Security and Accessibility, Door Operators and the Locksmith

July 1, 2005
With extra effort and training, locksmiths can become accessibility and security experts.

In recent years, builders' hardware manufacturers have expanded their distribution of handicap access automatic door operators to lock wholesalers. Previously locksmiths largely avoided these products because they perceived them as unrelated to their daily activities in physical security. However, enforcement of building accessibility codes and building owners' emphasis on security since the tragic events of Columbine and Sept. 11, 2001, causes locksmiths to consider accessibility in their daily security activities.

Automatic door operator sales and installation were once restricted to factory-owned or franchised dealers. However, the emergence of "low-energy" door operators offered by builders' hardware manufacturers like LCN, Dorma and Norton changed distribution of these products and made them available to locksmith wholesalers. Specialty contractors now have access to low-energy door operators.

Vigorous enforcement of accessibility laws and building owners' demands for security nearly forces locksmiths to consider installing low-energy swing door operators as part of their security offering. And who among the building trades is better qualified? Today's locksmith is already familiar with the tools and skills for installing door controls. He or she likely has a working knowledge of low voltage wiring from working with electric strikes and magnetic locks. Unprecedented training is available to locksmiths from manufacturers, wholesalers and their trade associations.

In 1990 Congress passed the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a sweeping civil rights legislation with accessibility standards that requires public buildings to be accessible to disabled persons. All model and local building codes carry accessibility provisions, often stricter than the standards that accompany ADA.

Building owners feared that ADA would require expensive automatic "supermarket" door operators on their buildings. While high-speed operators provide accessibility, they are often impractical for use on restrooms, office doors or a swing door adjacent to a main entrance. Thus, manufacturers met and proposed a Builders Hardware Manufacturers Association (BHMA) standard that ultimately became American National Standards Institute (ANSI) standard A-156.19, the standard for low-energy swing door operators. Unlike the standard for high-speed operators, ANSI A-156.10, the low-energy operators do not require safety equipment such as guide rails and presence sensors, provided doors do not exceed a safe weight and speed.

ADA legislation and local building codes do not require automatic door operators. However, they do limit opening force, which results in reduced closing force on doors with door closers installed. While ADA leaves the opening force limit on exterior doors to local authorities having jurisdiction, some model codes restrict opening force to as little as five pounds. The resulting closing force can be as low as 2.5 pounds due to friction within the hinges, locking hardware and the closer itself. Buildings with internal air pressure caused by prevailing winds or HVAC systems may keep doors from closing at all.

However, building codes typically allow up to 15 pounds manual opening force on a door installed with an automatic operator. The resulting closing force is enough to latch a security door in all but the most severe conditions. Further, many automatic door operator products have a "power boost close" feature that briefly increases closing force at the latch.

The locksmith who decides to expand his or her service offering to include handicap access products has the opportunity to participate in a rapidly growing market. This opportunity is not just limited to automatic door operators. It includes many other products such as lever locksets, low profile thresholds and wide-throw hinges that meet entrance width requirements.

With this growth comes responsibility. Locksmiths should become familiar with applicable building codes, particularly with respect to accessibility and low-voltage electrical requirements. They should consult with their insurance carriers to ensure their liability coverage will encompass the installation of low-energy automatic operators. In this writer's experience, insurance companies offer lower liability premium rates for the installation of low-energy (ANSI A-156.19) operators compared to the rates for high-speed operators. Locksmiths should check with their state contractors' license board for specialties that must be added to their contractor's license.

In addition, they should take advantage of training on the installation and service of automatic door operators from their wholesaler or manufacturer's representative. The American Association of Automatic Door Manufacturers (AAADM) offers an inspector certification program for automatic door operator service and installation people. At present, the certification applies to the standard A-156.10 and does not apply directly to low-energy operators. However, the safety aspects of the certification apply to all automatic operators. Locksmiths who plan to install automatic door operators should consider getting AAADM certification. Details may be found at

Integrating security hardware and automatic operators requires an understanding of both automatic door and locking products in addition to knowing how the products should work together. For example, a card-accessed door should provide accessibility without compromising security. A building owner may ask that the door be automatically opened upon presentation of a valid card from the outside. At first glance, this may seem to be a reasonable request, but doing so will result in reduced security and higher energy costs.

The standard for low-energy automatic operators requires that the door open to in about four seconds, hold for a minimum of five seconds, and close in four seconds or more. This means the door is insecure for a minimum of 13 seconds. It is better to provide a door actuator switch adjacent to the card reader. After presenting a valid card, the user has a choice; manually open the door (typically to about 60 degrees) or press the door actuator switch for a full automatic cycle. The manual cycle will keep the door open for about half that of the automatic cycle. After the door closes, the outside door actuator switch is disabled, preventing unauthorized use. A small percentage of the population requires power operation and door use will be mostly manually, saving energy, increasing security and prolong the life of the door operator.

Reliability of the operator and locking hardware is greatly enhanced by providing a brief time delay between unlocking and power opening to prevent the operator from jamming an electric strike or latch. Most door operators have a time delay and sequencing relay built in. Others require the installation of an auxiliary time delay relay, an accessory offered by the manufacturer or an "off the shelf" commodity. Altronix Corporation's universal time delay module Model 6062 is ideal for this application. Von Duprin offers an option board in its exit device power supply to properly sequence exit devices or electric strike with any manufacturer's door operator.

Several manufacturers' door operators offer an onboard power supply for an electric strike or magnetic lock. However, electric latch retraction exit devices require a dedicated power supply to produce the voltage and amperage necessary to operate properly.

As our population ages, nursing homes and Alzheimer's applications of door operators and locking hardware are becoming more common. To meet exit and accessibility needs, yet restrict patients' movements, this installation uses a delayed egress locking device, card reader or keypad linked to an automatic door. It is essential to check with the authority having jurisdiction to ensure local codes will allow this application. While delayed egress exits are mentioned under "special locking arrangements" in the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) life safety code, the approval still lies with the local authority having jurisdiction.

With extra effort and training, locksmiths can become accessibility and security experts. The "value added" content lies in the ability to integrate with security hardware to provide seamless accessibility and security solutions for the owner.

Dick Zunkel is a frequent contributing writer to The Locksmith Ledger. He holds a California Contractor's License, State Locksmith Registration and AAADM certification.