Doors, Dollars and Common Sense

When selecting door and door hardware products, facility executives who balance first costs with life cycle costs get the best value

By Karen Kroll  

When purchasing doors and door hardware, it makes sense to pay attention to basics. The goal is to select products that will operate as they’re supposed to, for as long as they’re needed, even if they cost a bit more upfront. Making sure doors are properly installed, then providing the maintenance necessary is also critical.

“If you’re buying proven door and hardware brands, and they’re well-maintained, the doors can, with normal wear and tear, last the lifetime of the building,” says Paul Dauphin, vice president of marketing and business development with ASSA ABLOY Door Security Solutions.

Bob Kronk, vice president of sales and marketing with Select Products, says he has also seen doors last for decades when they’re properly chosen and maintained. “Conservatively, they can last 20 years with proper installation,” he says.

A first step in purchasing doors or door hardware that will last for the long haul requires determining how the door will used, says Derrick Marris, business unit manager with Schlage, a business unit of Ingersoll Rand. “Is it a secure door for a computer room? A classroom door? An exterior door?”

One of the most significant concerns when choosing exterior doors and door hardware is keeping occupants and property safe inside the building. That must be balanced, however, with a system that allows people to get out quickly in an emergency. “The door needs to keep bad guys from getting in the building, and allow egress — so I can get out of the building quickly if I need to,” says Dauphin. As a result, the door should lock securely, and also have a reliable panic device that occupants inside can depress in an emergency.

Of course, not every door needs to meet the tests required of exterior exit doors, which generally receive a great deal of use, are exposed to the weather and need to control access to the interior of the building. Doors on workers’ offices, for instance, often don’t meet these standards. They receive much less use, and typically are needed less for security than they are for privacy, says Trice Kastein, institutional sales manager with Detex Corp. As a result, the initial cost of interior doors tends to be much lower than that of exterior doors.


One way to determine how well a particular door is likely to operate and hold up is to evaluate it according to the door hardware standards developed for the industry. The standards are established by the Builders Hardware Manufacturers Association using the consensus procedures of the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). According to the BHMA Web site, 31 ANSI/BHMA standards currently have been established, and several more are under development.

The standards typically establish the number of cycles — that is, openings and closings — to which the door should be able to hold up. For instance, panic exit devices rated Grade 1, the highest level, by ANSI/BHMA, must reliably allow the door to open 500,000 times, says Kastein of Detex.

Grade 1 hardware typically is the most durable, says Dauphin of ASSA ABLOY. Grade 2 hardware is next, while Grade 3 is least durable and is usually suitable for residential construction.

Ensuring that a door meets appropriate ANSI/BHMA standards is particularly important when it will be used by the public, and thus will likely endure a fair amount of abuse. It’s also critical when it comes to fire-rated doors, says David San Paolo, technical director with The Maiman Co. These doors are designed to keep flames from spreading in case of a fire.

Industry experts estimate that upgrading from a Grade 2 to a Grade 1 door can cost between 25 and 50 percent more. However, Kastein estimates that the Grade 1 equipment will last three times as long. In addition to saving on the costs of new doors, facility executives can avoid the hassles and downtime of frequent door replacements.

Performance Standards

What’s more, should more expensive door hardware break, it often can be repaired. In fact, many facility departments keep replacement parts on hand to complete the repairs themselves, Kastein says. In contrast, less expensive door hardware that breaks often can only be discarded, she says.

Recently, the focus of the ANSI/BHMA standards has changed, says San Paolo. “The trend is away from telling door manufacturers how to make the door. Instead, the focus is on how the door is to perform.” For example, an older standard might have said that a door edge would need to be at least 1.5 inches wide. Now, the standard might say that the door has to last through at least 1 million openings and closings.

Evidence of this shift can be seen in the latest edition of ANSI/BHMA’s “Industry Standard for Architectural Wood Flush Doors,” or I.S. 1A-04, San Paolo says.


When selecting doors and door hardware, several areas are particularly vulnerable to mistakes, says Dauphin. One is neglecting to match the quality level of the door and the hardware. If the door is inexpensive, putting expensive hardware on it may not be enough to make it more secure or durable.

Another concern is poor installation. “If a door isn’t installed properly, you’ll get maintenance headaches later on,” Dauphin says. To avoid a poor installation job, it’s useful to check the installer’s record, and also ask which products the installer is factory-trained to install. “There are significant differences between hardware brands,” Dauphin says.

For example, different brands of doors often open and close differently. “You can speed this up or slow it down,” says Dauphin. “However, if the speed is not adjusted properly, the door can close on the person.” Getting the timing right is particularly important in doors for people with disabilities.


Doors don’t typically have high maintenance costs. In fact, San Paolo estimates that the initial cost of the door will amount to about 75 to 80 percent of the total life cycle costs of the door. The door may last 20 to 30 years if a quality product is chosen for the right application; otherwise, the product may have to be replaced sooner.

Even so, for the doors and hardware to operate properly, routine maintenance is required. This typically includes testing the fasteners and hinges to make sure they’re tight, and in some cases, oiling the hinges.

Access Control

Another consideration when purchasing doors is the importance of knowing who is going through the door, says Cindy English, spokesperson with Ingersoll Rand Security Technologies.

If it’s not critical to know or track those coming and going through the door, a mechanical door lock may be sufficient. However, if the facility executive needs to know more about the people going through the door — such as their names or the times they used it — an electronic access control product typically is required, English says.

Facility executives can choose between battery-operated and wired access control devices. In existing buildings, battery-operated systems eliminate the need to tear up construction to run new wires.

While sophisticated access control products certainly come at a cost, in some cases they also can generate savings. For instance, if a key card is lost or stolen, it can be deactivated and the person issued a new card. In contrast, when a key to a building is lost, it may be necessary to re-key the entire facility to ensure that the building remains secure, notes English.

Facility executives also will want to ensure that any doors they are selecting meet or exceed local codes or regulations, says Kastein of Detex. This can get complicated, as the laws vary from one city to another.

Kastein offers an example: Panic exit devices can operate in different ways. If a person tries to open an emergency exit, the alarm will sound, but the door may not open for 15 to 30 seconds. These doors don’t open immediately for security reasons: Facility executives don’t want people trying to secretly scoot out the exits with the company’s computers or other assets.

Some cities, however, require these doors to be electronically linked to the fire alarm or sprinkler system; the doors open as soon as the panic bars are pushed. “In some areas, the local fire marshal or county commissioner won’t allow delayed egress; they err on the side of life safety,” says Kastein.

Of course, doors are about more than just allowing people to enter and exit a building. They also can add to the image a building conveys. That’s particularly the case today, given the range of finishes and styles available. “There are buildings where you walk up to the doors, and say, ‘Wow, look at that,’” says Kastein.

To make sense of all the security and architectural choices available, facility executives can turn to professionals to help them determine which doors are best suited for their building. Architectural hardware consultants can draw up specifications for each door that include everything from hinges to weather stripping, notes Kastein.

Facility executives also should keep an open mind when considering the materials used in doors, says San Paolo. “Don’t accept that the way it’s always been is the way it should be,” he says. “There are new products on the market that will outperform earlier products.”

On the other hand, even as door technology and materials change, the wisdom of buying the quality required for the application at hand remains the same. “Doors and hardware are such a small part of new construction; generally, they’re 1 to 3 percent of overall construction costs,” says Dauphin of ASSA Abloy. “If you spend more upfront, you’ll get fewer headaches and maintenance costs later on.”

Karen Kroll, a contributing editor to Building Operating Management, is a freelance writer who has written extensively about real estate and facility issues.

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  posted on 7/1/2005   Article Use Policy

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