Conducting A Site Survey: Points to Consider

Oct. 5, 2011
Start with the basics. Identify doors, locks &door hardware by brand, type, keyway and number of cylinders.

Whether we think about it or not, most locksmiths do a form of site survey whenever we walk by or into a building. On a work day or a day off, I know I am forever checking out the door, the hardware, the floor on the opening side and the jamb. I guess this is just part of the training to stay in mental shape for when we have the opportunity to do it for real.

I have often been asked: Why do an actual site survey? You can do a quick inspection and just count the doors. Without an accurate site survey, how do you bid a building-wide job without knowing the condition of the hardware or even the number of lock cylinders and what key or keys operate them? Another very important reason for doing a site survey is the old “Last touched, responsible.” This is an adult version of the game, “Tag You Pay For It.”

There are many reasons a locksmith will conduct a site survey, including: originating or servicing a master key system, migrating to electronic access control, improving the level of security, repair construction, etc.

Whatever the actual purpose, most site surveys start with the basics that are identifying the doors, the lock and door hardware by brand, type, keyway and number of lock cylinders. An additional consideration is the doors. What is the material, width and thickness of each? Note: If some of the doors are considerably taller than 7’0”, measure them.

Over the years I have seen buildings that have a “Grab Bag” of different key systems. Many of them were master keyed and the poor locksmiths had to carry a very large key ring in order to service these locks. The end-users neither know nor care what the key brand or keyway section is; they only care that the lock operates when they insert the key.

There are different types of site surveys depending upon what the customer wants. Also a site survey can be a way to gain additional business by offering to resolve discovered problems such as door or frame sag, closers out of adjustment, etc.

Before walking the site, ask the building representative for a copy of the “as built” plans and door schedules. These are the closest to representing the finished construction. They are the most accurate as changes can be made at almost anytime. If plans are available, check to make sure the construction and the hardware installed complement the plans.

Unfortunately most buildings do not have any plans available.

Another advantage of having plans is they provide a starting point to discuss exactly what your customer wants. The plans can be used by the representative to show what he or she wants to accomplish. Most building or company representatives have a general idea of what they want especially if it is a master key system or improved security (convenience). However, determining the specifics can get confusing.

I always talk with the client prior to doing the site survey. When you pre-discuss the site survey, try to not bring any preconceived ideas of products or installation methods. You will find that listening to your customer first will prove to be very beneficial. Take some time to think about what they are saying and then offer suggestions. A mutually agreed-upon solution is best.

If plans are unavailable, then you have to reverse engineer the building or facility and create your own plans including a hardware schedule covering each door. You can use simple architectural computer programs to recreate a floor plan.

When doing a survey with plans, check to see if the doors are already numbered. There are some buildings that actually number all of their doors. Some use a barcode tag that is attached to the jamb on the hinge side. Some buildings have an actual visible number on the outside adjacent to the lock side of the door.

If the doors are not numbered, number the doors on the plan. If the building has multiple stories, use a combination of numbers and letters to separate the floors. Follow the same numbering pattern on each floor. Keeping it less complicated makes the job easier.

I normally number the door in a clockwise pattern, separating the exterior door list from the interior door list.

Number the doors using a permanent marker either at the top hinge and/or the top of the door along the lock edge. Numbering the top of the door will require a stepladder to read it. But there is less likelihood that the top of the door will be painted as the hinges sometimes are.

Ask a few important questions, starting with ” When was this building built?” As an example, I toured four different facilities including a hospital and college in order to take photos for this article. Several facilities are continually under construction. However, on several of the buildings, the lock hardware is not up to current code as buildings were built from the 1940s on.

With the different laws and codes throughout the country, servicing locks and door hardware on a building that is not up to code should be carefully considered. To start off, legal interpretation can be different from jurisdiction to jurisdiction and possibly from person in authority to person in authority.

Is the service a repair (considered maintenance) or an upgrade (considered building department)? There is an important difference. When doing a repair, the Fire Department is the authority having jurisdiction (AHJ). If the service is considered an upgrade, the authority having jurisdiction is usually the Building Department. Building Departments require permits and fees, as they can be a profit center for the local government. More important than a permit or fee, the Building Department may require the building be brought up to current code.

Doing the job may trigger some action by the Building Department. There is merit in discussing the job with the Local Authority Having Jurisdiction (LAHJ) prior to starting any work. Before talking to the LAHJ, clear it first with the building owner or representative. Ask the AHJ if the contracted job is under his or her jurisdiction and what implications to consider.

Note: It is a good idea to get to know the Local Authority Having Jurisdiction prior to calling upon them for an actual job.

When you are doing the site survey, look at each door, jamb and the lock hardware to determine if the opening is fire rated. Usually, if all of the hardware is fire rated, the opening is fire rated. You should note on the site survey what components are fire rated.

Also look carefully at east facing exterior doors. A common problem for some buildings that have non-reinforced hollow metal doors is warping due to direct sun. As a result, as the door heats up it warps, distorting the shape. This makes the door hard to open and hard or sometimes not possible to close. For a while, the door will close when it cools down until the warpage becomes permanent. Locks mounted onto these doors have excess wear and will most likely mal-function or not be able to close as a result.

These are a few points to consider when providing your customer with the information necessary to make important decisions and for locksmith to understand the job site in order to accurately provide a quote.