Hands Off! What to Know Before Installing Touchless Solutions

Aug. 3, 2020
Make sure the products you sell meet all relevant code and standard requirements.
LCN 8310 Wave to Open button
LCN 8310 Wave to Open button

As the United States eases into a new normal stemming from the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic, facilities in all markets are taking a closer look at the overall health of their environment. Facility managers are more focused on limiting the spread of bacteria and viruses than ever before, which has led many to consider touchless opening solutions.

Requirements that specifically address touchless or hands-free operation aren’t outlined in the current model codes. With that said, many sections of the codes and standards should be referenced before selecting and installing these types of solutions. We’ll explain some of the ways you can help customers transition to touchless openings while complying with the related codes.

A common approach: Automatic operators

A common way to create a touchless opening is to pair an automatic operator with a touchless actuator. There are a few things to know before opting for this solution. First, the Builders Hardware Manufacturers Association (BHMA) standard for these operators — BHMA A156.19 – Power Assist & Low Energy Power Operated Doors — mandates actuation by a “knowing act,” or a conscious action that has the expected result of opening a door. This includes but isn’t limited to: wall or jamb-mounted contact or noncontact switches, such as push plates; the manual opening (pushing or pulling) of a door; and controlled access devices, such as keypads, card readers, wireless transmitters and key switches.

Low-energy automatic door operators that are actuated by sensors don’t meet the requirements of BHMA A156.19, because simply stepping into the range of detection isn’t considered to be a knowing act. Instead, these operators must comply with BHMA A156.10 – Power Operated Pedestrian Doors, which requires guide rails and safety sensors. The 2017 edition of the standard also states that the safety sensors must be monitored to ensure they work properly.  

There are five things you should know when installing automatic operators as part of a touchless opening:

1.     Go hands-free with touchless actuators and wireless transmitters.

Touchless actuators are different from presence sensors, because the wave of a hand is considered a knowing act by A156.19. The detection range for touchless actuators, or the distance from the occupant’s hand to the hardware, has to be within 12 inches. A specified range isn’t noted for wireless transmitters, but users should be close enough to see the door and make sure occupants aren’t in the door’s path before actuating the operator.

2.      Think about the timing.

The opening and closing cycles of an automatic door operator and the minimum hold-open time are detailed by the BHMA standards, so make sure to check out the table in the A156.19 standard. The timing is based on the door width and weight and the actuator position.

3.      Keep an eye on signage.

Automatic doors are required by BHMA to have signage installed to let occupants know that the doors may be operated automatically. Requirements vary, so it’s important to know the configuration of the door (does it swing, slide or fold?), the type of operator used and how the door is being actuated.

4.      Back up the power if necessary.

Automatic door operators and manually operated doors adhere to different requirements for maneuvering clearance. If an automatic operator is added to a door that doesn’t have the required clearance on the egress side, the operator must have standby power. This allows the operator to function normally during an emergency. When installed on a fire door, the automatic door operator must be deactivated upon fire-alarm activation. Installing an automatic operator on a fire door without the proper maneuvering clearance on the egress side won’t meet the intent of the accessibility standards, because the operator won’t be functional after the fire alarm sounded.

5.      Understand power assist.

Power-assisted doors and doors that have low-energy operators attached are different and, therefore, have different codes and standards to follow. A power-assisted opening has an operator that reduces the opening force, but the operation is manual. A low-energy operator automatically opens the door. The latter is installed more commonly for touchless openings.

More Options for Healthy Environments

Automatic door operators aren’t always feasible — or necessary. For other openings, a variety of solutions can help your customers create a healthy environment.

Forearm and Elbow Pulls

These are designed to make life easier for those who wish to use their elbows or other body parts to open the door. Many new styles are available that can be installed in addition to a standard door pull or as a replacement.

Things to consider:

  • Occupants have to be able to operate the door without tight grasping, pinching or twisting of the wrist to be code-compliant.
  •  Accessibility standards limit the projection of “protruding objects” to 4 inches. This applies to objects that have leading edges between 27 and 80 inches above the floor. The projection of door hardware isn’t addressed specifically in the standards, so it’s unclear whether the limit on protruding objects would apply to door pulls. But code officials could interpret the requirement as applicable to these pulls.
  • Check out the encroachment section in the model codes, which limits the distance a door can project into an egress path to 7 inches when the door is in the fully open position. Hardware on the push side of the door often is exempt, but these pulls generally are located on the pull side and could affect the encroachment of the door.

Foot Pulls

Foot pulls complement doors that have traditional pull handles and no latching hardware. These are located at the bottom of doors, so building occupants can use their feet to open them.

Things to consider:

  • The foot pull can’t be the only means of opening a door from the pull side. Codes and standards require operable hardware to be mounted between 34 and 48 inches above the floor.
  • Another reason a foot pull shouldn’t be used alone is that it could be considered hardware that requires special knowledge or effort to operate.

 Lever modifications

In today’s environment, many have turned to retrofit products that allow occupants to turn the lever handle with their forearm.

Things to consider:

  • Ensure that the lever still can be operated without tight grasping, pinching or twisting of the wrist, and that no special knowledge or effort is required to operate the door.
  • Double-check with the manufacturer before installing any retrofit products, because they could affect listings, certifications and warranties.

Electric strikes

Electric strikes can be set up to release the latchbolt of a lockset through the use of a sensor or access control reader. This allows the door to be opened without having to touch the lever to retract the latch.

Things to consider:

  • For most electric-strike applications, the lever still can be used for egress and would be code-compliant. If an electric strike were used on a fire-door assembly, a fail-secure strike must be used. (Reminder: Fail-safe strikes aren’t listed for use on fire-door assemblies.)
  • Another thing to consider with fire doors is that the strike should receive a signal from the fire alarm. This will ensure the keeper is in the secure position upon actuation of the fire-alarm system.

 Contactless readers

Contactless readers allow occupants to gain entry without contacting the reader. Multitechnology readers might be a good choice for customers, because they can read proximity, smart and mobile credentials, which makes the transition to mobile seamless.

Things to consider:

  • Smart credentials and mobile devices often are more secure than proximity-card technologies, because they’re encrypted and less vulnerable to security breaches.
  • When implementing access control solutions, always check that the hardware and application are compliant with code requirements for egress.


Many manufacturers offer — or soon will offer — options for base materials and coatings that reduce the amount of time that bacteria and viruses can survive on surfaces.

Make sure to check the manufacturers’ processes and materials before investing in these solutions, particularly to ensure proper performance in limiting the transmission of germs. Coatings and wraps that are field-applied might affect listings for fire-door assemblies as well as manufacturers’ warranties.

As you can see, several options are available to help your customers transition to a touchless opening. Remember to always consider requirements of the adopted codes and standards, ensuring that the solutions don’t violate mandates for egress, fire protection or accessibility. The Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ) should be consulted regarding questions about code compliance to avoid problems in the field. For information about cleaning and sanitizing door hardware, refer to the manufacturer’s recommendations.

Lori Greene, DAHC/CDC, CCPR, FDAI, FDHI, is manager, codes and resources at Allegion. Visit her website, idighardware.com.

About the Author


Lori Greene, DAHC/CDC, CCPR, FDAI, FDHI, is manager, codes and resources at Allegion. Visit her website, idighardware.com.