7 Keys to Successful Hardware Specification Writing

By Spencer Colvin, AHC, CSI, Director of Architectural Specifications, DORMA Americas

Writing door hardware specifications requires both expertise and focus on multiple considerations. As a hardware consultant, you deal with many moving parts—both figuratively and literally—to ensure hardware meets a project’s needs for design, construction, security, safety, and ease of use for end users.

When tasked with writing specs for door hardware, there are seven key things you need to pay careful attention to:

  1. DORMA Article-May2015.pdf - Adobe Acrobat ProKnow Your Codes.

When the first International Building Code (IBC) was published in the year 2000, there was the promise that writing specs would become much simpler as everyone would be on the same code. Unfortunately, that didn’t quite work out as well as we had hoped it would. Some states took the IBC and used it to develop their own building codes and others adopted a version of the IBC but issued an extensive list of amendments. Many individual municipalities did the same.

Because there’s still no single, universal code used by everyone, the first question you need to ask an architect is: “What codes apply to this project?”

If the state where the building is located uses IBC, you’ll need to know which version (2000, 2003, 2006, 2009, or 2012) applies; the requirements for each version vary to some degree.  Then you need to review that particular state’s amendments to the IBC and check if the local municipality has any additional amendments. For example, the city of Denver, CO has an amendment adding additional requirements for access control above and beyond the rest of Colorado.

Some states amend the IBC by deleting the means of egress chapter and adopting NFPA 101 in its place. This is important to know because the egress chapter in the newer versions of IBC requires the use of exit devices on doors serving spaces that hold 50 people or more while NFPA 101 doesn’t require exit devices until there are 100 people in a given space.

To ensure you have the information you need to successfully write specifications, ask for a copy of the Life Safety Plan for the project. It will provide the relevant codes, the occupant load of each area, and other details you’ll need to write your specifications.

  1. Understand the Functions Within the Building.

In addition to helping you identify applicable codes, the Life Safety Plan will also bring you an understanding of the egress paths and the number of people exiting the various areas within the building. The Life Safety Plan also indicates the location of fire-rated and smoke-rated partitions.  Check the door schedule to make sure all fire-rated and/or smoke-rated doors that are in the Life Safety Plan are indicated on the door schedule, and that they are shown with the proper rating.

Understanding the function and usage of the building is critical in determining not only the grade of hardware to specify but also the function of the hardware. Should you use mortise locks or cylindrical locks? Should storage rooms get a storeroom function, classroom function lock, or passage set?

Getting a feel for the desired aesthetics of the building will help you, as you select the finish of the hardware and lever design. Knowing about any budgetary constraints can also play a role in making some of these selections.

  1. Coordinate, coordinate, coordinate.

Coordination is an element so important it should be mentioned more than once. Many different aspects of the project rely on effective coordination.

Coordination with Security

This stands as one of the biggest challenges in hardware specification writing. Nearly every project in today’s environment involves some level of electronic security and access control.

Is there a security consultant on the project?  A well-qualified security consultant could make your job a lot easier. Consequently, lack of or an inexperienced security consultant could make your job significantly more difficult.

As your first step in understanding the security requirements, request a meeting with the security consultant and/or the end user to discuss what will be needed. Address details such as card reader/access control locations and the functions of access control at each opening.

The security consultant should tell you which doors receive access control and how those doors should function. Don’t let them tell you what hardware is needed on the door for it to function as required; that’s your decision as the door hardware expert.

I recommend developing a relationship with a good security consultant in your geographic area, and offer their services on projects that don’t have a security consultant. Working with a security consultant who knows how you work makes coordination a smoother and more fluid process. Plus, nurturing that relationship could bring you additional project opportunities as the consultant might reciprocate and include you on projects as well.

Coordination with Electrical and Fire Protection

It’s important to make sure any electrified components have power going to them. Automatic operators, magnetic hold opens, and electrified exit devices all require power, and that should be indicated on the electrical drawings.

Likewise, the requirement for magnetic hold opens, magnetic locks, and others that need to lose power upon activation of the fire alarm system needs to be coordinated as well.

Coordination with Aluminum Doors

If the project involves aluminum doors, they can add complexity and bring additional considerations. You’ll need to find out what finish will be on the aluminum doors and whether the finish on the hardware for the aluminum doors should match those doors or be the same as the hardware in other doors.

What stile aluminum doors are being specified? Don’t assume because it’s an aluminum door it requires narrow stile hardware. If the aluminum door specification calls for wide stile doors, it would be preferred to specify wide stile hardware for those doors. Generally, the wide stile hardware is more durable and cost effective than narrow stile hardware.

You’ll also want to ask the architect if he/she prefers the aluminum door hardware be placed in the door hardware section or the aluminum door section. Either way, you are the hardware consultant, and you should write the hardware sets for those doors. Otherwise the aluminum door manufacturer will provide the lowest cost products they carry in order to get the job.

Coordination with Tempered All-Glass Doors

What about hardware for all-glass doors? Glass doors are extremely popular today, and they require hardware, too. If you include a set in your hardware schedule saying, “All hardware by glass door manufacturer,” you’re just kicking the can down the road. That places the onus back on the architect to figure out what to put on those doors.

Tempered glass doors are subject to the same codes as other doors. In fact, some codes (ADA for example) affect them more than they do other types of doors. Door size, glass thickness, rails vs. patch fittings, deflection, and weight are all factors in determining the proper hardware for glass doors. The hardware for tempered glass doors should be in a separate hardware schedule, either in the door hardware section or in the glass door section.

If you’re not comfortable with specifying hardware on glass doors, contact a glass door hardware manufacturer. Some hardware manufacturers have specification consultants on staff to assist with specifying the proper hardware for tempered glass doors.

  1. Know Your Audience.

The specification book is written for one person or entity, the general contractor. The general contractor is ultimately responsible for everything in that specification book.

Contractors may decide to delegate certain portions of the specifications and their corresponding responsibilities to various sub-contractors. That decision should be at the sole discretion of the general contractor. Therefore, you should avoid delegating duties within the hardware specification section to other parties. While you should know what other parties are likely to use the hardware specification section (for example, the door and hardware distributor, the installers, and others necessary to coordinate efforts with), the general contractor should be the only person providing direction.

  1. Don’t be afraid to challenge the architect.

As a hardware consultant, you review the entire project while developing a hardware schedule. Going through this process, you’ll see the project from an entirely different perspective than the architect. You can often detect things that are potential code violations, which the architect might overlook or won’t be aware of.

With sliding doors on conference rooms, for instance, architects may not realize that rooms with ten or more people require a pivoting (swinging) door as a means of egress. I’ve frequently seen office space plans showing sliding doors on all the offices and conference rooms, including some larger ones that clearly have an occupancy load greater than ten. Since manual sliding doors typically do not have a break out feature, architects need to either change the sliding door to swinging or add a swinging door somewhere else as the egress door. You’ll need to advise architects on requirements for situations like this one and many others.

The architect will appreciate your feedback.  This gives you additional credibility as an expert and adds value to the services you are providing.

  1. Fill in the blanks, and check your work.

In today’s environment, project schedules are more compressed than ever. Hardware consultants are engaged very early in the process, often in the middle of design development. You may be expected to create a complete hardware specification and schedule by the end of design development so the building owner can get accurate pricing from their contractor. Often, contractors are locked into a GMP (Guaranteed Maximum Price) at this stage.

This presents the challenge of working off of incomplete drawings. Architects will work frantically to develop their drawings at the same time you are working on the hardware specifications and schedule. At this stage, you’ll likely have a very incomplete door schedule that shows sizes and maybe materials. It might not yet include any door or frame details, ratings, and it probably won’t be coordinated with the floor plan at this point. Often, some of the information you have will be incorrect.

Hardware consultants need to make a lot of assumptions and fill in the blanks based on what makes the most sense. You need to draw on your past experiences with similar types of projects. It’s very important that any assumptions you make err on the side of the more expensive option. Because of the pricing component involved with this set, you’ll want to make sure you have enough money in the job to cover any necessary changes down the road.

After the architect gets caught up and completes his/her drawings, you should go back and review your document against the updated drawings to see what you need to change.

  1. Be Consistent.DORMA Article-May2015.pdf - Adobe Acrobat Pro

We all know there is more than one way to skin a cat, and likewise, there’s more than one way to specify hardware for a particular opening. What’s important is that however you decide to treat that opening, you treat all similar openings on the same project the same way. Consistency matters. If you start on a project this week, work on something else for a couple of weeks, and then finish the original project three weeks later, you should review what you did initially so you’re consistent in how you handle hardware for similar openings.

Even though DHI teaches us how to write a hardware specification preamble from scratch as we prepare for our AHC exam, in practice we all add our hardware schedule to preambles we have used before on similar projects. On every project, take the time to go through your preamble, line by line and paragraph by paragraph, to ensure everything in it applies to your current project and is consistent with the hardware in the hardware schedule.

Ensuring that door hardware meets the safety, security, and functional requirements of a project demands an attentive and thorough approach. With so many factors to consider, your role as a hardware consultant isn’t an easy one. But by using these seven keys to writing door hardware specifications as a guide, you will hopefully find it a bit easier to stay cognizant of what you need to address as you’re preparing your hardware specification and schedules.