Closing the Door to Trouble

A few simple steps can help facility executives avoid costly problems that arise when doors and door hardware aren’t carefully selected

By James Piper  

More than any other building component, doors and door hardware are subjected to abuse by the elements and building occupants. As a result, most organizations devote a significant portion of their maintenance effort and budget to keeping doors and hardware operating correctly.

When a door or its hardware is damaged, the facility staff must respond, and respond quickly. Damage can compromise building security and disrupt operations within the building. For all these reasons, facility executives are expected to do whatever is necessary to maintain doors and door hardware.

With the exception of failed finishes, split panels and physical damage, the majority of problems involve the door hardware. Doors that are difficult to open or close, open or close too quickly and stick are the result of common door hardware problems. All can be avoided.

Despite the importance of door hardware, few people pay attention to that topic in building construction and renovation projects. Door hardware represents a small fraction of the overall project cost. Therefore, many facility executives simply use what they have used in the past with no consideration of differences between the applications or even how well that hardware has performed in the past.

In some cases, facility executives have been lucky. High-quality hardware was selected for the original application, and it was suited to the application.

But not all facilities are so lucky. Too often, the original selection is made primarily on the basis of first costs. Differences between applications, such as frequency of use or degree of access or egress required, are not taken into consideration. The result is that the hardware is not suited to the application, and it rapidly becomes an ongoing maintenance problem.

Facility executives can avoid most door hardware pitfalls by following a few simple steps. These actions can help ensure that suitable hardware is selected for an application.

Start With a Plan

Door hardware selection typically starts with a review of submittals from the project designer. Designers select specific components and forward them to the owner for approval. Often, these selections are based on past selection with little or no consideration of the specific needs of the new application.

The owner’s involvement is even less. If any attention is paid to the hardware that is being selected, it is a cursory review based primarily on appearance.

The door hardware selection process must follow a plan specific to the facility. It starts with a thorough understanding of the application. Office and health care facilities will have completely different requirements than middle school and high school applications, which must be capable of withstanding higher levels of traffic, use and abuse than most commercial applications.

Another key element of the plan is standardization. Maintenance departments must stock a wide range of replacement items. By standardizing with as few different types of hardware items as possible, maintenance departments can reduce costs and space requirements.

Standardization also helps to improve the performance of personnel who are responsible for maintaining the doors. Without standardization, personnel are required to learn how to maintain and replace a much wider range of hardware components. And even once they have learned how to work with a particular unit, their effectiveness will be reduced if they don’t service it on a regular basis.

Hardware planning must also include close monitoring and inspection of the installation process. Even the best door hardware will not perform well if it is not properly installed. Hardware installation must be monitored with a final inspection before the project is accepted.

Evaluate Your Options

If the existing hardware is suitable for the application and is performing well, then chances are that the same hardware for a new installation will also perform smoothly. But if there are problems with the existing hardware, or if it is not well-suited for the level of service that it will face in the new application, then the facility is headed for long-term hardware problems.

While first costs and appearance are important, many other factors must be considered. One is the exposure to the elements. Exterior door hardware will have to be corrosion-resistant and more heavy-duty than interior hardware. Stainless steel and aluminum resist corrosion better than steel or cast iron.

Which material is best suited for the application will also depend on the level of use and abuse that the hardware will be exposed to. While brass and other soft metals might be suitable for applications where appearance is paramount, they would not last very long in high-traffic areas. In high-use and high-abuse areas heavy-duty hardware will be required. This is as true for hardware as it is for the automatic opener that will be used and how it attaches to the door and the door frame. Door openers place additional stresses on door hardware, particularly the hinges.

Additionally, the door openers themselves must be selected based partially on how far the doors are required to open. Door hardware selection will also be governed by the types of security systems required. Electronic locks and card access systems impose their own requirements on hardware. If there will be a local or a central monitoring system monitoring the doors, the system requirements also must be taken into consideration.

While ADA regulations will impose requirements on door hardware, they are not the only code or regulatory issues to consider. UL fire-rating requirements will affect hardware selection. So will local building code requirements.

Even factors such as the climate influence hardware selection. The hardware selected in humid climates must be made from materials that resist corrosion. In climates where freezing conditions occur regularly, door hardware must resist moisture penetration. For example, floor-mounted hinges and closers are prone to icing in colder climates. The closer that facility executives can match the hardware selection to the needs of their application, the greater the long-term benefits will be.

Planning the installation, monitoring the construction and carefully evaluating options will help to ensure that the installation is well-suited for the application. But no door hardware, no matter what its quality or how well it is installed, will meet performance expectations unless it is properly maintained. All hardware should be inspected at least twice each year, typically in the spring and fall. Hardware that is exposed to high levels of use or abuse may require monthly inspections. Manufacturers’ requirements for adjustment and lubrication should be followed closely. These maintenance procedures can help maximize the investment made in door hardware.

James Piper has more than 25 years of experience in the facilities field. He is a contributing editor to Building Operating Management.

Door hardware selection benefits from life-cycle cost analysis

One of the most important factors to be considered when evaluating hardware options is the life-cycle cost of each option. Consider that for most hardware applications, maintenance costs over the life of the installation exceed purchase costs on the average by a factor of 10. That means small savings in first costs can result in large increases in the total cost of ownership if the lower-cost item is less durable or requires more frequent maintenance. Look closely at the preventive maintenance requirements for each option being considered. Maintenance requirements will vary widely depending on the materials used, the durability of the item and its design.

The ease with which maintenance can be performed also varies widely. Some hardware items are designed for easy maintenance, while other designs appear to have ignored maintenance entirely. During the life of the installation, these maintenance cost differences will be significant.

Selecting the product that will have the lowest life-cycle cost requires that facility executives know the usage factors of the application before settling on a particular item. In general, the most economical long-term performance will result from selecting heavy-duty components. Even medium-duty hardware will be hard pressed to withstand the punishment of all but the lowest level usage applications.

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  posted on 10/1/2003   Article Use Policy

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