Friday, 12 December 2014

There’s more to Door Closers than Performance

Anyone concerned with the design, construction or management of buildings will be aware of the critical role that door closers play in assuring the safety of a building’s occupants in case of fire. They ensure that fire doors close automatically, either at all times or when initiated by fire warning systems, and are held shut against their fire/smoke seals, allowing the door to perform the function for which it is designed.

Whilst performing this vital function reliably is a key factor in product selection, specifiers and managers are becoming increasingly aware of the added benefits that concealed door closers can provide in areas such as safety, risk reduction, reliability and maintenance costs.

Professionals will also be aware of the requirements imposed by the Equality Act to assure unhindered access to facilities for the physically impaired.

Choosing the right door closer for a given application relies not only on assessing the product’s suitability against recognised regulations and performance standards, but also on considering a number of other factors that can have a bearing on the safety, comfort and well-being of the building’s occupants.

Performance requirements
The key areas of fire safety and accessibility are governed by a plethora of building regulations, performance standards and best practice guides.
Where fire safety is concerned, various requirements come to bear when selecting a door closer, including Approved Document B of the Building Regulations (Technical handbook E in Scotland and Part E in Northern Ireland), BS EN 1154, which governs the performance of controlled door closing devices and BS EN 1634-1, the fire door testing standard. Door closers that are suitable for use on fire doors must carry the CE mark.

With accessibility, parliamentary instruments such as the Equality Act and the Special Education Needs and Disability Act apply in conjunction with Approved Document M of the Building Regulations (Section 3 in Scotland, Part R in Northern Ireland) and BS 8300, which stipulates maximum opening forces for doors on accessible routes.

Finding a door closer that meets relevant fire and accessibility criteria should not be difficult for the majority of applications as most commercially available products will, at the very least, be able to meet the mandatory minimum performance criteria covering the size and weight of doors for which they have been designed.
Other factors

There are, however, additional factors which should be taken into account when selecting a door closer. These factors can have a significant effect on the ability of the door closer, and fire door, to perform reliably, but also on the quality of the building’s user experience in terms of the safety, comfort and well-being of its occupants, and the aesthetics of the building.

It goes without saying that door closers must, at all times, be able to perform the function for which they are intended. The main reasons for a door closer failing to work are poor reliability and the likelihood of fire doors being wedged open.

Looking at reliability, failure of a door closer can lead to failure of the entire fire door to perform the duty for which it is intended; to keep fire and smoke at bay. In the case of fire, such a failure could be devastating.

Quality of design and manufacture, together with cycle testing of door closers, certainly provide some assurance of a product’s durability, but other factors can have a considerable effect on the ability of a door closer, and fire door, to function at all times.

The need to properly maintain a door closer during its life can impose an undesirable burden on building managers; Powermatic concealed door closers are designed to be maintenance-free and come with lengthy guarantees for added assurance.

Damage limitation

Additionally, if a door closer is damaged, either through some misplaced prank or vandalism, this too can have a detrimental effect on the fire door’s performance, perhaps even stopping the door working all together. In educational buildings and other public facilities, where the users’ duty of care may not be so high, such risks, whether accidental or deliberate, are significant.

Surface mounted door closers, with their obvious control boxes and mechanical arms can present a real temptation for pranksters, whereas concealed door closers virtually eliminate such a risk. Jamb-mounted door closers in particular offer real benefits in this area. Samuel Heath’s Powermatic controlled, concealed door closers are invisible when the door is closed and present very few working parts when the door is open, thereby reducing the likelihood of damage through vandalism.

Wedging fire doors open will obviously prevent the fire door performing its primary function and should be avoided at all times. Despite notices, best practice guides and individual instructions, the practice still goes on, especially in care homes, but also in other facilities.

Recognising the risk, by assessing the needs of a building’s occupants, is the first step in resolving the issue. The solution is either to use hold-open devices or to use free swing door closers, such as Powermatic Free Swing which allows the door to operate manually until the door closer is activated by the building’s fire alarm system.

Risk reduction

There is one further element of safety and risk reduction that is probably not given consideration beyond specialist facilities and that is the risk of a door closer being used as a point of ligature. Sensitive and uncomfortable as the subject might be, the risk should be recognised, perhaps particularly in educational facilities. Whilst full anti-ligature measures would be unnecessary, the risk can be significantly reduced by the use of certain types of concealed door closers. Anecdotal evidence suggests that at least one local authority has replaced traditional box and arm overhead door closers throughout all of its schools with Powermatic concealed door closers in order to reduce the risk of self-harm.

Aesthetic appeal

Great looking interiors are not the sole preserve of the designer who wishes to create interiors unencumbered by unattractive mechanical devices. Many health and care professionals recognise the contribution that more homely, less institutionalised interiors can make towards the well-being and recovery of clients in mental health, psychiatric and elderly care facilities.

The highly visible mechanical boxes and control arms that are unavoidable with surface-mounted door closers spoil the appearance of doors and decorative schemes, interfering with the designer’s vision. They can also result in interiors which have a functional rather than comfortable ambience.

Powermatic concealed door closers are jamb-mounted and present no such problems. Totally concealed when the door is closed and hardly noticeable when the door is open, such door closers offer the ideal solution for a wide variety of applications where aesthetics and comfort are valued.

Making the right choice

When selecting the right door closer for any fire or non-fire door situation, the first task will always be to ensure that the product meets the relevant performance requirements in terms of fire safety and accessibility. Once these criteria have been satisfied, other factors should be taken into consideration which can enhance the safety, comfort and well-being of the building’s users, and it is in such areas that Powermatic concealed door closers become the natural choice.

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