Hold the Door!

Feb. 2, 2021
With respect to door holders, it pays to know the ins and outs of the product and its application, particularly when it’s time to order.

Door holders always have been a practical option for high-use doors, particularly those where people move back and forth carrying or transporting heavy or large objects. Of course, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the capability of a door to stay open so people don’t have to touch it to move about a building has taken on a new level of desirability.

As door experts, locksmiths come into frequent contact with door holders, particularly in terms of replacement. When it comes time to replace a door holder, it pays to know the ins and outs of the product to avoid potential callbacks.

We spoke with Jeff Loss, AHC, CSI, who is the owner and president of D.A. Loss Associates, a manufacturers’ representative, to provide the following primer on mechanical door holders.

What are the different types of door holders and stops? 

You can divide overhead stops or holders a few different ways:

  • Concealed in the top of the door or surface-mounted on the face of the door.
  • Medium duty or heavy duty.
  • By function: Stop Only, Friction or Hold Open.

Note that the function is factory-configured. Manufacturers have kits to convert one function to the other.

What are the different applications for door holders?

Most surface-mounted stops or holders are push-side mounted, with a track mounted to the face of the door and a soffit shoe mounted to the underside of the frame stop. If you want to mount the stop or holder to the pull side of the door, an “angle jamb bracket” can be selected. With that bracket, the track is mounted to the pull side of the door, and the extra bracket connects the pull-side face of the frame to the soffit shoe of the holder.

For concealed mounting, the top of a wood, hollow metal or aluminum door is mortised or machined for the track, the top edge face of the door is notched for the arm, and the frame rabbet is mortised or machined for the soffit shoe. The basic limiting factor for using concealed stops is whether the door and frame manufacturer’s fire label allows for cut-out machining. A hold-open mechanical holder can’t be used on a fire-rated door.

What does someone need to know about ordering?

Overhead holders are sized and ordered per the door width: the wider the door is, the longer the track and arm have to be to create the proper geometry required for good door control.   Depending on the manufacturer and the type of stop or holder, there could be as many as seven or as few as four sizes, and each type of stop or holder can have a unique set of door size ranges.  

Each manufacturer also has its own numbering system for various stop or holder sizes. That’s why it sometimes takes a hardware expert, such as an AHC (architectural hardware consultant), to select the correct door hardware.

Two other details to know include the degree of stop or hold open that’s required and the hanging device (center pivots, butts, continuous hinges, etc.) used. Overhead stops or holders are scheduled, machined and installed for various degrees of opening, ranging from 85 degrees to 110 degrees. When looking at templates for overhead stops or holders, you will see dimension tables cross-referencing the hanging method with the door sizes. These tables give mounting locations for the track and soffit shoe for each stop point in 5-degree increments.

What about in the case of someone repairing a door?

In most cases, there will be a tag on that overhead stop that says what it is. There will be the manufacturer’s name and a number. It could say “ABH 1013,” for example. And so that is what it is — part number 1013 from ABH.

As long as they know that name and model number, then they can just order that part. If they don't know the model number, if the tag fell off, that’s where it gets very complicated. But, typically, overhead stops have a tag that says what it is. In most cases, they’re embossed. You could see that it’s a 9014, a 1023 or a 4412, and that number is going to give you all the information you need, other than the finish of the piece.

What about finishes?

Typically, all the “standard” plated and painted finishes are available. Basically, stops and holders should be able to match the lock, hinge and exit device finish. Today, we are seeing more black hardware being specified where the stops or holders are factory-painted or powder-coated to match. 

What standards or codes are applicable to door holders?

The ANSI standard for overhead stops or holders is A156.8. This lays out the test standards and ANSI numbering system for overhead stops/holders. I don’t think the fire code addresses overheads specifically other than saying that fire doors can’t be “mechanically” held open.

Limitations within a door or the frame manufacturer’s UL/Warnock Hersey listing govern whether concealed stops can be used.

Can you give an example of some of those limitations?

These things are normally specified on a job, so let’s say I’m designing a hospital and I want to put overhead holders on my interior doors. My limitations typically will be on fire-rated doors. I wouldn’t be able to specify a concealed overhead stop on a 90-minute, or hour-and-a-half, fire door, but I would be able to specify it typically on a 20-minute wood fire door.

After the job is detailed by that builder’s hardware supplier, then they haves to make sure that the doors that they’re supplying, or the door manufacturer that they’re supplying, has a label that says they can use that concealed door stop in the top of their door.

How do door holder standards or codes apply to different buildings?

Generally speaking, overhead stops are used for a couple of reasons. The most obvious is to provide a cushioned mechanical stop for doors where a wall or floor stop cannot or should not be used. This can range from a bank of exterior aluminum doors at a school or convention center where a heavy-duty concealed holder is selected to a single interior office door opening 90 degrees where a medium-duty surface holder is suitable.

The other common use of holders occurs on patient-room doors in health-care facilities. Here, a friction-type holder typically is specified. Friction can be mechanically adjusted, so when the door is “set” in place, it won’t drift open or closed. You often notice patient-room doors opened to 20 degrees or so to give some privacy but allow the staff to hear what’s going on inside. A door that has properly adjusted friction is still very easy to open and close.

When should you use a door holder or stop instead of a door closer that has a hold-open option?

A standard hold-open closer arm should never be used without a stop of some kind. The typical friction-type door closer hold-open arm will break or bend when pushed too far “into” hold-open. When I started in the hardware business 46 years ago, the common practice was to use a door closer to control the door and an overhead stop to stop the door. At that time, some closers didn’t have backcheck as a standard, and I don’t think the integral “stop” type closer arm had been invented yet. It was also more common in those days to use overhead stops with floor checks.

Today, we have many options to control a door. My mentor and father, Don Loss, always believed that the best door control was attained by using a properly adjusted top jamb-mounted closer to control the door and an overhead stop or holder to “stop” or hold open the door. A top jamb-mounted closer was important, because rotation of the double lever arm displaced more hydraulic fluid in the closer, which equaled better door control. A properly adjusted backcheck hydraulically dampens the opening “shock” of the door, while the spring-loaded shock absorber in an overhead stop ultimately stops the door. I believe that this combination when installed and adjusted properly delivers optimum door control.

What’s the compatibility of door holders with door closers?

Obviously, both are mounted in the same area of the door and can conflict if not detailed and ordered correctly. And please don’t forget about weatherstripping, because head seals also are mounted to the frame stop where soffit shoes of surface closers and overhead holders are located. Door closer and overhead holder manufacturers can provide layouts and special templates for a variety of door closer, overhead stop or holder and weatherstrip combinations.

What’s important to know with respect to detailing and proper ordering?

The builders hardware supplier who is detailing the job has to see where those products are installed on the door and frame, and then they’ll know which models to use.

Typically, the door closer manufacturer would have a reference chart that says, “you want to use this closer? OK, you can use this door holder. However we have to put a special bracket on the overhead stop,” and you have to order the door closer with some special drop plate or bracket to make those two items fit on the door. However it’s specified, it comes down to detailing it correctly.