A Short Guide on the Proper Installation and Maintenance of Panic Bars
And How Door Hardware Maintenance can be a Source of Recurring Revenue for Glazing Contractors
If you’re like most glazing contractors, you might not put a lot of thought into doors and door hardware after you turn a building over to the client. But we believe this is a missed opportunity. In this article, we explain why door hardware maintenance should be top of mind and how you can go about generating stable revenue from scheduled maintenance visits.
Who’s Liable When Door Hardware Fails?
Building owners have a legal obligation to ensure all building components and safety features function properly.
In general, property owners have a duty to protect users from accidental, negligent, and intentional acts of third parties. They are also required to provide adequate warnings or protection against such risks. That means building owners will be liable if faulty or damaged door hardware compromises the safety of the building, allowing uninvited individuals — who could potentially commit a crime or harm occupants — into the building.
The fact is that faulty or damaged door hardware could lead to negligent security lawsuits. And if it can be shown that the owner did not take appropriate steps to maintain the hardware and take steps to secure the building, they could be held responsible and be forced to pay damages.
To give you a sense of the magnitude of the liability in these scenarios: According to a study by Liability Consultants Inc., the average settlement in a rape security case is $600,000 and the average verdict in the same type of case is $1.75 million. The average verdict for an assault in a hotel or motel is $254,850, with 25 percent totaling $1 million or more.
As glazing contractors, we can best serve our clients and the wider community by ensuring that building owners understand this risk and their liability in the case of faulty door hardware. And we can use this opportunity to start a conversation about the proper maintenance of door hardware.
Why Maintenance of Door Hardware is Important
Of course, the proper installation of all building components is of utmost importance. But, equally important — though sometimes ignored by contractors — is ongoing maintenance. Critical building functions, especially safety features such as door hardware, should be regularly maintained to keep building occupants safe.
Building owners have a powerful incentive to ensure their buildings are safe. And glazing contractors are in an ideal position to provide critical maintenance services and generate recurring revenue from periodic site visits.
Maintenance is particularly important for buildings with panic bar hardware installed. These must always be working properly because they have the potential to save lives in the event of an emergency, such as a fire, that forces occupants to escape as quickly as possible. In fact, this is the reason they were invented.
The invention of the panic bar is an interesting yet tragic story — one that architects, engineers, and technicians should take to heart.
Tragedy at the Iroquois Theatre
Most people have heard of the Great Chicago Fire, which tragically claimed the lives of about 300 people. But the Iroquois Theatre Fire is actually the deadliest single-building fire in U.S. history: at least 602 theatre-goers were killed when the theatre caught fire and its occupants were unable to open the exit doors.
The doors were difficult to open because they were designed to open inward rather than outward. This was a serious issue because, as the fire raged, people panicked and assembled by the exits, trying desperately to leave the theatre. But the pressure from the frenzied crowd made opening the doors inward almost impossible. Few escaped, and those who did barely scraped through as the pressure from the crowd within forced the smallest opening to close once again.
This tragedy could have been prevented with smarter design decisions. The choice to make exit doors open inward was perhaps the worst decision, but other shortcomings included the lack of a fire alarm, sprinklers, exit signs, emergency lighting, fire extinguishers, and ladders for the fire escapes.
The Iroquois Theatre Fire inspired Carl Prinzler, a hardware salesman who had planned to attend the Iroquois Theatre that very day, to design a door mechanism to prevent such a tragedy from happening again. He and his colleagues invented a crash bar that simultaneously prevents entry from outside and makes it easy for occupants to open doors outward with just a little pressure applied to the bar.
Prinzler released his first design over 100 years ago and it’s still widely used today.
Why Panic Devices are Critical for Building Safety
The panic bar features a mechanism that rapidly engages when pressure is applied, allowing the door to be easily pushed open. This design prevents bottlenecks that naturally occur when people panic. It therefore helps people escape fires or other potentially fatal emergencies, and also greatly reduces the likelihood of injury from being trampled.
This simple design is now ubiquitous, and in fact required by building codes for high-traffic or hazardous buildings. For example, according to the International Building Code (2006 edition), panic bars are mandatory for public and educational buildings with occupant loads of 50 people or more and high-hazard buildings regardless of the occupant load. Note that this requirement applies to doors that lock or latch; it does not apply to doors with push/pull hardware and no lock or latch.
While the main purpose of panic bars is to prevent fatalities during emergencies, they have secondary benefits that building owners should understand.
First, since panic bars are installed on the inside of the door, they effectively secure the door from the outside, preventing access from unwanted visitors. Second, panic bars can be coupled with an alarm to notify security or the police when an emergency exit is breached or if a restricted area, such as a rooftop, is accessed. Third, panic bars are just plain convenient when your hands are full and you need to get through the door. This makes them ideal choices in high-traffic areas, such as hospital corridors or anywhere with frequent deliveries.
How to Properly Install Panic Devices
You need to meet the following installation requirements to ensure panic bars are installed to code:
- Do not add locking devices to doors with a panic device
- Do not add any device that prevents the release of the latch when the touchpad or crossbar is pressed, with the following exceptions:
- Electromagnetic locks released by a sensor or switch inside the panic hardware
- Delayed egress locks that release after 15 seconds
- Controlled egress devices designed for use in certain healthcare units such as maternity and memory care wards
- The actuating part of the device must be at least half the width of the door
- The unlatching force cannot exceed 15 pounds
- Touchpad-style devices are required on balanced doors and the touchpad must not extend past half the width of the door as measured from the latch side
- Panic hardware must be mounted 34-48 inches above the floor
- Panic devices are usually required (see here for details) for electrical rooms with equipment rated 800 amperes or more that contain overcurrent devices, switching devices, or control devices
Panic Bar Maintenance
As previously mentioned, door hardware maintenance is critical for protecting occupants and limiting liability in the event of an accident. It’s also an opportunity for glazing contractors to generate recurring revenue.
As with most hardware, failing to maintain panic devices will lead to a shorter device lifespan and possibly even failure of the device during operation.
Fortunately, panic hardware maintenance is relatively simple.
The maintenance procedures below are general maintenance procedures that can be applied to most panic hardware, but please be sure to check with the manufacturer of the installed product for specific maintenance requirements.
Monthly maintenance tasks
- Check the device to ensure it’s operating properly (i.e. the locking points release when the bar is pressed, the door opens unimpeded, and the door latch reengages as the door closes)
- Use a force gauge to record the operating force required to release the device (it should be less than 15 pounds)
- Check that the strike plates are not obstructed
- Ensure that no additional locking/latching devices have been added to the door
- Make sure all moving parts and strike plates are free of dirt and debris to prevent jamming
- Wash all exposed areas with a mild detergent, warm water, and a soft sponge; rinse with clean water and wipe dry with a soft duster or chamois leather
Annual maintenance tasks
- Check to make sure that all fixings, including the strike plate, are securely fastened and re-apply suitable threadlock as required
- Lubricate moving parts as required (according manufacturer specifications)
- Make sure all components are functioning as designed
- Use a force gauge to measure the force required to release the device and check that it has not deviated too far from the design force or force recorded at install
If any part of the panic hardware is malfunctioning, consult the product documentation for troubleshooting steps and, if necessary, contact the manufacturer. Never leave a door with malfunctioning panic hardware unattended!
Also note that hardware installed in a corrosive environment like a swimming pool or near the sea, or with very high usage, will require more frequent maintenance. In these cases, tasks usually carried out annually should be done twice a year.
When installing door hardware, make sure the building owner understands these maintenance procedures and schedule future maintenance visits upfront. This is a great way to keep building occupants safe and build a steady source of revenue for your business.
It’s always a good idea to have a conversation with building owners about the importance of properly installing and maintaining door hardware, especially critical hardware such as panic bars. A relatively small investment in safety can keep building occupants safe and protect building owners from liability in the event of an accident.
As glazing contractors, we have a responsibility to do everything in our power to ensure the safety of the people who will be using the building we’ve been contracted to work on. We should all do our best to meet installation and maintenance best practices.