Volume 36, Issue 9, September 2001

A Tough Choice
        Making the Right Decision About Door Closers
by John Linder

Choosing the right door for a particular application shouldn’t be too difficult, but does require some thought in some instances. This is especially true if your customer’s requirements are somewhat different than your usual storefront applications.

Frantic Customers
Our company has received too many frantic telephone calls from the end user asking us a variety of questions. These include how to make the door closer weaker; how to make it stronger; and why doesn’t the door hold open? All of these complaints come under the guise of misapplication or specification. 

Ask the Right Questions
A good general rule for consideration in these situations should compel you to ask your customer two key questions. The first is how big is the door and what kind of door is being used? The second, for what is the door being used?

The second question can be critical. Take for example an entrance for which you traditionally might specify a spring size 3 or 4 door closer. This door closer on an entrance for a church or on a Montessori pre-school might easily prove to be too strong for the elderly or young children to pull open. Thus it may be necessary to downsize the door closer to a spring size 2. A high-security door with an electric strike and/or exit device, in which a locking door for building security must be guaranteed 100 percent of the time, might require a door closer with more than normal spring tension. 

ADA Legislation
The most significant impact on requirements for opening force of doors began in 1982 when California passed legislation establishing requirements for the disabled. This was followed in 1991 when federal law established standards for the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Enforcement of the ADA nationally has slowly permeated all levels of state and local ordinances for new and retrofit construction. 

For the door closer, the area given the most consideration is the opening force. In most instances where the state and local ordinances come into play ADA specifies that the door closer opening force be limited to 8 1/2 pounds per foot for exterior doors and 5 pounds per foot for interior doors. Fire-rated doors can allow 15 pounds per foot of opening force. 

It is very important to keep in mind that when state and local ordinances exceed the federal guidelines, they take precedence over the federal mandates. This is unfortunate because many of the state and local handicap requirements have proven to be more stringent than what was first proposed at the federal level. 

The problem with limiting the door closer opening force to 8 1/2 pounds per foot and 5 pounds per foot respectively is that the efficiency of most door closers (50-70 percent) only allows for closing and latching forces of little better than one half of the opening force.

Remember that it is called a door closer and 2 1/2 to 4 pounds of closing force is not much. Many times we see the closing and latching forces too weak to close the door hard enough to engage many panics and other locking devices.
What it boils down to is truly a catch-22 situation. Do you apply a door closer to meet the ADA requirement and then sacrifice proper door control? Or do you specify a door closer to close and lock the door adequately and risk the wrath of some oversensitive building inspector because the opening force is too strong? 

Our company finds that many of our customers are faced with this dilemma regularly. We believe the only true solution, one that satisfies both the issue of ADA and adequate door control, is either an automatic door, or possibly a power-assist door operator. The opening force is either zero (automatic door) or within the ADA requirement (for power assist). 

A sensor or manual actuator triggers open the door well within the ADA requirement and when the individual has passed through the door the door closer closes the door. 

It is important to listen and make the right choice when helping your customer with his specific door closer requirement. When ADA or strict handicap conformity comes into play it is important to let your customers know the pros and cons of that selection. Making the right choice up front can save you a lot of trouble 


John Linder is executive vice president and chief operating office of International Door Closers Inc. in Anaheim, Calif., and Nashville.