Door closers are critical door hardware and always have been a significant revenue stream for locksmiths. By keeping the door closed when not in use, door closers contribute to the safety, security and energy efficiency of a building. Gusts of wind that “grab” doors while open are a notable cause of injuries and damage to doors and frames.
Door closers also keep fire doors closed. Of course, fire doors are required to be latched under most conditions, but the door must close first. A closed fire door mitigates the spread of smoke and contains the spread of fire.
Where code allows doors to remain open at designated times and under specific conditions, specially designed door closers interface with fire- or smoke-detection equipment. When smoke or fire is detected, a signal is sent to the door closer, which releases the door from the open position and closes it. Double-egress pairs of doors in hallways often are equipped with this type of closer.
In the course of door repairs, poorly adjusted or faulty door closers are common. Poorly adjusted door closers prevent users from opening the door in a normal fashion, or they prevent the door from closing and latching.
If the door closer leaks hydraulic fluid, the closer won’t operate properly. In addition, the leaking oil might present a potential for slip-and-fall injuries.
A faulty door closer often allows the door to slam. And door closers won’t work properly if the door closer or door closer arm no longer are mounted securely to the door and frame.
Concealed door closers (in the header or the threshold) are challenging, because it often is necessary to remove access plates to view the closer and gain access to the adjustment valves. It also might be difficult to identify the manufacturer or part number of a replacement door closer. Removing the door from the frame typically is necessary during a repair and requires extra muscle.
Surface-mounted closers are less complicated, fortunately. Most surface-mounted door closers use similar profiles and are, to some extent, interchangeable.
A door closer works only as well as the door it’s mounted on, so a careful survey, not unlike a fire-door inspection, is recommended.
Keep in mind the following factors that affect door closer operation: wind, stack pressure, condition of the door frame, hinges, friction between the door fame and lock, lock alignment and weatherstripping.
- Check to see whether the door has a label. If so, replace the door closer with a like model that doesn’t require new holes to be drilled. If new holes must be drilled and you’re concerned that the door no longer is viable, contact the local authority having jurisdiction before starting work.
- Check that the door closes properly. There shouldn’t be any door warpage or loose-fitting hinge screws. If screws won’t tighten, replace them with longer and larger diameter screws or repair the frame as necessary. A continuous hinge might resolve the issue.
- Make certain that the door lock operates properly and the latch slides squarely into the strike opening.
- When installing a door closer, read, understand and follow the manufacturer’s instructions.
“When specifying door closers, make sure you select a manufacturer with a reliable track record,” says Daniel Cannon, Allegion product manager, mechanical door controls. “Don’t judge performance on looks alone. Seek proof that the interior components perform properly. Be sure to review the manufacturer’s instructions and look out for resources, like interactive instructions and how-to videos.”
Choosing a Door Closer
Choosing a door closer depends on many factors, including customer preference, manufacturer options and building specifications. Other factors to consider:
- Size and weight of the door
- Location of the door and opening (interior/exterior)
- Opening and closing frequency
- Mounting location
- Backswing requirements
- Head face dimension on the frame
- Top rail dimension of the door
- Dimension of the reveal
Five Mounting Options
Surface-mounted door closers are available with five different options. Not every door closer mounting option can be used on every opening. These options require a particular type of closer arm to be installed correctly. For example, a parallel arm can’t be installed as a track arm mount.
1. Regular Arm Mount. Door closers that have a regular arm are mounted on the pull side of the opening. The closer body is mounted to the top of the door, and the closer arm is attached to the face of the frame head. The closer body requires the top rail of the door to be wide enough for installation, or a mounting plate will be necessary for proper installation.
The regular arm closer isn’t preferred when aesthetics are a concern, because the closer arm sticks out perpendicular to the face of the door when the door is closed.
2. Parallel Arm Mount. Parallel arm door closers are mounted on the push side of the opening. The closer body is mounted to the top of the door, and the parallel arm is fastened into the soffit at the head of the frame. If the top rail of the door is narrow, a mounting plate is necessary for the closer body. When the door is closed, the parallel closer arm folds so it’s parallel to the face of the door, which makes it less noticeable. Parallel arms also travel in such a way to allow built-in closer arm stops to be added, which provides more control at the opening.
3. Top Jamb Mount. Top jamb-mounted closers are used where the top rail of the door is narrow and the closer has to be installed on the push side of the opening. With the closer body mounted to the face of the frame head and arm attached to the face of the door, it’s somewhat more aesthetically pleasing than installing the closer body on the face of the door and using a mounting plate. The length of the arm is based on the reveal dimension. The “reveal” is measured from the push-side face of the door to the face of the frame in the closed position.
4. Track Arm Mount. Track arm closers have a roller that runs along a metal channel track as the door opens and closes. The track arm can be mounted on the push or the pull side of the opening. In both cases, the closer body is mounted to the face of the door. For push-side mounting, the track is attached to the soffit of the frame head. When installed on the pull side, the track is mounted to the face of the frame head. However, the closing power on a track arm isn’t always as strong as traditional closer arms. Track arms sit neatly against the face of the opening, which is aesthetically pleasing regardless of whether it’s a push- or pull-side installation.
5. Corner Bracket Mount. Corner bracket-mounted door closers are the least common surface-mounted option. It really is necessary only when the door has an angled or arched top rail. A bracket is attached on the pull side of the opening in the top corner of the frame, and the closer body is installed onto the bracket while the arm is attached to the face of the door. The corner bracket projects into the clear-width opening of the frame when the door is opened, which might pose a problem with headroom clearance.
For doors installed at exterior locations, the closer should be mounted inside the building where possible. On interior openings, closers often are specified to be installed on the least public side of the opening. This way, they will be out of view in common areas but still perform their basic function.
In some cases, such as schools, all closers are specified to be parallel-mounted. This is because regular arms are targets for vandalism and abuse.
In harsh climates, always install the closer on the protected side of the door. Freezing can cause premature damage to a closer mounted on the exterior side of the door.
Most door closers have three regulating valves — backcheck, speed and latch — and a spring adjustment. Closers that have a delay feature will have a fourth valve. Always save instructions, templates and tools from the door closers you install, so you have a quick reference and tools for future reinstallation or adjustments.
The Backcheck Valve controls the backcheck intensity. Backcheck slows the door if someone throws it open or the wind blows open a door. If the door must be stopped at a certain position, an overhead stop should be used.
If you have a windy or abusive environment, (prisons, schools, colleges, etc.) you might want to set the backcheck a little stiffer than normal. Turning the valve clockwise stiffens the backcheck.
But never close the backcheck valve completely. Tightening the backcheck valve causes increased internal pressure, which can rupture seals and result in premature closer failure.
The Main Speed Valve controls the main closing speed of the door from the wide-open position to the last 15 degrees before the latch. Turning the valve clockwise makes the door close more slowly.
The Latch Speed Valve controls the closing speed the last 15 degrees of closing. Turning the valve clockwise causes the door to latch more slowly and gently.
The Delayed Action Valve controls the delay time on closers so equipped. Turning the valve clockwise causes the closer to delay longer (up to about 50 seconds). The delay can be set down to zero.
Closer Spring Force affects how much delay time can be achieved: the stronger the closer spring force, the less delay time you will have. Closers set to a 5 or 6 spring size will have minimal to no delay time.
Note: During a delayed-action cycle, the door doesn’t stay in one set spot. It still will be in motion based on the delay setting.
Spring Adjustment is located on the end of the spring tube. A clockwise turn gives the closer more closing power, which also makes the door more difficult to open.
Federal, state and even local building codes can have an effect on determining the door closer required. The Builders Hardware Manufacturers Association (BHMA) and American National Standards Institute (ANSI) provide extensive standards for door closers.
The Americans with Disabilities Act also provides a list of clear requirements when looking at doors and door closers. The ADA states that interior doors should require no more than 5 pounds of force to operate, and exterior doors should have the minimum force possible. The closing or swing speed also shall not be faster than 5 seconds, and the latching speed should be quick enough to latch the door but not slam it.
According to Lori Greene, manager of codes and resources at Allegion, the opening force should be measured directly above the operable door hardware, such as a lever, about 2-1/2 inches from the latch edge of the door.
Measure Twice, Adjust
Measuring the door by using a force gauge and observing the door closing are good ways to determine the functionality of the door closer and the condition of the other components on the door. It also is the first step towards adjusting the door closer.
The C.R. Laurence HMC035 Door Pressure Gauge shows the amount of force (pounds or kilograms) required to open doors. This is a vital tool if you work on doors in facilities requiring full access to disabled people.
Tim O’Leary is an experienced security consultant and a regular contributor to Locksmith Ledger.