Volume 39, Issue 6, June  2004

Open & Shut 
Selecting and Installing Surface-Applied Door Closers 
by Lynn Eisenhauer

A door closer is doing its job best when no one notices that it’s there. Sure, it’s an un-glamorous existence, but for these blue-collar workhorses of the door hardware world, it’s part of life. 

And what a long life it is. All grade-1 closers are tested to 1 million cycles, or ten years worth of 400+ closings every workday. Some have even surpassed 10 million cycles, the equivalent of 100 years of average use. (Other building components such as roofing, flooring and HVAC must be envious.)

Given the extraordinary longevity of door closers, proper selection and installation are critical. When choosing a surface closer for any installation, you will want to provide the correct function using the least amount of equipment and accessories. The best match of door and hardware will also be the simplest installation possible under the circumstances.

Cost and quality are always considerations when selecting the right closer for a particular application. Most manufacturers offer a broad range of closers from the very basic to top-of-the-line. As closers become more elaborate, offering additional features and functionality, they also get more costly. The big intangible—quality—is the sum of a manufacturer’s efforts in the areas of product consistency and reliability, on-time delivery, customer service and other factors that impact performance and satisfaction. 

A Closer for Every Application
Before you start looking at closers, you must evaluate the function of the door opening. That will lead you to one of several options.

Basic sized closers normally incorporate a fixed, non-adjustable spring with a constant amount of power that cannot be increased or decreased. Typical spring sizes are size two, three, four, five or six. They are a cost-effective choice for openings where wind or drafts do not complicate the requirements.

Sized closers with adjustable spring power have the flexibility to compensate for varying conditions in the opening. Generally furnished in sizes two, three, four, five or six, their closing force can be increased by 50 percent. Closing force cannot be reduced to less than the closer size chosen. Most manufacturers have discontinued this type of closer, however, in favor of those with spring adjustment throughout a range of sizes. 
Greater flexibility can be achieved with fully adjustable closers, often referred to as “one-size-fits-all.” As the name implies, these non-sized units feature a spring design that allows adjustment of spring power throughout a range of sizes. This adjustment range is more limited in less expensive closers (adjustment size one through four or three through six typically). More full-featured closers provide a wider range of spring adjustment (normally size one through six). This type of closer is adaptable to suit conditions on virtually any opening, interior or exterior, as well as regular, parallel arm or top jamb applications. Commonly specified “tri-packed” for retrofit applications, their flexibility is particularly welcome for those who wish to minimize inventory levels. 

Fully adjustable closers are often used to meet barrier-free opening force restrictions. The spring power on these closers can be adjusted to meet code requirements for interior and exterior doors, giving them widespread appeal wherever barrier-free accessibility is important.

Top-end or premium closers are designed with aesthetics and full features in mind. Normally they offer a distinct appearance and operational advantages over other closers. This group of closers mirrors the functional capabilities of those described previously, but generally offers a more narrow projection, streamlined design, full covers and a broad selection of finishes as well as standard and optional features. These products may also incorporate cam and roller technology in place of the typical rack-and- pinion closer mechanism. These products are well suited for “high use and abuse” applications. 

Concealed door closers are used frequently with glass doors. The closer mechanism can be concealed in the floor, overhead frame or, with wooden or hollow metal doors, in the door itself. Because the closer is not visible, a high level of aesthetic appeal is preserved. (For the purposes of this article, however, we will be focusing only on surface-applied closers.)

A quick note on closer size: when selecting a closer, consult the manufacturer’s recommendations regarding applications and correct sizing. Unless the proper size is selected, the closer may lack the strength necessary to close the door or result in a door that is difficult to open. The correct size depends on the door width, exterior/interior door location and type of mount.

Determining the Correct Mount
The perfect surface closer installation will depend on choosing the correct closer application or type of mount. There are four basic types of closer mounts:

• Standard or regular mount;
• Top jamb mount;
• Parallel arm mount; and
• Track mount.

Standard Mount
Standard mount combines simplicity and the best physical linkage. The closer is mounted on the door and the arm shoe is attached to the header frame face on the pull side of the opening. Standard mounts work well on interior or in-swinging exterior openings, but are a poor choice for out-swinging exterior openings, as the positioning would subject the closer to outside elements.

Top Jamb Mount
On this push-side application, the closer is mounted on the header of the frame and the arm shoe is attached to the door. This fairly simple application offers good physical linkages. Top jamb mounts require an awareness of reveal—the distance from the face of the door to the face of the frame on the push side of the opening. The appropriate arm length must be selected for the reveal depth of the specific application or the closers will not function properly. Top-jamb applications are not recommended for openings with in-swinging exterior doors, which would place the closer on the building exterior.

Parallel Arm Mount
Parallel arm mount is a push-side application that positions the closer on the push-side face of the door. While the arm is parallel to the face of the door, the arm shoe is fastened to a soffit bracket secured to the stop of the frame. Physical linkages are less desirable with parallel arm mount applications. To compensate for the indirect linkages, manufacturers typically require indexing the closer spindle 45 degrees and increasing closer power by one size. Parallel arm mounts offer good aesthetics and vandal resistance, because the closer arm does not project from the opening. Again, the use of parallel arm mount on an in-swing exterior door should be avoided, as it would place the closer on the outside of the building. 

Track Arm Mounts
Traditional track arm mounts are used predominantly for interior doors. The physical “single-lever arm” linkages associated with track applications result in a significant loss of closer power. Like the parallel arm mount, manufacturers generally require 45-degree indexing of the closer pinion and increasing the closer power by two sizes for best operation. Track mounts feature a compact track mechanism that eliminates the use of a standard arm. They are comparatively vandal-resistant and are often specified in high-abuse and security-sensitive installations as well as those that demand clean aesthetics. Track mounts can be divided into three common categories:

• Pull-side mount with the closer on the frame and the track on the door;
• Inverted pull-side mount with the closer on the door and the track on the frame; and
• Push-side mount with the closer on the door and the track on the stop.

Adding Functionality
To meet the specific functional needs of each opening, a variety of options and accessories are available to optimize each installation. Common mechanical options include the following:

Backcheck intensity provides an adjustable, cushioned resistance to forceful door opening (from approximately 65 degrees to maximum door swing) and is recommended for doors that open against adjacent structures or stops. By buffering the opening motion of the door, damage to the closer and/or structures is minimized. Stop mechanisms should be used when maximum door travel must be positively limited.

Backcheck positioning (on/off valve) alters the starting point of the backcheck cushioning to maintain an effective backcheck range on parallel arm mount applications.

Delayed action gives individuals additional time to pass through an opening. It delays the closing cycle of the door from the maximum degree of opening to approximately 70 degrees of closing. Delayed action is frequently used on openings that must meet barrier-free requirements.

Hold-open arms will maintain doors at a particular degree of opening. They must be placed into position manually. Hold-open arms are not self-closing in the event of fire and cannot be used on labeled fire doors.

Heavy-duty arms, constructed of heavy-gauge materials, arespecified for high-abuse installations. Some manufacturers also offer heavy-duty arms incorporating a limiting stop into the arm mechanism.

Drop plates can be used with either top-jamb or parallel-arm mounts. When used with top jamb mounts, the plate lowers the closer to compensate for overhead ceiling clearance problems or to permit space on the door for a surface-applied stop/holder. Drop plates are used in conjunction with parallel-arm mounts on glazed doors where the top rail is too narrow to permit installation of the closer. 

Angle brackets are used when trim conditions prohibit installation of the closer in a normal top-jamb mount. They can also be used in lieu of a drop plate to provide space for a surface-applied stop/holder mechanism.

 Templating, Installation, Adjustment
As noted earlier, surface-applied door closer installations can be among the easiest of hardware jobs. But that doesn’t mean they don’t require forethought and fundamental skills. One of the most frequently overlooked steps is reading the directions. Manufacturers have slightly different products. Do not assume that once you’ve installed one door closer that you’ve installed them all.

Begin by examining the doorway. Make sure the door and frame are hung properly (plumb, square, level) and that the door swings freely on ball-bearing pivots or hinges. Check for any binding, rubbing or dragging and make sure the door closes properly in the frame. Correct any problems prior to closer installation. Also, take note of the door composition. Sex nuts are usually recommended for attachment of components to un-reinforced, particle core or labeled fire doors. Double check the hand of the door as some components may be handed.

Start the actual installation by thoroughly reading the manufacturer’s installation instructions. Determine the closer application. Locate the closer template information. Many manufacturers make this information available on the Internet. If a full-size template is provided, use the reference lines to align the template on the door and frame. Observe all safety precautions during installation. Use a center punch to mark the holes as needed. Machine the door and frame in as required.

Mount the closer and arm components securely in accordance with the instructions. These details vary by application and manufacturer, so make sure you follow the correct information. Observe all details for arm preloading and adjustment.

Though the components are installed, you’re far from done. Make sure you adjust the spring power (when available) to assure closing and latching of the door. Barrier-free requirements may apply so make sure you observe all applicable code requirements. From 90 degrees the door should close smoothly in three to six seconds. Check the closing sweep (S) and latch (L) valves and adjust accordingly with a flat-head screwdriver. Do not back the valves out beyond the closer casting surface. Adjust the backcheck (intensity and/or positioning) function and delayed action features, if they are offered on your closer. Operate and pass through the door like a typical pedestrian. Perform any fine-tuning that will make use of the opening more convenient or comfortable. 

Finally, step back and admire your work.

A Lifetime of Operation
Considering the durability of surface-applied door closers, selection and installation should be a once-and-done operation (with a little periodic maintenance). Knowing what to install and how to install it can make the difference between a door opening that functions properly and one that carries a “use other door” sign.
In the end, simplicity is key. A friend of mine used to say, “If you don’t have time to do it right, you don’t have time to do it twice.” That’s especially true with door closers. Do it right the first time and there’s very little chance you’ll have do it again. 


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