With the current focus on how to limit the spread of germs, many facility managers are considering the addition of automatic operators so doors can be operated “hands-free.”  I’ve been receiving lots of questions about touchless switches, remote transmitters, and codes related to auto operators in general.

I’ve compiled the list below to help summarize the requirements, with links to longer articles and more information.


Referenced Codes and Standards:  The codes and standards listed here include requirements related to automatic operators and are referenced in some of the summaries and articles below.  If you are an Allegion employee, these documents can be downloaded from our Techstreet subscription (contact me if you need help).  The ADA standards can be downloaded from ADA.gov.

  • BHMA A156.19 – Power Assist & Low Energy Power Operated Doors
  • BHMA A156.10 – Power Operated Pedestrian Doors
  • ADA Standards for Accessible Design
  • ICC A117.1 – Accessible and Usable Buildings and Facilities
  • International Building Code (IBC)
  • NFPA 101 – Life Safety Code
  • NFPA 80 – Standard for Fire Doors and Other Opening Protectives

Summaries and Links:  The following summaries address requirements pertaining to automatic doors.  Each heading title is a link to more information.

  • Public Entrances: Changes have been approved for the 2021 IBC that will require automatic operators at some public entrances. Currently, the codes and standards do not mandate auto operators, although they are sometimes installed to overcome a code issue such as limited maneuvering clearance, or opening force that exceeds the maximum allowed by code.
  • Stand-By Power: Doors with automatic operators are not subject to the same maneuvering-clearance requirements as manually-operated doors.  However, if a door does not have the required clearance on the egress side, and an automatic operator is added to bring the door into compliance, the automatic operator must have stand-by power so it will function in an emergency.  Automatic operators on fire-rated doors are required to be deactivated upon fire alarm. Therefore, an automatic operator with standby power should not be used on a fire door to overcome maneuvering clearance problems because the operator will not be functional when the fire alarm is sounding.
  • Actuators: In order to comply with BHMA A156.19, low-energy operators must be initiated by a “knowing act.” The knowing-act method may be a push plate actuator or non-contact switch mounted on the wall or jamb, the act of manually pushing or pulling a door, a wireless transmitter, or an access control device like a card reader, keypad, or keyswitch.  The standard includes recommended locations for actuators.
  • Touchless Switches: Actuators that can be operated by the wave of a hand are considered a knowing act by A156.19, but the detection range (the distance from the waving hand to the switch) should be no more than 12 inches.
  • Monitored Sensors: A change was made to the 2017 edition of BHMA A156.10, which requires safety sensors to be monitored. If the safety sensor is not functioning, the door is not supposed to open.  Although this standard does not usually apply to low-energy operators, it does apply to low-energy operators that are not initiated by a knowing act.  A low-energy operator that is actuated by a motion sensor must comply with A156.10, including the use of guide rails and safety sensors, and these sensors must be monitored according to the 2017 change.
  • Timing: The BHMA standards include minimum times for the opening and closing cycles, as well as a minimum hold-open time. For low-energy operators there is a table in the standard which states these minimums based on the door width, door weight, and actuator position.
  • Power-Assist: Although some people call doors with low-energy operators “power-assist” doors, they are two different types of operators and the requirements of the codes and standards vary. A power-assist door has an operator that reduces the opening force but requires the door to be opened manually.  A low-energy operator opens the door automatically.
  • Signage: The BHMA standards include requirements for signage, which vary for low-energy operators depending on how the door is actuated. Every automatic door is required to have the mandated signage installed.

If there are other topics that I should add, just leave a comment below. 

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