After my post about the Parkside West fire, a couple of people have asked me what I have against spring hinges. I’m not one to discriminate against hardware of any function, style, or finish, but I also like things to do what they’re supposed to do. If I could get my kids to act more like cast iron door closers, I’d be a happy camper. I’m not picking on spring hinges here – Ives makes spring hinges and is also one of the brands that keeps a roof over my head. They just need to be used for the right applications.
The term “spring hinge” is pretty self-explanatory. It’s a hinge which incorporates a spring, theoretically to close the door. The advantages of spring hinges are 1) they look (to the untrained eye) like a hinge…no “unsightly” door closer to incorporate into the design, and 2) they’re inexpensive. They cost more than a regular hinge, but less than hinges + a door closer. The accessibility standards and NFPA 80 (with door size limitations) allow spring hinges, so given the low cost and aesthetic advantages, they’re pretty popular for certain applications.
The most common application for spring hinges is a dwelling unit (apartment, hotel room) entry door. Budgeting a door closer for each hotel room can really add up, and some architects object to the look of a door closer on a door that is meant to look more residential. I have seen spring hinges on other doors – once even in a stairwell (:-0) but my guess is that the limitations of spring hinges have relegated them to use mostly on dwelling units which have a lower usage and perceived lower risk than some other doors.
About 20 years ago I went to AH2 – level 2 of the architectural hardware course DHI offered (I’ll have to dig up my class photo and post it!). My instructor called spring hinges “cat killers” and even had a flat cat named Earl that he used as a visual reminder. Door closers control a door with a combination of spring power, hydraulic fluid, and adjustment valves (prefurred by the United Brotherhood of Cats). Spring hinges need to get some momentum going and work like heck to overcome any resistance they encounter during the closing cycle, whether it’s from air pressure, the latching mechanism, door bind, gasketing, or something else.
After a while, spring hinges tend to lose power, and sometimes need to be adjusted so they still have enough force to close the door. Unfortunately, they’re rarely adjusted after the initial installation. This makes spring hinges unreliable – they might get the door almost to the closed position, but not latched. If it’s a fire door, the door is no longer code-compliant, and the smokeseal that’s now required on many fire doors can create more resistance for the spring hinges to overcome. If it’s a door on an accessible route, the lack of control and the high rate of closing speed can be inconvenient or worse. One of our specwriters was called to a job-site because the light bulbs in the corridor wall sconces were blowing out repeatedly. It turned out that the slamming of the doors with spring hinges was the cause.
Spring hinges do have their place. Just today one of our specwriters was asking about a small access door that covered an alcove for an automatic sliding fire door – perfect! A fire-rated unequal-leaf pair with a 1′ leaf or a rarely-used mechanical room might be good applications. But the use of spring hinges should be very carefully considered. There are small but durable door closers that are not expensive, can be finished to match the door and frame, and would do a much better job of closing, and controlling the door.