Tech Tips: Best Practices for Selecting Door Operators

April 1, 2021
Low-energy operators add convenience and safety features to an existing door, and now they bring enhanced hygiene to the opening.
Norton SafeZone door operator
Norton SafeZone door operator

Although automatic door operators aren’t a new concept or a new product, the COVID-19 pandemic has triggered new activity in the market. The idea of passing through a door without touching it resonates amid various public health policies and directives. As with every other security product, new technologies are presenting a wider selection of product options and prices for a wider range of applications.

For Openers

Automatic door openers open and close doors via some sort of power. Automatic door operators can be applied to swinging, sliding or revolving doors. Typically, they use electric motors that derive operating power from line voltage. However, some door operators use hydraulics (a line voltage powered compressor). New to the market are door operators that have a self-contained battery for power where the energy developed by the manual opening and closing of the subject door recharges the battery. Also on the horizon are door operators that use magnetic linear technology.

There are two categories of automatic door operators:

  • Low-energy and power-assist operators, which must comply with ANSI/BHMA A156.19.
  • Power-operated pedestrian doors, which must comply with ANSI/BHMA A156.10.

High-energy (full energy) door operators: High-energy door operators are designed to operate continuously and activated via motion sensors when approached.

Codes frequently require additional equipment to be installed with full-energy operators, such as safety sensors and guard rails, to reduce the potential for personal injury or entrapment. They’re used at entrances to retail stores and emergency rooms.

As time goes by, you see fewer high-energy swinging doors because of the safety issues and the floor area that’s required for the doors to swing.

High-energy entrances aren’t typically upgrades but are included in a renovation where the storefront and other architectural features of the premises are involved.

Low-energy door operators: Doors equipped with low-energy operators can be opened manually or through the use of a "knowing act" device (push button, wall switch or hands-free device). The door opens and closes more slowly than with a full-energy operator. While the door is in motion, the door operator controls and continually monitors movement for possible obstructions and will stop the door instantly when a pedestrian passes through the opening.

Because low-energy operators might not be actuated by every pedestrian, they often perform the job of a conventional door closer, and many low-energy door operators contain a door closer as well as the motor.

Low-energy operators are what we typically use to add convenience and safety features to an existing door and now to bring enhanced hygiene to the situation.

Low-energy door operators can be found in entrances to public buildings, including schools, libraries, museums, offices and government buildings, as well as interior doors in hallways and special-purpose areas, such as restrooms.

Per the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), low-energy door operators can provide more accessibility for openings used by mobility-challenged individuals.

Although the ADA doesn’t require an automatic operator for a door to be considered accessible, using automatic doors is a great way to ensure accessibility for a wide range of people.

According to the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design, 60% of public entrances must be considered accessible. A public entrance must have a minimum clearance width, maneuvering clearance minimums and a maximum opening force and closing speed.

The ADA also uses standards for automatic doors established by the Builders Hardware Manufacturers Association (BHMA).

Power-Assist Door Operator

A power-assist door operator lowers the opening force, which means the door can be opened manually in an easier manner. These door operators are activated by pushing or pulling the door.

Low-energy and power-assist operators have the same requirements. The power-assist feature is an option built into the low-energy operator and selected during installation.

Low-energy and power-assist operators must be activated by what’s called a “knowing act,” which is a specific thing that someone does to activate the door.

A knowing act can activate a door by a few different means:

●     A pushplate actuator or noncontact switch mounted on the wall.

●      An access control device, such as a keypad, key switch or card reader.

●      Manually pushing or pulling the door to trigger the assistance.

All door operator installations are required to have signage on the subject doors to alert pedestrians of the presence of the device.


Training and certification is available through the American Association of Automatic Door Manufacturers  (AAADM),

The member manufacturers include many door operator manufacturers and companies that provide the accessories used with door operators. It’s a different marketing channel than the usual locksmithing people, even though the door operator work is similar and the technologies overlap with locksmithing and electronic access control.

Although I had been engaged in door operator work prior to certification, through AAADM, I was able to add to my bottom line. I picked up gigs as an expert witness for legal cases where injuries involving door operators occurred and gained numerous referrals and service work and installations through AAADM’s website referral system. I also gained knowledge and expertise on how to specify, install, service and certify low-energy and high-energy door operators.

For locksmiths, the different applications for door operators that require interfacing with access controls and building systems add to the potential for profits and learning new technologies

Tim O’Leary is an experienced security consultant and a regular contributor to Locksmith Ledger.

About the Author

Tim O'Leary

Tim O'Leary is a security consultant, trainer and technician who has also been writing articles on all areas of locksmithing & physical security for many years.