Considerations for ADA Applications in Public Buildings

The Department of Justice publishes the “ADA Standards for Accessibility to Public Accommodations and Commercial Facilities.” These standards equip both the designer and end user with valuable information to eliminate barriers that restrict movement and/or access to interior spaces. When comfortable and efficient means of entry is provided, an invaluable positive experience can be generated by someone who is now able to appreciate the detail that went into your facility – less the hassle.

Common elements to consider for Low Energy doors for ADA applications are: width of door opening, maneuvering clearances, hardware, height of thresholds, and slope of ramps. For doors equipped with Low Energy power operators, additional requirements are mandated per the ADA standards for compliance to ANSI/BHMA.

Standards for Low Energy Doors

ANSI is the American National Standards Institute, a nationally recognized not-for-profit organization which sponsors and publishes many different standards. While ANSI standards are voluntary, in most cases national, state and local regulations require compliance. Next we have the BHMA (Builders Hardware Manufacturers Association). BHMA is a trade association for North American manufacturers of commercial builder’s hardware and authors some 31 ANSI/BHMA standards in the builder’s hardware category, covering everything from hinges to locks to power doors.

The principle national standard for Low Energy doors is the American National Standards Institute’s Standard for Power Assist and Low Energy Power Operated Doors, known as “ANSI A156.19.” Approximately every 5 years these standards are re-visited for improvements and updates based on the latest technology, industry needs, and usage of automatic door equipment.

By definition, a Low Energy power operated door is that which requires a knowing act (for example: pushing a wall switch or using a card reader) to start the automatic opening cycle. While this door is opening or closing, it cannot generate more kinetic energy than what is outlined in the standard, meaning, it takes a minimal amount of force to stop the door. Force is measured in foot pounds. This type of door is commonly found at your local library, school, or office building. In addition, the ANSI standard outlines the slower speed in which it travels and the hold open time delay before the door is allowed to close. (Three key elements a Low Energy power operated door is evaluated for compliance to the standard are speed, force, and time.) Proper signage is also mandatory for instructing the end user how to proceed safely and efficiently.

A Low Energy power assist door reduces the force or effort it takes to open the door while you are pushing or pulling it. As soon as you let go, the door will start to close. These are less common than the power operated doors mentioned above.

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Safety Requirements for Full-Speed Automatic Doors

In contrast, what you typically encounter at the grocery store is a fast-moving automatic door that has guide rails to keep you out of the swing path, motion sensors or mats to activate the door without needing to know how to open it, and presence sensors to prevent the door from closing on you. These are covered in a different ANSI/BHMA standard (A156.10) and require a greater number of features and functions to perform efficiently and safely.

Because of the additional requirements of full speed doors, it’s no surprise that Low Energy doors are gaining in popularity. The volume of Low Energy operators grew by more than 11% in 2006 over the previous year. These doors can be manually operated, yet when needed can automatically open (at a mandatory slower speed) via commonly seen wall switches as one form of activation. Low Energy operators can easily retrofit to existing doors and frames and be surface applied or recessed into the ceiling. The electrical connection can be as simple as a cord to a 110 volt outlet. A wide variety of accessories like electrified strikes, panic exit devices, fire alarms, and security systems can interface with the Low Energy operator enhancing its capabilities and functions.

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Points to Consider Before Installation

Even though guide rails and presence sensors are not required on Low Energy doors (like their full speed counterparts) options like this can be added to direct traffic patterns in the door area and enhance performance based on the application. On the swing side, guide rails also provide an ideal place to house switches to activate the door while preventing one from unknowingly stepping into the swing path of the door. Switches can be mounted in/on jambs, guide rails, walls or free-standing bollard posts near the entrance. General guidelines (not part of the standard) for locating switches are as follows:

  • Preferably located from one to five feet from the door, but no more than twelve feet away
  • The switch on the swing side should not be blocked by the door when in the open position
  • Switches should not be located where use puts the person in the swing path of the door
  • The switch should be mounted in a location where the person has full sight of the door
  • Mounting height of 34” to 48” off the floor (or per specific codes requirements)

Door manufacturers as well as automatic door installation/service companies should be consulted to help you make the right decision on what type of powered door best fits your application. Items to consider are:

  • What type of usage, volume of traffic etc. will the door receive
  • Environmental conditions, interior or exterior, stack or wind loads considerations
  • Initial installation cost and expected cost of ownership
  • How use of this operator can support Green Building / LEED

Proactive Maintenance for Automatic Doors

Maintenance of automatic pedestrian door equipment is no exception and also requires periodic servicing and inspection to ensure compliance with the ANSI/BHMA standards. It is strongly recommended that an inspector certified by the American Association of Automatic Door Manufacturers (AAADM) inspect all automatic pedestrian doors at the time of installation and, at a minimum, annually. It is also recommended that a qualified professional maintain the doors on a regular basis according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Daily safety checks are recommended for the end user to help determine if the doors are working properly in between scheduled maintenance programs. Building maintenance personnel are usually the key people in seeing that automatic doors are kept in good working order. There are a number of resources available for help with doing a daily safety check on automatic door equipment. A daily safety check label, which is available through door manufacturers and service providers, should be installed on or near all automatic door equipment. These labels literally walk you through a step-by-step procedure to assess if the doors are functioning properly. A video on swing doors is available from AAADM, as well as personalized instruction from your AAADM certified service provider. Information can also be found in the owner’s manual, which may highlight additional features that a specific brand of product could have.

Low Energy automatic pedestrian door operators for ADA applications provide you with ease of access to your building as well as longtime service, low maintenance (when installed properly), and peace of mind when inconvenience to your users is not an option.

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For more information on ADA Accessibility Standards, ANSI/BHMA, and AAADM: