Open up to the option of automatic doors

For the many residents in nursing homes and assisted living facilities who face physical and/or mental limitations, automatic doors can provide independence and improve safety. While automatic doors are not required by the Americans with Disabilities Act Accessibility Guidelines (ADAAG), they are the best way to meet these requirements, providing not only access, but autonomy and convenience as well.

When considering installation of automatic doors, there are a wide variety of factors to consider. Which type(s) of door(s) is the best choice for your facility? How will residents’ safety be protected? What will be required from your staff to verify that the automatic doors are consistently functioning properly? What will regular maintenance entail?

Choosing a Door

Selecting the right door should be a team effort among the facility owner, door supplier, and designer. The intended function, aesthetic preference, and budget are the major concerns when determining which type of automatic door is appropriate for a project.

There are three basic types: automatic sliding doors, automatic swinging doors, and automatic folding doors. Sliding and swinging doors are commonly used in healthcare settings, while folding doors are less prevalent.

Pocketed-sliding doors with an appropriate speed for assisted living environments are one choice often recommended by designers. In a facility with an Alzheimer’s unit, this type of door should be paired with an access-control system to protect patients who could potentially wander out of the facility. Often, these types of doors are used in larger facilities with a fairly heavy traffic flow.

Low-energy swinging doors are often used in smaller facilities. This type of door features a nearby push-button that when pressed, triggers the door to open. For assisted living facilities, the American Association of Automatic Door Manufacturers (AAADM) recommends swinging automatic doors with electrical strike or magnetic locks or a slide door with electrical locking capability.

Door models that have been specifically developed for nursing home and assisted living facilities are available. These models are often designed to enable ongoing observation of patients, without the disturbance of outside noise. Some automatic doors are also designed to make it possible to open the doors to the full width of the doorway in emergency situations, thereby allowing staff to move large beds and cumbersome equipment quickly and easily.


As with any access system, automatic doors require attention to safety through regular inspections and maintenance. The manufacturer, installing/service company, and facility owner can best protect their clients, customers, residents, employees, and guests by maintaining a proper standard of care for the equipment.

To assist in this regard, AAADM has put together a basic list of safety guidelines for automatic doors that should be followed:

  • The automatic door should be properly specified to suit the intended use and to meet the requirements of the ANSI (American National Standards Institute) A156.10 Standard Power for Operated Doors.

  • Automatic doors and low-energy swinging doors should be installed by qualified technicians and inspected by AAADM-certified inspectors.

  • Preventive maintenance and a daily inspection are strongly recommended. Daily safety check procedures are outlined on a label that can be obtained from AAADM or any certified inspector.

  • Doors should be properly marked as automatic.

  • Door closing speed and force should be adjusted by a trained technician. Time delay should be set, and activating devices properly positioned and adjusted. This step is especially important in a long-term care facility where it may take more time for someone to enter or exit through the door due to limited mobility.

Another safety step is simple, but a necessary and required one: labeling. Be sure your installer applies door safety decals, which mark the door as automatic, indicate the direction of pedestrian traffic, and direct emergency traffic.

AAADM also offers a safety video that demonstrates to employees how to properly conduct a short automatic door inspection, as well as a door label that outlines daily safety inspections. A daily inspection takes very little time. According to AAADM, a good time to check doors during the day is when they are unlocked in the morning.

In addition to daily inspections, automatic doors should be checked whenever there is a power outage, or any time power to the door has been turned off.

Performing a Safety Check

  • With swinging doors, stand in the safety area while someone steps onto the activating mat or into the sensor area. The door should not open as long as anyone is in the safety area.

  • If activation mats are used, step on each section of each mat to confirm proper functioning.

  • For doors with electronic sensors, check the sensor by walking toward the door opening at a moderate rate of speed. Do several approaches from various angles, and step in and out of the sensor area several times from different angles.

  • For doors with electronic holding beams, cover the beam and stand motionless to make sure the door remains open. Uncover the beam to make sure the door closes after a brief delay.

  • For doors with electronic sensors and holding beams, perform tests standing upright as well as in a crouch position.

  • Automatic doors should slide or swing open smoothly and stop without impact. As you move through the door, it should remain open. When you step off the activation mat or out of the sensor area, the door should close smoothly after a brief delay.

  • Stop in the doorway for several seconds. The door should remain open.

  • For two-way doors, repeat inspection procedures from both approaches.

  • Exercise caution when performing daily inspections.

  • The automatic door owner’s manual outlines specific tests, rate of swing or movement, and closing-delay times for the doors.

  • In case of a malfunction, turn off power to the door, block the entrance area and mark it as “Not in Use/Please Use Other Door.” If only one door is installed, secure the door in an open position. Do not attempt to repair the door. Call an authorized automatic door technician for service.

To provide safe operation of automatic doors, building owners must make sure they have a copy of the owner’s manual for operation of all automatic doors in their facility. They must also instruct employees on location and operation of function switches, circuit breakers or power-disconnect switches. Employees and owners should also have easy access to the telephone number for authorized service.

Planned Maintenance

As with anything that is used on a daily, consistent basis, automatic doors require regular upkeep. Planned-maintenance contracts are recommended to provide a proactive approach to automatic door maintenance. Several things should be taken into consideration when establishing a maintenance program, in-cluding the number of automatic doors in the facility, the age of the doors, and the amount of traffic.

A basic contract will ensure that the doors comply with AAADM requirements. This includes minimal on-site inspection, with the number of visits varying depending on the contract. Repairs are made if needed and costs depend on the time and materials.

During a basic inspection, sensors are tuned, opening and closing speeds are checked and adjusted, if necessary, and components, belts, gears, lubricants, pivots, glass, and guide rails are checked.

A full-service contract typically includes the benefits of a basic planned-maintenance contract, with an agreed-upon price per door for repairs. The contract, which can be structured per year or per visit, includes all parts and labor, routine service calls, and any calls during business hours. These contracts give facility owners the ability to budget very closely what they spend on the doors and ensure they are operating in top condition.


Automatic doors are an appropriate and beneficial choice for nursing homes and assisted living facilities. This technology serves both to enable and limit independence, depending on the circumstances that apply for each installation. For caregivers in facilities with elderly residents who may be suffering from a disease such as Alzheimer’s, automatic doors can be an extra tool to safeguard residents. For facilities looking to allow residents, visitors, and staff to move about more easily and quickly, automatic doors offer convenience and freedom for users, regardless of their physical limitations.

Christopher Johnson is Executive Director of the American Association of Automatic Door Manufacturers.

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