Solving Commercial Door Problems

June 3, 2013
Finding solutions to commercial door problems requires taking the time necessary to discover the causes of the problems.

Commercial doors range from high-end decorative entry doors equipped with automatic door operators to alley or loading dock doors that get opened using a cart, fork lift or pallet jack. Using these two examples, we show how the operational life of a door, opening and the attached hardware can be dramatically different.

In addition to the doors, the condition of the building is also a significant factor in the operational life and a good indicator of the problems that may occur. By building condition, we are referring to its structural integrality in regards to the door openings. They should be plumb, with solid jambs and doors that swing open and closed and latch without external resistance.

Poor construction can result in problems with door operation and air infiltration. With today's poured concrete buildings, solving a problem can be costly and time consuming.


The placement of exterior doors plays a significant role in potential problems. For example, take an exterior hollow metal door located on the east facing side of a poured concrete building. There was no awning or cover structure over this door because it was a secondary entrance. To make matters worse, the slab-sided building and the door were painted a dark color that absorbs heat. At peak summer temperatures, the hollow metal door became so hot that it warped. Over time, the heat warpage had a residual affect and the door became permanently bowed along the lock edge. The door had to be replaced as people could no longer either open or close the door.

Door warpage as a result of heat is basically limited to hollow metal doors. In many instances, if the door becomes warped, it may return somewhat to shape when pressure is no longer exerted or when the temperature cools off. However, most warped door will stay warped or get worse.

Note: In the early stages of warping, you must check for this problem during the hottest part of the day.

Door manufacturers offer doors that are designed to resist warpage. As an example, Steelcraft B-Series flush doors have steel stiffened core construction with welded 22 gauge hat section stiffeners and epoxy filled mechanical interlock edges provide structural support.


The amount of traffic through the door has an affect on the operational life. High traffic increases amount of wear on the door, jamb, hinges, locks, closers, etc. In addition to the amount of traffic, the age group of those who operate the doors must also be considered. Teenagers are probably the toughest age group on doors and openings. Additional considerations should be made if the openings located at a middle or high school.

Door traffic is usually divided into three categories: high, average and low. According to Rixson, a provider of concealed closers, pivots and door holders, a large department store frequency of door openings can be 5,000 per day or 1,500,000 per year. High frequency usually begins at 400-500 openings a day. Average traffic frequency can be a school corridor door having a frequency of 80 openings per day or 15,000 per year. A residential bathroom door has a low frequency of 25 openings per day or 9,000 openings per year.

For high traffic areas, the opening and doors should be equipped with Grade 1 or heavy duty products to help extend the operational life of the door and jamb. I can never understand why a large office building will have Grade 3 cylindrical locks installed onto the common restroom doors.

Pivots & Hinges

Another consideration is the pivots and hinges. Code requirements determine the size and materials for hinges. For example, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 80 Handbook sets minimum quantity, size and weight (thickness) for swinging fire doors. It also stipulates non-spring hinges must be the ball bearing type.

Hardware industry standards call for two butt hinges for doors up to 60 inches in height. An additional butt hinge is required for each additional 30 inches or fraction of in height. For example, a 92- inch door will have four hinges. The fourth hinge is required for the two inches over the 90-inch height.

Size 4-1/2" heavy duty butt hinges are used on standard commercial doors. Doors more than three feet and six inches wide should be equipped with five-inch hinges. There is a significant difference between a 4-1/2" and a 5" hinge. Not only is the surface area larger, but also the leaves are larger, thicker and heavier. The pin is larger, as are the bearing surfaces.

For retrofit applications, when butt hinges screws no longer provide the ability to swing the door open and closed, there are two options, if the door is hollow metal or aluminum. The less expensive option is to try using threaded inserts, which can provide a stopgap measure. A better choice would be a continuous hinge. The continuous hinge runs almost the entire length of the door and jamb, redistributing the pressure on the mounting screws and the leaves. For very heavy or wide doors, threaded inserts may be required.

There are two types of continuous hinges: pin and barrel continuous hinges and aluminum geared continuous hinges. Pin and barrel continuous hinges are available in steel and stainless steel and are designed for high frequency applications of heavy or wide doors. The McKinney® pin and barrel continuous hinges can be used on fire labeled and non-labeled openings. These pin and barrel hinges are held together with a 3⁄16" stainless steel rod (pin). The hinges work on a flanged nylon bearing assembly, which eliminates premature wear and guarantees proper alignment. The McKinney 3500 Series pin and barrel hinges have a weight capacity of 900 pounds.

Select Products manufactures three models of aluminum geared continuous door hinges. Standard duty is designed for door up to 200 pounds; heavy duty is designed for door up to 600 pounds and extra heavy duty is designed for door up to 1,000 pounds. The patented Select Products continuous hinges are available in different configurations, finishes and rated up to 3 hour UL.

Failure To Close

The most common complaint from the end user is the door does not close, which can include the door does not open easily. Finding the cause can include more than one problem. Locksmiths need to thoroughly inspect both the door and jamb. We need to test the opening and closing operation of the door and check to see if the door is securely mounted to the jamb. Look at the floor and the header on the swing side of the door for evidence of door swing problems.

Here is a relatively short list "door not closing" problems:

  • Weather strip
  • Door hardware and lock mechanisms damaged
  • Hinges no longer secured to the jamb or door
  • Hinges incorrect, worn, abused or improperly "adjusted"
  • Building settling
  • Jamb no longer plumb
  • Latch not entering strike plate
  • Door closer out of adjustment/ not operable
  • Door operator out of adjustment/not operable
  • Door warps or warped
  • Door damaged

And here is a more detailed list:

The weather strip can be too thick to permit the door to close completely. Install the proper size and type of weather strip for the application.

The door lock or exit device does not retract the latch and/or the bolt. This can be caused by the lock no longer functioning, being installed improperly, building settling or the door warped. Test the operation of the lock hardware. If there is a problem extending the latch, check the level of the device, the opening and for possible warping in the door.

The hinge screws are stripped or the doorframe or jamb is no longer securely attached. Through improper use or wear, hinges can become inoperable. Check to be certain the mounting screws are tight and the hinges operate properly. Lubricate the hinges.

As a building settles, door closing problems can arise. The settling issue is not an easy problem to solve. A building may settle and stay in this position for many years. A building may continue to settle, eventually making it impossible to open or close and latch the door. Each settling opening is unique and there is usually not a single best solution other than watch the problem and begin with the least expensive repairs.

The latch or bolt no longer enters the strike opening.  Adjustment can be made.

Is the jamb plumb (vertical)? A level, plumb bob or string with a weight placed against a vertical line of the jamb or molding can be used to determine if the jamb is plumb. Always check the entire length and both sides of the jamb. An out of plumb door can be caused during construction or can be a result of building settling from any number of different causes. If the opening changes enough, the door will have problems opening and closing and/or problems latching. An out of plumb door strike plate opening can sometimes be modified to accommodate the movement of the latch.

Does the door fit evenly into the jamb? The gap between the jamb and door is 1/8". For double doors, the gap is 3/16". For fire rated doors, the gap between the bottom of the door and the finished floor can be 5/8" or 3/4" depending upon flooring.


If the gap is larger or uneven, this can indicate a structure or installation problem. A larger gap can allow air infiltration. Filling the gap to limit air filtration can be accomplished using a number of different gasketing products, many specifically designed for different parts of the door.

PEMKO manufactures thresholds, door bottoms and gasketing products for commercial door and openings, including perimeter gasketing and door bottom sweeps to prevent air infiltration. For specialized applications, there is PEMKO MicroShield® Antimicrobial Gasketing for medical facilities. For specific fire rated openings, there is Adhesive Backed Fire/Smoke Gasketing.


For many exterior doorways, a threshold is installed at the bottom of the door opening to smooth any transition between spaces. Thresholds can have a variety of applications. They can be installed to prevent moisture or cold air from getting in. They can transition between different flooring materials and to adjust for height variations. Thresholds can be manufactured from different materials including metals, wood, stone and vinyl.

For extreme weather conditions, the PEMKO Thermal Barrier Saddle Threshold has a black rigid polypropylene key between two halves of the threshold that prevent the outside temperature from gaining entrance into the building.

Door Closers/Power Operators

A door closer or power operator is designed to function on doors that are in adjustment and able to smoothly open, close and latch. If the door closer or operator stops functioning, check the operation of the door.

One significant problem is the door closer in addition to closing the door is used to act as the doorstop. When a door closer is used as a doorstop, the closer body and arm mounting screws are pulled beyond anything that is part of their operational design. The mounting screws are pulled; excess pressure is exerted against the spindle and seals. For many applications, a stop can be installed to prevent the door from opening beyond the installed limits.

Door Protection

Alley and dock doors or any door that can come in contact with a cart or hand truck should be protected even if the door itself has a very heavy gauge skin.

To protect the door from damage, aluminum, brass, bronze, stainless steel and plastic plates come in varying sizes. Don-Jo has armor plates in sizes up to 48" height and 48" wide. Their kick plates are 8" to 16" height and up to 48" wide. The mop plates are under 8" height and up to 48" wide. Plate options include magnetic backing for metal doors, scotch mount, self drilling screws, countersunk holes, cut outs for locks louvers and windows, Torx security screws and Warnock Hersey listed fire rated armor plates for 3 hour metal doors.

In addition, door edges, corner protection and channeling cover a portion of the door face and one or two edges and/or cover the face and the bottom of the door. The material options include aluminum, brass, bronze and stainless steel. The attachment options include scotch mount and screw mount. For U-Channel protection, cutouts can be ordered for flush bolts and locks.

Installing door protection can provide an alternative to replacing a door, as long as the damage and the repairs do not affect the operation and meet with rules, codes and regulations.

Ripping off the cap from an exit device installed onto an alley or dock door is not uncommon. Sargent Lock has replaced the end cap on some of their exit devices from a sheet metal cap to a cast cap. The cast cap is better able to withstand cart abuse with out breaking or coming off.

Doors that are adjacent to a perpendicular wall can become damaged when the door is swung open too hard. The knob or lever can break the drywall material if no hard stop is installed. Keedex has protectors for locks in lexan polycarbonate material as well as stainless steel to prevent the damage caused by the door lock. The stainless steel versions are available in different sizes.

Protecting The Locks

Solving commercial door problems can also include increasing the level of security by upgrading the locks. For most installations of battery powered, electronic standalone locks, the outside and inside assemblies cover the standard door preparation. For example, Schlage AD and CO lock assemblies use the same door prep as most commercial mechanical lock hardware. If the existing lock installation is larger than the new lock, remodeler plates can be installed to cover existing door preparation.

To provide protection for exterior doors latching mechanisms or to increase the security level by installing larger strike plates, there is Pro-Lok Entry Armor. Latch protection is available for cylindrical, mortise and narrow stile aluminum door locks for outswing and inswing doors. A number of different size and function strike plates are available to resist forced entry.

If the strike plate or the jamb is somewhat loose, replacement mounting screws with longer screws. Drill a pilot hole to avoid splitting the wood before installing the longer screws.

On alley or dock doors, the door hardware often suffers from the cart and hand truck traffic. IF the door or doors are equipped with exit devices, the end caps often get bent or torn off. Sargent has introduced a cast end cap to help prevent the problem. If the exit device is equipped with surface vertical rods, there are products that protect the lower rods from accidental collisions.

Finding solutions to commercial door problems requires taking the time necessary to discover the causes of the problems. Carefully listen to the end user’s concern. Think about the different ramification and come up with the different solutions. Your customer will appreciate your expertise when you can solve their problems using the proper methods. 

Important: Good business practices will make choosing the correct commercial door products by what is right, not what is the inexpensive alternative.

For More Information

Don-Jo Mfg., P.O. Box 929, Sterling, MA 01564. Telephone: 800-628-8389. Web Site:

Keedex, 510 Cameron Street, Placentia, CA 92870. Telephone: 714-993-4300 .Web Site:

McKinney Products Company, 225 Episcopal Road, ,Berlin, CT 06037. Telephone: 800-346-7707. Web Site:

PEMKO Manufacturing Company West, 4226 Transport Street, Ventura, CA 93003. Telephone: 800 283-9988. Web Site:

Pro-Lok, 655 North Hariton Street, Orange, CA 92868. Telephone: 714-633-0681. Web Site:

Rixson Specialty Door Controls , 235 East Lies Road, Carol Stream, IL 60188. Telephone: 866-474-9766. Web Site:

Select Products Limited, 9770 Shaver Road, Portage, MI 49024-6732. Telephone: 800-423-7107 Web Site:

Steelcraft, 9017 Blue Ash Rd, Blue Ash, OH 45242. Telephone: 513-745-6400. Web Site: