This post was published in Doors & Hardware

Two very common accessibility issues for door openings can usually be addressed by making simple adjustments. The accessibility standards require accessible doors to be opened with a limited amount of opening force, and to close slowly. Often these requirements can be met by properly adjusting the spring power and the valves of the door closer.

Opening Force

The opening force requirements are the same for both the 2009 and 2017 editions of ICC A117.1 – Accessible and Usable Buildings and Facilities (Section 404.2.8), and the 2010 Americans With Disabilities Act Standards (Section 404.2.9). The maximum opening force for interior hinged doors is 5 pounds. The maximum opening force for sliding and folding doors is also 5 pounds. Both standards note that the 5-pound force limitation does not apply to the force required to retract latch bolts or disengage other devices that hold the door in a closed position (refer to this Decoded article for more information on the forces for operable hardware as well as the 2021 IBC requirements for opening force).

In earlier editions of the standards, the opening force for exterior doors was addressed, but the current ICC A117.1 and ADA standards do not include an opening force requirement for exterior doors. The opening force limitation may be addressed in local codes, with some local requirements ranging from 15 pounds to 5 pounds for exterior doors.  When local codes do not address opening force, the limits stated in the adopted building code typically apply.  The difficulty with exterior doors is that adjusting the door to a low opening force and consequently a low closing force will sometimes result in an exterior door that is unable to close properly. Wind, air pressure, weatherstrip, latchbolts, and other conditions contribute to the problem.  Check your adopted codes to determine opening force requirements for these doors.

Fire doors are exempt from the 5-pound force limitation in the accessibility standards, and are subject to the minimum opening force allowable by the appropriate administrative authority. Although NFPA 80 – Standard for Fire Doors and Other Opening Protectives, does not include a requirement for the amount of force used to open or close a fire door, Annex A of NFPA 80 does address the need for adequate spring power to ensure that the door is closed and latched, while taking into consideration the potential difficulty of opening a fire door. Annex A recommends a size-3 closer for interior 3-foot-wide fire doors, and a size-4 closer for exterior fire doors. Wider doors or doors with abnormal air pressures or other circumstances may require an increase to the next spring size. The closer “size” refers to the spring power, which correlates to the opening and closing force.

While fire doors are not required to open with 5 pounds of force, the maximum opening force for all egress doors, including fire doors and exterior doors, is addressed in the International Building Code (IBC).  The IBC’s maximum allowable opening force for exterior doors and fire doors is a force of 30 pounds to set the door in motion, and 15 pounds to open the door to the fully-open position.  Power-operated doors are subject to the same requirements except that the maximum force to set the door in motion is 50 pounds, however, the BHMA standards for automatic doors impose a more restrictive limit – 30 pounds to set the door in motion.

Closing Speed

The closing speed of an accessible door is addressed in Section 404.2.7 of the 2009 and 2017 editions of ICC A117.1 and Section 404.2.8 of the 2010 ADA Standards: “Door closers and gate closers shall be adjusted so that from an open position of 90 degrees, the time required to move the door to a position of 12 degrees from the latch is 5 seconds minimum.”

Again, this requirement can easily be met by adjusting the closer – this time by limiting the flow of fluid via the adjustment valves, and slowing the closing speed. At one time, a common practice was to equip accessible doors with delayed action closers, which delay the closing cycle for 1-2 minutes when opened to the fully-open position. While there may be some doors for which delayed action closers would be a good application, they are not required by the accessibility standards, and can even hinder the operation of some doors.

The closing speed for spring hinges is also addressed in the accessibility standards: “Door and gate spring hinges shall be adjusted so that from the open position of 70 degrees, the door or gate shall move to the closed position in 1.5 seconds minimum.” Although spring hinges are not prohibited by the accessibility standards, their use on accessible doors should be carefully considered, as they do not truly control the door. If spring hinges are used on fire doors, Annex A of NFPA 80 recommends that spring hinges should be adjusted to achieve positive latching when allowed to close freely from an open position of 30 degrees.

When a door closer can not be adjusted to meet the accessibility requirements for opening force and closing speed, a good option is to install an automatic operator. The 2009 edition of ICC A117.1 and the 2010 ADA Standards do not require the installation of automatic operators on accessible doors per se, although there are some state codes that do require them in certain circumstances.  (Note: The 2017 edition of ICC A117.1 and the 2021 edition of the IBC require automatic operators for public entrances, and there is more information here.)  Most door closers sold today are capable of being adjusted for use on an accessible door or on a fire door, but in situations where a door closer will not properly control the door within the limitations of the accessibility standards, an automatic operator should be considered.

Recommended Methods for Measurement

The accessibility standards do not go into detail about how to measure the opening force and closing speed, but there are recommended methods included in ANSI-BHMA A156.4-2019 – ANSI Standard for Door Controls-Closers.

A14 Recommended Method for Measuring Force Compliance to ADA
1. On the push side of the door, locate a point on the horizontal center line of the push plate or lock trim, at 1 inch from the latch edge of the door.
2. Mark the floor at a point where the push side of the door’s latch stile is at 70 degrees. Mark a second point where the push side is 3 inches from the latch.
3. Open the door so the latch is clear of the strike and the door is slightly off the stop.
4. Using a force gage on the mark determined in Step 1, gradually push the door open to the 70-degree mark established in Step 2.  Observe the maximum force reading.

A15 Recommended Method for Measuring Closing Time Compliance to ADA
1. On the push side of the door, locate a point on the center line of the push plate or lock trim, or at 30 inches (762 mm) from the hinge edge of the door, whichever is greater. Mark the floor at a point 30 inches from the hinge pivot when the door is open to the 12-degree position and another on the same side of the door when door is at the 90-degree position.
2. Hold the door at the 90-degree mark. Release the door and time the closing sweep between the two marks.

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