In the modern world, it seems that most architectural doors are hung on a pair and a half of hinges or the ever-popular gear hinge. Add to that a garden-variety surface door closer (in regular arm, top jamb or parallel-arm form), and you’ve covered the vast majority of openings sold today. However, there was a time when concealed door closers were much more popular — and for good reason.
Let’s start with aesthetics.
It’s hard to believe there are people who don’t see the inherent beauty of a surface door closer, but if you asked an architect, I’m sure most would prefer not to see door closers at all. Yet, the door control door closers provide is essential in commercial buildings. Think of an expensive stile-and-rail door or a tempered-glass door that has polished stainless steel rails: It would be a shame to screw a closer onto the face of that.
Certain functions can’t be satisfied by using a surface door closer. If a door is to be double-acting (and self-closing), a concealed closer is the only way to accomplish this. Another function is multipoint hydraulic hold open: It’s accomplished easily by using a floor door closer but not a surface closer.
There also are applications where surface door closers aren’t practical. Think of a decorative angled-top or arch-top door: It would be possible physically to install a surface closer (on a very large plate), but it would ruin the appearance of the opening.
In situations where durability is paramount, nothing satisfies this requirement like a three-fourths-of-an-inch offset floor door closer. The pivot pin diameter is much heavier than any conventional hinge pin, and high-quality intermediate and top pivots have large needle bearings that will outlast any hinge.
In addition, a three-fourths-of-an-inch offset floor door closer spreads the stress of the door around the entire opening. The top pivot is in the header; the intermediate pivot is in the pivot jamb; and the floor door closer is anchored in the floor. Typical butt-hung doors have all that stress transferred to the hinge jamb alone.
Concealed door closers also are becoming more common in behavioral-health facilities where ligature-resistant considerations are required. Removal of a surface closer and the associated arm can create a safer environment.
The most robust and versatile concealed door closer is the floor door closer.
This type usually is larger and meant for heavier duty than other types of concealed closers, because it isn’t confined to fit inside a door frame or a door rail. It can handle heavier or larger doors and has the most available functions. In most applications, the floor door closer is the primary means of hanging the door — in other words, the weight of the door is carried by the floor closer spindle — along with corresponding pivots.
There are three-fourths-of-an-inch offset pivots, 1-1/2-inch offset pivots and center-hung pivots. In addition, there’s a slide-arm application where the door is hung by another method (hinges, continuous gear hinge or pocket pivot), and the floor closer provides only the control.
One of the most common concealed door closers is the overhead concealed closer. These typically are designed to fit into a header that can be as small as 1-3/4 by 4 inches. Overhead concealed door closers are popular for use on glass doors, because the closer provides the benefits of a concealed door closer but doesn’t require a hole in the floor, which saves a considerable amount of installation labor. The downside to this type of closer is the limited door size and weight that it can handle, because the closer must fit within the header.
There are three types of installations for overhead concealed closers:
- End load refers to how the door is installed in the opening. The top arm has a clamping block that removes from the end, and the bottom pivot is designed to be installed from the end. This is common in glass doors, because most door rails have a removable end cap.
- Next is the side load type. In this method, the clamping block is removed from the side. The door is installed from the “closed” position. The advantage to this type is it doesn’t require as deep of a cutout in the top of the door. The disadvantage is that a cutout is required through the face of the door on the interior side.
- Finally, there’s the slide arm type. In this application, the door is hung independently by hinges, a continuous gear hinge or offset pivots. The overhead concealed closer provides only door control. An advantage to this type of installation is ease of maintenance. The door doesn’t have to be removed to service any component.
Finally, let’s take a closer look at the concealed-in-door door closer.
As the name implies, the top rail of the door is machined to receive the closer body. Then, a slide track is machined into the header. When the door is closed, this type of closer is concealed completely. When the door is opened, the arm is visible.
There are several variations to this type of door closer, such as a double lever arm, where the closer can be inverted when installed in the header. The downside to this type of closer is the unique and expensive machining preps to the door that are required and the limited door size and weight such a door closer will accommodate.
What you should look for when you troubleshoot or maintain concealed door closers will vary dramatically depending on the type of closer. The following is a breakdown by closer type:
- That the closer body is dry and there’s hydraulic control. To do that, close the sweep and latch valves and open the door. The door should remain in the open position until the sweep and latch valves are adjusted. If the door immediately comes closed, that’s a problem.
- What type of closer is installed and that you have the instructions for valve adjustment. They probably won’t be marked very well, and you don’t want to be turning valves not knowing what they do.
- The connection of the bottom arm to the spindle. This is critical! If the connection is worn or loose, the door control will be sloppy, and the door might not close (or latch) completely. A tapered spindle design requires the majority of the door weight to bear on the spindle to retain a tight fit. Make sure this is the case.
- The integrity of all pivots and arms. Bearings must be intact and components anchored securely.
- The alignment of all pivot points. If they aren’t on the same axis, premature wear, stress and binding will occur.
- That the closer body is dry and there’s hydraulic control.
- The pivot point alignment. A pivot axis that isn’t plumb will cause advanced wear.
- The closer and components (arms or pivots, floor or threshold portions). Make sure all are securely fastened.
- For full engagement of the closer spindle into the arm assembly. This is the No. 1 cause of overhead concealed door closer problems. Excessive clearance between the header and the top of the door reduces spindle engagement, which will accelerate wear.
- For a loose clamping block in the arm that causes play in the zero (closed) position. This also can cause a loud “cracking” noise when pulling a hold-open door closer out of the hold-open position.
- The arm assembly if you replace the closer body. It’s always a good idea to replace the arm assembly, because the spindle broach can wear.
- For vertical alignment between the arm and slide track for slide-arm applications.
- For misalignment. This can cause premature wear and mechanical inefficiency.
Remember, most overhead concealed door closer problems aren’t because of the closer body!
Concealed in Door
- That the closer body is dry and there’s hydraulic control.
- That door and frame preparations are accurate. This type of closer is dependent on locations being correct.
- That the door swings properly. This will be independent of this type of closer. Reduction in door performance will affect the concealed-in-door closer’s capability to control the door.
- Slide blocks (if the closer is track type). Ensure they don’t have excessive wear and slide freely.
Concealed door closers aren’t a large segment within the security industry, but they often are used in prestigious projects. Becoming familiar with their operation can separate a true service provider from much of the competition. Adding concealed door closers to your portfolio provides opportunities for future business.
Chris Freeman is a learning leader at dormakaba Americas. He has more than 40 years of experience in the security and access control industry.