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 the designer and end-user with valuable information to eliminate barriers restricting movement and/or access to interior spaces. When comfortable and efficient means of entry are provided, an invaluable positive experience can be generated by someone who can now appreciate the detail that went into your facility – less the hassle.

Common elements to consider for Low Energy doors for ADA applications are the width of door opening, maneuvering clearances, hardware, height of thresholds, and slope of ramps. Additional requirements for doors equipped with Low Energy power operators 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 that sponsors and publishes many 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 principal 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 five years, these standards are revisited 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 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 outlined in the standard, meaning it takes minimal force to stop the door. Force is measured in foot-pounds. This door type is commonly found at your local library, school, or office building. In addition, the ANSI standard outlines the slower speed at which it travels and the hold-open time delay before the door is allowed to close. (Speed, force, and time are three critical elements of a Low Energy power-operated door evaluated for compliance with the standard.) Proper signage is also mandatory to instruct the end user to proceed safely and efficiently.

A Low Energy power assist door reduces the force or effort needed to open the door while 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), requiring more 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 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. Various 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), these options 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 for house switches to activate the door while preventing one from unknowingly stepping into the door’s swing path. 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 code 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, the volume of traffic, etc., will the door receive
  • Environmental conditions, interior or exterior, stack or wind load 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 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 regularly according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Daily safety checks are recommended for the end user to help determine if the doors work correctly between scheduled maintenance programs. Building maintenance personnel are usually the key to seeing that automatic doors are kept in good working order. Several resources are available to help with daily safety checks on automatic door equipment. A daily safety check label, available through door manufacturers and service providers, should be installed on or near all automatic door equipment. These labels walk you through a step-by-step procedure to assess whether the doors function properly. A video on swing doors is available from AAADM, as well as a 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 easy access to your building, long-term service, low maintenance (when installed correctly), and peace of mind when inconveniencing your users is not an option.

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