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Part 1: Avoiding Door Installation and Code Compliance Problems
By Maryellen Lo Bosco
November 2009 -
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Few things can cause facility executives more headaches than the poor planning and execution of openings. From costly change orders to inadvertently locking occupants in a facility, for something as deceptively simple as a door, there is a litany of possible errors.
When problems arise, facility executives often have only themselves to blame. From project coordination to code compliance, facility executives have to understand and communicate what the facility needs.
Lack of coordination is the biggest reason things go wrong. That's especially true for new buildings, which are a coordination exercise, says Gordon Adams, principal of Adams Consulting and Estimating. "You want to make sure everyone is on the same page about where things go and how they work," Adams says. "This requires a lot of work with the end user to make sure the opening functions the way they envision it."
With installation of doors and hardware, the devil is in the details: Any breakdown in the process can cause problems. But when an installation goes awry, the problem usually cannot simply be attributed to just one thing. "You don't commonly see that it is so obvious that you can say, ÔOh, that guy did it wrong,'" says David Chaffin of HARD/SPECS, a consulting firm.
Not surprisingly, incorrect installations that involve electronics can create the biggest headaches. When things go wrong, change orders can result in cost overruns. "I've seen big change orders because nobody can prove that certain parts of the job were detailed accurately and assigned to somebody's contract," says Joe Calvert, principal of Calvert Independent Hardware Specifications.
With electronic installations, access control can be an afterthought. "Nobody thinks about it until two weeks before bid day, and then it is too late," Calvert says. "Then the owner hooks up with a security supplier after the job is bid, and they come in after the building is almost built and apply products that are the easiest to supply, whether or not the products are right for the building."
A step to avoiding this problem is to specify the locks earlier in the project so they can benefit from increased expert input. Also, specifying electronic locking devices that will work with any card reading system will add flexibility in choosing a local security supplier based on service level instead of manufacturer, says Calvert.
No one on the design team needs to be told that doors and hardware must meet codes, but that doesn't mean code compliance can be taken for granted. Robert Baughman, director of codes and hardware at Karlsberger Companies, says that too many people who specify and install hardware do not have a full understanding of code requirements.
A common mistake Baughman has seen is that specifiers will lock down a door electronically in a way that locks people in the building. "They will connect the locking mechanism to the fire alarm system, and that is the only release mechanism they will use, but the code doesn't allow that," he says. No mechanism should restrict anyone's ability to leave a building.
According to Baughman, with more sophisticated security comes thornier problems. For example, an electric strike is designed so that only the exterior side of a door has a key or card reader, while the other side opens freely. But when electromagnetic locks are used, they keep the doors closed on both sides.
In that situation, devices on the interior side of the door are required to release the door Ñ for example a sensor that detects a person's approach. There also should be a backup, such as a button on the wall if the primary device fails. The third option is a release through the fire alarm system, but "there are a lot of security folks who don't believe that they need to have those first two devices," says Baughman. A building may be reaching completion when code inspectors do a walk-through and refuse to give a certificate of occupancy because the building is not in compliance.
Sometimes ignorance of the code results not in failing to provide appropriate egress, but in providing unnecessary release mechanisms on the exterior door. For example, Baughman hired a local vendor for his own office building who unnecessarily unlocked the door from the outside whenever the fire alarm went off.
Doors and locks may not be the first thing anyone thinks about when a new building goes up, and architectural hardware may cost only 2 to 5 percent of the total contract price, but the impact of properly installing and securing a facility's doors can be as far reaching as just about any other facility technology.
Maryellen Lo Bosco is a freelance writer who lives in Asheville, N.C.
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