closers with decorative finishes can add to aesthetics.

Without a door closer, a door would be thrown open, either damaging the door, the wall, or a person caught in the swing. A door would slam shut to the point of similar damage.

Proper door control is essential to preventing damage and maintaining life-safety.

Five Stages of Door Operation
Proper door control is achieved by controlling five stages of door operation (Figure 6):
Opening Arc. As the door is opened, the process must be smooth and easily performed. Doors that must comply with barrier-restrictions must be operable with a prescribed maximum force.

Backcheck. Once the opening swing has been performed, the backcheck offers sufficient resistance the keep the door from abruptly stopping. This “cushions” the stop so that the door or wall is not damaged. Some closers provide a variable backcheck so that if a door is swung open quickly (by the wind for instance), the backcheck is self-adjusts to greater resistance than normal.

Delayed Action. Some doors are required to meet ADA or barrier standards designed to accommodate the passing of wheelchairs or persons with walkers or crutches. These doors will feature a delay action, allowing for a slower passing through of the door.

Closing Arc. The speed of the closing arc can be adjusted from slow to swift. Additional forces like wind or manual pressure are made to be resisted by the door closer.

Latching Arc. A door can be made to close swiftly through the closing arc, then slowly through the latching arc. The latching arc is the last few inches of the closing operation. The latching arc prevents persons from getting their fingers crushed when a door closes to fast.

Door control adjustments are determined by the door service.

If the door serves as a barrier-free entry, the opening arc will be controlled to be easily opened. The delayed action will be tuned to provide a slow swing for about 75 degrees, then a normal speed will continue through the closing arc.

If a door serves as a popular building exit, the delayed action will be turned off and the closing arc will be tuned to provide a swift closing.

If the door serves a courtroom or library, the latching arc will be especially slow so that the door doesn’t slam and create a distraction.

In Figure 7, door controls can be achieved by turning each hydraulic valve. The delayed-action control is not displayed as this is usually optional and is not featured in this illustration.

Of course the door controls cannot be adjusted correctly if the door closer is too weak or strong for the door it is intended to control.

Closer sizes
It is necessary to match the closer size with the door. All closers are sized by the weight of doors they are to control.
Closer sizes are designated as 2 through 6.
There are two tables to consider as exterior doors are built heavier than interior doors.

24” to 30” use a #3 closer size
30” to 36” use a #4 closer size
36” to 42” use a #5 closer size
42” to 48” use a #6 closer size

24” to 34” use a #2 closer size
34” to 38” use a #3 closer size
38” to 48” use a #4 closer size
48” to 54” use a #5 closer size
54” to 60” use a #6 closer size

In each case, the width of the door increases the weight proportionately. However, not all doors follow the above tables. Some doors are heavier, resulting in a larger closer size required to adequately close the door.

Some door closers come non-sized. That is they are adjustable from 2 through 6.

In Figure 8, the size increases as the screws is turned clockwise. Usually closers that are size adjustable come pre-set from the factory to #3.

Reduced opening and closing forces
Any manual closer, including those certified by BHMA and ANSI to conform to ANSI Standard A156.4, may not provide sufficient power to reliably close or latch the door. In this case a power operator is recommended.

Power operators can open the door directly or can provide an assist to opening necessary to comply with code requirements. All power operators are directly or indirectly operated by electricity. Some use an electric motor, while others use electro-hydraulic and pneumatics systems powered by electricity.

The ADA defines an “accessible” opening as: one that provides a minimum 32” opening (36” door); easily manipulated handles (lever locks); a maximum opening force; a minimum closing time; and a capability of opening to at least 90 degrees.

These ADA requirements (similar to ANSI A117.1 requirements) are based on opening force. Basically interior doors will be operable with a maximum opening force of 5.0 lbs. and exterior doors may be increased to 8.0 lbs. Different states and municipalities may have different standards. When in doubt, contact your local authority having jurisdiction.

ANSI Standard A156.4 concerns itself with closing and latching force.

A problem occurs when closers rated for A156.4 are adjusted to ADA requirements. When closers are adjusted to open with these minimum forces, the closing force is also tuned down. When adjusted in this manner, closers may not necessarily have enough power to latch reliably. In these cases, power operators or equalizers are recommended.

Handing door closers, doors, and locks
Some door closers are non-handed. There are extra parts provided to switch the hand from left-hand to right-hand.

What about a RHRB (right-hand reverse bevel) or LHRB (left-hand reverse bevel) doors?

Next year I’ll celebrate 30 years as a locksmith and the controversy regarding handing continues.

If you ask a carpenter, doors are either right-handed or left-handed. Their rule-of-thumb is: stand against the hinge-side of the door jamb and swing your hand to simulate the door operation. If you used your left-hand, the door is left-handed; if you used your right, it is right-handed.

If you ask a locksmith, standing on the outside (the locked side) if the hinges are on the left, the door is left-handed; if they are on the right, the door is right-handed. Additionally, if the door opens outward, it is also reverse-beveled.

During my first decade as a locksmith, I thought carpenters were wrong about this. I had carpenters on more than one occasion return locksets because the handing was wrong.

Later in life, I discovered that there are many different ways of looking at the hand of doors.

When ordering door closers there are only left-hand and right-hand versions, the same as ordering doors from a door manufacturer.

Carpenters mostly deal with doors and closers and usually someone else has ordered the lock for the door.

When ordering locks, there are four versions: left-hand and right-hand versions; then the left-hand-reverse-bevel and the right-hand-reverse-bevel versions.
So when locksmiths order doors or closers, the provider of those products do the conversions for the locksmiths.

As in Figure 9, when ordering a closer for a LHRB door, order a right-hand closer. When ordering a closer for a RHRB door, order a left-hand closer.

If a part is missing or broken relating to a door closer, do not attempt improvisation. It might look like a simple bolt or cotter pin might do the job, but in many cases these replacement parts fail.

Door closers are part of the life-safety system; treat them with that respect.

If you encounter jury-rigging, bring it to the customer’s attention for replacement with the manufacturers intended parts.

Figure 10 provides two excellent examples of closers that were found jury-rigged. In the top image a nail is holding the rod together. In the bottom image a 1/4x20 bolt is linking the rod with the forearm.

Before install, determine how far the door is meant to swing open.

The installation instructions and templates provided with the door closer might be for a certain degree of door opening. Make sure that you select the right degrees of opening.

The longer the door is intended to swing open, the further the closer hardware is mounted from the hinge-side. This translates to a greater force necessary to open the door.

In Figure 11, the closer is undersized and not installed correctly. Additionally the door can only open at 90 degrees and the closer does not feature a backcheck.

It’s a guarantee that the closer shoe or body will be torn loose from the door or jamb.

Sometimes conversion is better than replacement. In Figure12, the existing floor closers are deactivated so that top-mounted (surface-mounted) closers can be installed.

The reasons for the conversion is that the floor closer was constantly wet and swelling up. Every time the closer malfunctioned, the door had to be removed, and the closer replaced. The replacement cost of the floor closer was more money than to convert it and install a surface-mounted closer.

There are other instances where conversion makes sense. Storefront doors that swing both directions feature a set of concealed closers mounted in the head rail. The closers are problematic as one or both arms frequently “tweak”. This occurs when the doors are either manually over-extended or caught by the wind. Since there is no backcheck, the arms take the brunt of the force.

Once an arm is tweaked, the door no longer returns to center and is left open by several inches. It is not unusual that these doors are serviced several times a year. Each time one or both of closers or arms are replaced (unnecessarily).

I have found the best way to approach this is to: with the owner’s/manager’s permission, deactivate the concealed closers; install a door stop; and install a top-mounted closer on each door. Once this is done, the problems are solved.

The downside is that the doors no longer swing both directions and must be pulled open.

The upside is that a lot of money is saved eliminating needless door service while providing advanced features the old closer systems did not have.

ackchecks are added; all door controls are made adjustable (not just latch and speed); and the doors can provide real ADA compliance.

What is really cool is the conversion is less than the direct replacement of both closers.

Closer warrantees that work for you
I like to work with closers that feature 10-year or longer warrantees. It works for me as I provide to the customer with this length warranty on parts and a year on labor. This far exceeds the one year on parts and 90 days on labor provided by the customer’s last service company.

Track the warranty by writing the installation date and invoice number either on the inside of the door closer cover or the closer body. Once the cover is installed, the markings cannot be seen and are preserved. Make sure and use a Sharpie permanent marker. On the rare occasion that I have had to return a closer, the manufacturer has simply provided a new one to me.

Speaking of warrantees, I was amazed to find this tank closer still in service (Figure 13). The complaint was the door wasn’t latching all the way and the rats were getting in. One glance at the closer and I knew that the arm was out of adjustment.

In Summary
If you currently aren’t doing door closers, please reconsider. You have all the right tools, your distributors carry all the parts needed, and it is a lot like working on locks. The work is in demand and customers often turn to locksmiths for closer service, as closer and locks can be serviced and maintained at the same time.

National service providers and hardware chains are taking a bite out of some of the lock services we provide.

Providing closer service to our customers bolsters what we do and can help to make our customers more dependent upon our services.