Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Manual Door Closers - Do You Have an Open and Shut Case?

During the past several years I have been contacted many times regarding door injury claims related to manual door closers. In response to numerous inquires asking if I have published any manual door closer articles similar to the primers I have done on automatic pedestrian doors, I am offering this article for general information to assist attorneys in determining potential issues relating to manual door closer mechanisms.

Manual door closers are ubiquitous. We take advantage of their service on a daily basis without usually noticing that they are in place or that they are doing their job correctly. It is when something is seriously wrong with these closers that they become blatantly noticeable and potentially dangerous.

Manual door closers can be as simple as a spring on an old screen door, a cannon ball weight on an antique house gate, or as sophisticated as a modern day hold open device electronically integrated with a smoke or heat detector connected to a centrally monitored alarm system. This article will not discuss specific brands, manufacturers or proprietary construction aspects of these closers, instead it will discuss the most common reasons that manual door closers can create injury claims. This general discussion is meant to deal with door or frame surface mounted door closers. While concealed and center pivot door closers are common in some applications, the most prevalent and common cause of serious personal injuries pertaining to manual door closers primarily relate to surface mounted closers. No discussion of building requirements, code compliance, or ADA parameters pertaining to door closers will be addressed in this article.

How Do They Work?

In general terms, a manual door closer is designed to assist a person using a doorway allowing them to smoothly and effectively open and shut a door without the need to physically return the door to the framed opening themselves. When properly adjusted, there will be a slight "back-pressure", giving the user some feedback as to the weight of the door, followed by a smooth transition as the door glides easily open in front of the user. Upon reaching the maximum set opening of the door, the closer takes full control dampening the opening forces, quietly and gently closing the door until the door is back in the frame, latched and ready for the next user.

Does Cost Affect Their Performance?

There are many price ranges and quality levels of door closers currently available on the market. In most major commercial installations there is a tendency to standardize the door closers throughout the facility. Hotels, hospitals, and shopping malls typically use a heavy duty type of closer that when properly installed and adjusted should provide many years of trouble free service to the user. Maintaining all door closers for proper function and control is essential as with all mechanical devices. In apartment and office buildings budgetary constraints sometimes lead to the decision to use a mid range or lower priced closer. Sometimes a foreign made lower quality "look-alike" closer is substituted for a domestic made, quality product leading to premature failure of the closer mechanism and/or erratic and inconsistent operation.

Choosing Your Door Closer

Many architects and designers do not have the foresight or knowledge to realize that the door closer is one of the most highly used pieces of equipment in any building, and they often make the wrong decision to use lower quality products in an effort to mistakenly and inappropriately save on building material costs. This choice of a lower-cost closer, combined with poor quality hinges, cheap door locks and other low quality installed hardware, affects the functions of the lower end door closers. The combination of all of the lower priced components can multiply the potential for premature failure of any door system. All door components installed on a door, in conjunction with the door frame work as a team, and require proper maintenance and periodic inspections to assure safe and effective operation. The choice to use the best quality hardware does not always ensure a "bullet-proof" doorway, but along with proper maintenance and adjustment, the higher priced quality hardware is money well spent over the long run. In general, the higher the quality of the individual components, the easier the long term maintenance.

Why Can Door Closers Cause Injuries?

Based on my experience as a door and hardware contractor and forensic expert for doors and door components, here are the three most common reasons that injuries occur due to door closer malfunctions. While this is not an exhaustive list, and there are always new and unique situations, these issues happen repeatedly and tend to set a trend for how injuries develop. (1) Door closers are misused, (2) Door closers are misunderstood, (3) Door closers are improperly installed.


There are a variety of reasons that a facility uses the wrong hardware. Generally, the selection of the type, brand, style, and capacity are specified improperly. Cost constraints are often a key reason. In some cases this is due to the poor direction and discretion of designers or architects. Many times hardware sales representatives solicit offices of architects and designers pitching and promoting products that are not always the correct choice for a specific application. These sales representatives can convince a designer that their products are universally applicable, and even though there are often significant problems with these installed products, architects are very seldom alerted. It is not until the design firm is included in litigation for an injury that they become concerned with their methods of choice. Many times architects are protected by a time warranty parameter that is used in an attempt to limit their contractual responsibility. Most architects or designers have never worked in the field of door and hardware sales, nor have they ever participated in product installation, usage, and long term application. These architects are no more qualified to specify a door closer product than they would be to work as a surgeon, just because they designed a medical suite space. Sales representatives often provide financial incentives, promises of future project leads, and assurance that their promoted product is as good as the more expensive hardware. Normally, these promises come with a potential for a reduced cost, rebate, or perceived savings to the end user. Sometimes, foreign made door closers are substituted for a higher quality domestic door closer without the knowledge of the end user. The products may appear similar, however in reality the promises and warranties made by the sales representative may not be realized. Sales representatives tend to come and go, and long before many projects are completed the sales rep has moved on, leaving the end user ultimately responsible for the problems that will arise. Incorrect, undersized or oversized closers often get installed leading to problematic performance at the direction of the uninformed or ill-informed "design professionals. Lower product costs do not usually equal higher performance in the long run!


Many times, the primary cause of door closer failures is the direct result of improperly trained or unsupervised maintenance personnel. Most domestic door closers are evaluated, tested and approved for sale prior to being brought to the market. They have gone through stringent testing, have been rated for longevity, usage in fire, and are warranted for a specified lifetime. Many manufacturers will offer replacement of products when periodic maintenance has been performed by trained individuals. Often, the higher quality door closer bodies have a "built date" stamped onto the closer body. The more reputable manufacturers rely upon this date to establish the lifetime of the closer body. This is based on presumed cycles of usage, correct adjustment, and proper appropriate maintenance. Appropriate maintenance is necessary to assure the safe and proper functioning of the door closer mechanism. Many times, individuals charged with maintaining a facility have little or no training with regard to door hardware, especially door closers. These workers often make random improper adjustments, create and compound existing problems due to partial or complete lack of knowledge and are sometimes the genesis of the ultimate failure of a door closer, leading to serious bodily injury. In many facilities, these "maintenance" workers are usually called upon to fix everything from a leaking toilet to replacing a burned out light bulb. Facility employed maintenance workers are often paid low wages and are directed by management to attempt to correct deficiencies when doors do not function correctly. In an effort to save costs, trained hardware professionals are rarely called in. Many times, the door closers have been so badly damaged by these inappropriate and random adjustments that the entire door closer must be replaced. Normally, replacing or rebuilding the door closer because of improper maintenance far outweighs the expense of a periodic maintenance program performed by professionals. There is no substitute for professional evaluation and maintenance when it comes to assuring the safe, code-compliant, and proper operation of all doors and door hardware.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Save Money When Your House Sells By Inspecting The Doors Before The Home Inspector Arrives

As with windows, doors come in many different sizes and materials. Examples of materials are wood, metal, fiberglass, glass, acrylic and composite.

Styles include solid core, hollow core, raised panel, flat panel, louvered, bifold, bypass, accordion, pocket, hinged, tracked, fire, pet, garage, patio, "French", "Dutch", double and so forth.

Each door has specification requirements for its use. With their many components and functions, doors are a bit more complicated than windows but some of the information is similar.

Don't get distracted by door descriptions. When inspecting you will be looking for the physical condition and operation of the door and also making sure that the proper door is being used.

Requirements for interior doors are less restrictive than for exterior doors. Exterior doors may be used on the interior of the building but an interior door should not be used for an exterior application.

In other words, a hollow core door should not be used for an exterior exit door. This is not only for security reasons but also hollow core doors do not provide adequate insulating properties and resistance to weathering.

In addition, a solid core fire rated door is required between the living space and the attached garage. I will elaborate more on the fire door requirements below.

Begin your inspection at the front door, which is usually the first door encountered when entering the home.
Look at the front door. Is there anything that jumps out at you?

Is it a solid core exterior door?

How do you determine if it is a solid core door?

Knock on the face of the door with your knuckles to hear if it sounds solid. If you are not sure, try comparing the sound made by knocking on an interior hollow core bypass closet door. The solid core door will create a dull noise and the hollow core door will sound like a wooden drum.

As you approach the door, look at the way it hangs in the jamb (the trim material that makes up the frame surrounding the door).

Check the reveal (the space between the door and the frame or jamb).

Is the gap in the reveal relatively even? An eighth of an inch variance in this area is common. Any more than that could be due to loose hinges, deterioration or poor installation.

Next, inspect the condition of the door face or surface. Is it deteriorated, scratched or damaged in any way? Hollow core doors and even solid core doors with a veneer skin may delaminate when subjected to severe weather conditions.

Are there any cracks in the door edge around the latch?

Front exterior wood doors often have panels. Check to see if any of the panels are cracked or damaged.

Front exterior doors may also have glazing (glass) panels. Check to see if any of the glazing is cracked, broken or has lost its seal. Is the glass tempered?

Next, open the door, straddle the front edge of the door and grab hold of the knobs. Gently lift up using your legs (NOT your back or arms) to determine if the doorknob is tight and the hinges are well secured to the jamb. If you notice a lot of play or movement at the hinge area, it may simply mean that the screws are loose. Tightening them with the proper screwdriver may resolve this symptom. Sometimes the hinge screws are fine but the hinge pin may be worn. In that case the hinge may need to be replaced.

Once you have made certain the hinges are secure recheck the reveal around the door. Securing the hinges may correct some if not the entire reveal problem. If the door did not latch properly before, that problem may also be corrected by tightening the hinges.

Next, check to see if the door will actually latch.

You would be amazed how many times I encountered doors that did not latch. The homeowners were often surprised and commented, "We never close that door." I replied, "Well I can certainly understand that but the new owners might want it to latch for some reason.

Doors that do not latch could indicate a number of issues discussed below. Make a note at this point if the door does not latch.

Does the door stick in the frame at any point, drag on the floor covering or bind at the striker plate of the latch? The striker plate is the metal plate screwed into the doorjamb where the latch catches to secure the door. Does the door swing open or close on its own?

Is there any unusual noise or squeaks when the door is opened, closed or latched?

Do the knobs and door lock operate properly or do they need some lubrication or possible adjustments?

Sometimes just tightening the screws of the hardware will eliminate problems.

I often noticed that when the doorknob screws were positioned top to bottom instead of side to side, the privacy lock would not work properly. Check the orientation of the doorknob screws. They should be parallel with the floor.

Check to see if the deadbolt latches are able to fully extend into the mortise hole in the jamb. If the deadbolt latch does not fully extend, the bolt can be pushed back into the unlocked position.

Try this if you have access to a deadbolt lock. With the door open, engage the deadbolt part way. Stop before you hear the "click" of the lock mechanism. Push on the bolt. You will actually be able to push the bolt back into the door with your finger. Push on the bolt after you hear the "click." The bolt will not move.

If you are not able to hear or feel the "click" when locking the deadbolt, the lock is not properly engaged. The mortise hole in the jamb is not deep enough to allow the bolt to travel far enough to fully engage. It is not secure.

Home inspectors will report on the presence of double deadbolt locks. Some will report them as a hazard. Double deadbolts are those locks that can only be opened from the outside or the inside with a key. My reports used to say this:

FYI: A locked double deadbolt lock could be a hazard in the event of an emergency if the key is not available. 

I recommend double deadbolt locks be replaced before the home inspector arrives.

Check the striker plates in the jamb. If the striker plates are loose, damaged or missing, repair or replace them.

Check the jamb itself. Is it split, damaged, deteriorated or water stained? Make a note on any of these conditions.

Home inspectors and termite contractors carefully investigate water stains found around doorframes. Water intrusion is a serious issue particularly when addressing walls and exterior siding.

Exterior doors will need to be weather-stripped. There should not be any light passing in around the door from the exterior.

Pay particular attention to the sweep at the bottom of the door. Weather-stripping is inexpensive and easy to install. The bottom sweep can usually be adjusted downward to sweep the threshold properly.

Is there a doorstopper preventing the knob from hitting the wall?

As you move into other areas of the building, check the condition and operation of any bifold, bypass and accordion closet doors. Along with the considerations mentioned above, they should slide in the tracks and operate with ease without coming off the track or dragging the floor covering. Broken mirrors on bypass closet doors should be replaced.

When checking any interior or exterior double doors, determine if the pins of the secondary door can be properly secured at the top and bottom. Do they operate and engage smoothly?

Check patio doors and screen doors for smooth operation and proper locking. Home inspectors will report missing or damaged screen doors.

Patio doors often have window coverings. Many home inspectors do not report on window coverings but you should check and note their condition to be sure they operate properly. Your Realtor will usually not recommend replacing window coverings unless the home shows badly. The buyers will probably want to select their own.

On many of my inspections the buyers were present. I could hear them discussing how they would redecorate the building to reflect their own personality. New floor and window coverings were almost always on the list for replacement. Realtors often suggest cleaning or removing these items but not replacing them.

The glazing in patio doors should be tempered. Check for lost dual pane seals in dual pane patio doors and the fixed glazing.

Fire doors are an important consideration. Such doors are located between the living space and an attached garage. They may also be located at the stairway to the basement or any other area that may contain flammable materials, a water heater or furnace.

Fire doors should have an operable automatic closer that will cause the door to self close and latch when it is released. If the fire door has an automatic closer but does not latch when it is released, the closer should be adjusted or replaced. Sometimes the floor covering can obstruct the proper operation of the closer causing the door to drag.

Fire doors are installed to suppress fire from entering into a living space but only for a limited amount of time. Any modifications to these doors create a possible hazard, such as a pet door.

Pet doors installed in a fire door compromises its fire suppression function. I realize we need to help our pets get in and out of our buildings for obvious reasons. I have pets too, but you need to know the home inspector will write up a fire door that has a pet door installed.

Some home inspectors will write up a fire door that has a door stop installed because it overrides the purpose and proper function of the door.