By Kim Paarlberg
According to the World Health Organization, an estimated 1.3 billion people around the world experience significant disabilities, which is 16% of the global population.
Disabilities can be temporary, like a broken leg, or permanent such as mobility impairment, hearing or vision loss. These disabilities affect how people get around in their communities and, because of this, it is important that buildings remain accessible and provide equal access to places where we live, work, and play. Automatic doors are just one example of improved accessibility features.
Automatic doors improve building access for people using wheelchairs, scooters or walking aids, as well as parents pushing strollers, customers pushing shopping carts or people carrying items in their hands. They can also be a benefit in areas where there is a concern about hygiene control, such as hospitals, food processing plants and laboratories.
Automatic Door Requirements in Building Codes And Standards
Accessibility requirements set by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Fair Housing Act (FHA) have been extensively incorporated into the Code Council’s International Codes (I-Codes) through the code development process.
The automatic doors requirements within the International Building Code (IBC) exceed the federal accessibility requirements, answering the “what”, “where” and “how many”. The Standard for Accessible and Usable Buildings and Facilities (ICCA117.1), a nationally recognized standard of technical requirements for making buildings accessible, answers the “how to” for implementing accessible features.
The three types of automatic door operators addressed by the automatic safety standards and referenced in the 2021 and 2024 IBC are:
• Power-Operated Doors
Power-Operated Automatic Doors automatically open for individuals, with the door opening initiated by a motion sensor or pressure pad.
• Low-Energy, Power-Operated Doors
Low-Energy, Power-Operated Automatic Doors automatically open for individuals after a button is pressed or the panel control is accessed near the door.
• Power-Assist Doors
Power-Assist Doors have a mechanism that reduces the force to operate the door, and they are usually found on very large and/or heavy doors. These types of doors do not provide hands-free entrance, because if the hardware on the door is released, the door will close.
Automatic Door Requirements at Public Entrances
Sixty percent of public entrances are required to be accessible and the 2021 IBC requirements state that public entrances on certain buildings should be power-operated, or low-power operated, automatic doors.
The 2024 IBC, which is currently being finalized and will be available late Fall of 2023, will include revisions that address power-operated doors at public entrances and clarify how automatic door provisions are intended to apply to entrances with multiple doors, vestibules, and mixed occupancy buildings.
- Assembly buildings (Group A-1, A-2, A-3, and A-4) with an occupant load greater than 300 and business, mercantile and hotel buildings (Group B, M, and R-1) with an occupant load greater than 500, will need to have a minimum of one power-operated automatic door or low-energy power-operated automatic door at each public entrance. Where the accessible public entrance includes doors in series, such as a vestibule, a minimum of one set of two doors in series will need to be the same type of automatic door.
- For a building with multiple tenants on the first floor, if a tenant space has its own exterior public entrance, this will be considered a separate facility and the occupant load of that space would not be counted towards the total building occupant load. Automatic doors would be required if the tenant space on its own exceeded the specified occupant loads.
- For mixed-use buildings, there is an allowance to ratio the areas for each occupancy. For example, a large hotel that adds a small café would ration the area of each so that the number of occupants that would trigger the automatic door requirement would be between 300 and 500.
Advocating For Better Accessibility
Federal agencies, state and local governments, codes and standards organizations, the construction industry and disability advocacy groups must work together to make buildings accessible.
Incorporating automatic doors on buildings can provide increased independence and convenience for individuals who have a disability. They are a simple and effective way to promote building accessibility if constructed and maintained correctly through up-to-date codes and standards.
To help convey the importance of accessibility within your community, Week Four of the International Code Council’s Building Safety Month campaign provides tools to advocate for improved building accessibility.
Paarlberg is a senior staff architect in Technical Services with the International Code Council. Her experience with the Code Council includes work in the code development department and training. Paarlberg serves as code development secretary for the IBC General and Means of Egress/Accessibility and the IRC Building. She is the Code Council representative for development of the referenced technical standard for accessibility, ICC A117.1 “Accessible and Usable Buildings and Facilities.”