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ADA Door Closer Requirements

ADA Door Closer Requirements

ADA or Americans With Disabilities Act was passed by Congress in 1990 in order to provide protection against discrimination of people with disabilities. Before ADA, many buildings were not accessible to pedestrians with disabilities. As an example on older buildings some doors were just too heavy for a pedestrian in a wheelchair to open, or completely inaccessible since there were only stairs leading to the door and no ramps. Common complaints from people with disabilities included:
  • "I can't eat at that restaurant"
  • "I can't watch a movie at the movie theater"
  • "I can't get into that building"

As a result, the "ADA Standards" was issued as a set of guidelines that are enforced and must be followed by the Public. ADA guidelines and standards engulf a large spectrum of industries from streets and sidewalks to healthcare or even communication. The ADA standards section that outlines the guidelines for doors and hardware is under the buildings and site section, which focuses on new construction or remodels to government facilities, public facilities, and commercial facilities. In this article we go over all ADA door closer requirements.

ADA Statistics

  • According to The Aging States Project Study, "Within 27 years, the population age of 65+ years will increase +60% & 1-in-5 adults will be 65+ years".
  • National Organization on Disabilities (N.O.D.)'s President Alan A. Reich has stated "Businesses have had 13 years to meet the ADA's requirements. There's no longer an excuse for violations at this time".
  • Being ADA compliant is good for business - 20% of Americans are disabled and the number of roving "professional plaintiffs" will only grow. An ADA access lawsuit could cost you $10,000-$100,000 or more (settlements average $45,000+ in some areas); why risk that exposure?

ADA Importance

Americans With Disabilities Act is a civil rights law that is readily enforced. In America, there are over 54 million Americans with disabilities. From this amount there have been thousands of lawsuits filed and millions of dollars awarded. Making sure your door is completely ADA compliant is extremely important for accessibility and safety reasons, but also to make sure that you do not fall victim to a lawsuit due to non-compliance.

What Is An ADA Door Closer?

A door closer can be defined as a mechanical spring device used to safely close a door using hydraulics to regulate the closing speed. An ADA door close can be defined as that same door closer adjusted and installed to meet ADA guidelines. So what are the ADA guidelines? Lets find out!

ADA Standards and Guidelines

ADA standards are codes, regulations, and applications that pertain to Employment (Title I), Public Service (Title II), Public Accommodations (Title III), Telecommunications (Title IV), Miscellaneous (Title V) that make up the ADA law. ADA door closers and other builder's door hardware falls into the category of Title III Public Accommodations. The intent of Title III is so owners of specific types of buildings must remove barriers and provide people with disabilities equal or similar access that is available to the general public.

Where Is ADA Required?

According to the ADA standards, ADA compliance is required for all doors, doorways, and gates that provide user passage on accessible routes. At least one accessible door, doorway, or gate serving each accessible room, space, and entrance must comply. As an example, the storefront front entrance doors to a small flower shop or bakery must be ADA compliant. Likewise a bathroom door in a grocery store should also be ADA compliant.

Closing Speed Atleast 5 Seconds

According to the ADA standards section 404.2.8, door closers should take atleast 5 seconds to close from the 90 degree door position to 12 degrees. This is referring to the main sweep speed or closing speed. The illustration below shows the closing cycle from 90 degrees to 12 degrees.

How To Adjust Closing Speed For ADA Compliance

The main closing speed valve is commonly labeled "S" for sweep. By rotating the sweep valve counterclockwise, the main closing speed will increase. By rotating the sweep valve clockwise, the main closing speed will decrease. We recommend marking the floor with tape to indicate the 90 degree door position and the 12 degree door position. As the door closes, a stop watch can be used to time the door in order to make sure it is in complete ADA compliance.

How To Adjust Latch Speed

The latch speed is the speed range during the last 12 degrees of the door closing cycle. The latch speed can be increased to help close the door. Other factors like stack pressure or the door's cylindrical lock and strike plate may require the latch speed to be adjusted in order to get the door to latch closed properly. The latch speed valve is typically labeled "L". By rotating the latch speed valve clockwise, valve closes, and the latch speed decreases. By rotating the latch speed valve counter-clockwise the valve opens, and the latch speed increases.

Opening Force vs Closing Force

Opening force refers to the energy required to open the door. Closing force refers to the energy required to close the door. When a door is opened a person uses his or her own energy to push the door open, causing the spring inside of the door closer to compress. The compressed spring stores the energy. As the door closes, the spring decompresses and unwinds exerting all of the energy or closing force to close the door. From the example, the correlation between opening force and closing force of the door closer is evident; the more opening force applied to a door closer to open the door, the more compressed the internal door closer spring is, the more force the door closer will have to shut the door. The transfer of energy is known in physics as power. While the useful energy or closing force that is transferred is known as efficiency.

For example, if a pedestrian uses 10 pounds of opening force to open the door. Then the internal spring in the door closer compresses, and once the pedestrian passes through the doorway, the spring decompresses exerting the stored energy. However, not all of the exerted stored energy carries over to the closing of the door. When the spring decompresses, the door closer spindle must first rotate and then the door arm assembly must pivot. With each moving part, the exerted closing force reduces. So by the time a person opens the door with 10 pounds of opening force, the actual closing force to close the door is around 5 pounds, meaning the actual useful energy that is transferred is only about 5 pounds.

For any door installer, one of the main goals of the job is to install a working and functioning door. This means, when you open the door it must close. Seems simple enough, however there are guidelines like the ADA standards which stipulate that in order for an interior door to be ADA compliant, only 5lb of opening force max can be used. With this in mind, the door installation and all components will need to work together to ensure that with 5lb opening force max, there will be enough closing force to close the door. It is not impossible by any means, and is actually quite doable. Attention to details like making sure the door and frame are completely plumb and level, and mounting the door closer standard mount so that it has the most power, all help in providing the most efficient door system possible and making the door ADA compliant. It can be approximated that a 5lb opening force is equates to about a 3lb closing force.

Interior Door 5lb Opening Force

According to the ADA standards section 404.2.9, a compliant door closer should have a maximum opening force of 5lb. However, this does not apply to fire doors (minimum opening force allowed by code), exterior hinged doors (no maximum specified), or latchbolts and other devices that keep doors or gates closed.

The opening force also does not include the initial momentum required to begin moving the door. Door seals and unequal pressure sometimes result in a needed initial jerk to begin opening the door. The maximum opening force of 5lb is referring to the continuous force applied to the door in order to fully open it, not the initial momentum. It is also important to remember that the opening force does not include any of the force needed to retract latchbolts or other devices that require disengagement.

Exterior Door Opening Force

According to ADA standards, the 5lb opening force is applicable to interior doors with hinges. But what about exterior doors with hinges? Does the opening force not matter? Well in short, the opening force does matter for exterior hinged doors. The ADA standards simply states no maximum opening force is specified, so in this case the International Building Code (IBC) or local building codes will apply. Most local building codes can range from an opening force of 8.5 pounds to 5 pounds. Exterior doors can sometimes be difficult to close fully with an 8.5 pound opening force due to the factors that come with exterior doors such as bottom brush door sweeps, offset pivots, 2 point and 3 point deadlocks, wind, or hvac stack pressure.

Fire Door Opening Force

It is also worth noting that the ADA standards refers to any fire door as the minimum opening force allowed by code. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) created the NFPA 80 which is a set of standards for fire doors that are referenced by the International Building Code (IBC), the International Fire Code (IFC), and the NFPA 101. Chapter 6 from the NFPA 80 covers the opening protectives for swinging doors with builder's hardware. According to the NFPA 80 fire doors must be either self closing, automatic closing, or power operated except for: (IBC) exempts communicating doors between hotel rooms from the self closing requirement and the NFPA 80 has an exception for the inactive leaf of a pair leading to a room not normally occupied by humans, if acceptable to the authority having jurisdiction. Fire doors must be self closing with a door closer or other closing device that closes the door each time it is opened.

In order for a door closer to close a fire door, it must have enough closing force to do so. The door must fully close and latch in order to deter the spread of fire. No minimum opening force is specified and is subject to the minimum opening force allowed by the administrative authority. It is worth mentioning Appendix A of the NFPA 80 which states:

"A. Adequate spring power is essential for hydraulic door closers to close a fire door with sufficient force to overcome the resistance of the latching mechanism. However, too much spring power causes opening resistance and makes it difficult for the handicapped, the infirm, and young children to open doors. Closers are classified in sizes from 2 to 6, with an increased closing force for higher numbers. Generally, a size 4 minimum closer should be used on exterior fire doors and a size 3 minimum closer should be used on interior fire doors. Door widths greater than 31⁄6 ft (0.97 m) exterior and 31⁄3 ft (1.02 m) interior, parallel or single lever arm applications, and abnormal air pressures usually require an increase to the next size. A combination of these factors could necessitate an increase of two sizes. Individual manufacturer recommendations should be consulted. Spring hinges should be adjusted to achieve positive latching when allowed to close freely from an open position of 30 degrees."

Appendix A of the NFPA 80 recommends a size 3 door closer for interior fire doors.

Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ)

ADA compliance is essential, however it is also worth mentioning that this is a single set of standards. There are other standards put into place that must also be considered and followed such as the NFPA 80 and the International Building Codes (IBC), as well as other authorities having jurisdiction.

How To Measure Opening Force On Door

To measure opening force we recommend the Liberty Door Closers force gauge below. It can be purchased here.

1. Start by opening the door so that the door is cracked open. The door edge should be aligned with the frame edge (there should be a slight crack in the door opening, approximately 3" open).

2. Place the door gauge firmly above the door's cylindrical lock. If an exit device is on the door, place the gauge directly above the exit device chassis.

3. Push the door open slowly applying steady continuous force to the door.

4. When the door is approximately 70 degrees open, remove the force gauge to read the force.

Measuring the opening force on the door does take practice. It is best to test multiple times to ensure consistent results.

ADA Automatic Door Openers

Automatic door openers are loosely referred to as power door openers, automatic door operators, or ada door openers, are electro-mechanical devices equipped with a dc motor, that powers the door open, and then closes the door mechanically using an internal clockspring. Some automatic door openers are all electric and do not have a mechanical clockspring to close the door in case of a power outage. Non closing spring automatic door openers are non fire rated and can only be used for very limited door openings like interior home hollow core doors.

Are Automatic Door Openers Required By ADA?

Automatic door openers are not a requirement by ADA standards. A mechanical hydraulic door closer that meets ADA compliance is the most popular self closing device for ADA compliance. However, automatic door openers can be used to meet ADA compliance for an opening. Automatic door openers are very popular for door applications where the maximum opening force of 5lb is not feasible to provide enough closing force to close and latch the door. Examples of doors that are ideal for automation include exterior doors, since exterior doors often experience much more resistance factors like wind and increased weatherstripping due to the door location. Exterior doors can be difficult to open or even close compared to interior doors that don't feature as much weatherstripping. Automated doors electrically power open the door allowing them to greatly reduce the opening force of the door. Automatic door openers follow specific ADA guidelines for compliance including proper signage/labels, activation button placement, and more. For more information on ADA door opener compliance please refer to our ADA Door Opener Requirements article.


The ADA standards were put into practice for a great reason, providing equal accessibility to pedestrians with disabilities. ADA guidelines should always be followed and enforced. Always be sure to refer to the manufacturer's product instructions, the latest ADA guidelines, building codes, and any other authority having jurisdiction. Guidelines and standards are always being updated and it is the job of the installer to keep up to date.


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