Steel Doors & Frames Go With the System
When an opening requires strength, durability, or maximum fire resistance in any combination, steel doors and frames provide the qualities to meet these needs. Once valued mainly for their utilitarian function, they continue to develop higher aesthetic qualities while also accommodating the growing electrified functions a door must support. This article will look at the different ways steel doors and frames are changing and explore some of the ways they are being used.
Closing the Opening
It takes more than a door alone to close an opening. The combination of door, frame and hardware together should be considered as a complete system, designed and specified to meet certain objectives.
Although frames are also available in wood and aluminum, steel generally is specified where increased strength and durability is required. The need for security and life safety are other reasons steel may be selected. Not only do steel frames provide a high degree of rigidity for these applications, but their construction makes it easier to install the electrified hardware that meets today’s life safety and security functions. While some steel frames are assembled and welded together before delivery to the jobsite, others are assembled at the jobsite. Their steel construction and design makes it easy to accommodate the wiring for electric strikes, monitors, or power transfers through the door to the locking mechanism.
Steel frames and steel doors make an ideal combination for maximum durability, although wood doors are often combined with steel frames. In those installations, steel frames are used because of their flexibility, durability, fire ratings, and the added benefit of accommodating the newer generations of electrified hardware.
Three different classes of material may be used to manufacture steel doors and frames. Cold-rolled steel is formed into door panels and painted. For greater corrosion and rust resistance, galvanized steel may be used to fabricate the door, but this is also painted. Stainless steel is used in areas where corrosion is a serious problem or sanitary standards must be met. Food service areas, swimming pools and athletic facilities, coastal areas, and some industrial or pharmaceutical areas are typical places where stainless steel doors may be applied. Various alloys of stainless steel are available, depending on the specific corrosion protection required, and all fittings and reinforcements must also be stainless steel. The same applies to galvanized steel doors, where all metal parts are made of galvanized material.
Most steel doors are made of 18 gauge material, with the corresponding frame of 16 gauge steel. Some 20 gauge doors may be offered for light duty, while heavier-duty applications may require 16 or 14 gauge doors with a 16 or 14 gauge frame, or even a 12 gauge frame in some cases. Steel doors and frames generally are available to accommodate most fire listings, from 20 minutes up to three hours. Those fire listings are dictated by the location of the door in a building and the fire code itself.
Many different prep options and reinforcements are available, from standard locksets and hinges to specially engineered combinations of the latest generation of hardware. Close partnership between the door and hardware manufacturers, distributors and architects help ensure that the optimum combination is obtained.
Steel doors can be constructed in many different ways, but they generally can accommodate electrified hardware with few modifications. During manufacturing, before a honeycomb, steel stiffened, particle board cored, or styrofoam cored door is laminated together, conduits can be placed inside the door. Some honeycomb door constructions can actually be wired right on the job if desired.
Among the areas that are becoming more important are improved finishes, which are creating broader acceptance of steel doors and frames. While wood traditionally has been chosen for its aesthetic qualities, and aluminum with anodized finishes and decorative extrusions often is used to achieve architectural objectives, steel applications grew from more utilitarian roots. In recent years, steel doors have gone beyond their practical origins to deliver high-quality finishes and a broader choice of design options.
Finishes offered on steel doors and frames are constantly improving, from primers to finish coats, and even to application methods. Manufacturers are turning to new generations of finishes to improve both appearance and durability, which also minimize atmospheric pollution as they are applied.
Other aesthetic features include engraved or beveled glass designs that are insulated and tempered to meet all safety and environmental standards. These make it possible to incorporate company logos or other designs that make architectural statements in steel doors that also provide enduring performance and functionality. Glass shapes go beyond traditional narrow or half-lites to modified and full glass and even ovals or other shapes.
Embossed panels in painted steel doors give the same effect as a wood paneled door with the added stability of steel, while providing greater life safety protection and security. Some manufacturers even offer an engraining process that presses authentic-looking wood grain designs into the metal surface, which is then finished with specially-formulated primers that will accept stain, allowing colors to be closely matched to existing wood treatments. These wood-finished doors make it possible to meet building and fire code requirements without sacrificing design integrity.
Still another option, which combines some appearance features with the added ability to meet clear-width requirements, is a door designed to incorporate a recessed exit device. This is a relatively new product that was developed through the cooperation of door and exit device manufacturers.
Don’t Overlook the Specs
With the many choices now available in steel doors and frames, it is time to take another look at specifications and focus them more carefully toward performance and durability. At times, steel doors have tended to be treated more as a commodity, which reflects their “back door” origins. However, their ability to combine a wide variety of performance benefits with added practical and aesthetic features makes it more important to treat these products as thoroughly as any other complex hardware systems. This will help ensure that, when the opening is completed, the building owner will get the optimum combination of qualities available for durability, strength, aesthetics, and functionality, both for life safety and security.
Another specification-driven area is the emergence of wind codes and pressure as a factor in some parts of the U.S. Positive pressure is becoming the norm for testing, and building code officials in many areas are looking carefully at wind resistance, as hurricanes, tornadoes and tropical storms appear to be more prevalent, widespread, and devastating. Steel door assemblies are being tested against these and other environmental factors, as well as the constant performance need for rust-resistance, compliance with fire codes and functionality. Steelcraft, for example, has its own testing facilities that include wind load, fire testing and impact testing, in addition to independent testing laboratory certification.
Everything Hinges on Installation
No matter how carefully a door system may be tested and specified, if it is improperly installed, the door and hardware will not function properly. As with many other skilled trades, a shortage of qualified, trained people combined with pressure to get the job done can lead to mistakes. The end result is that the building owner, the contractor, the distributor, and the manufacturer waste time and money trying to solve a problem that often could have been prevented.
Some distributors are realizing that the costs of repeated service calls, warranty repairs and customer dissatisfaction make it worthwhile to take ownership of the door system package, delivering services as well as product. They are finding that the investment in hiring skilled people, training them if necessary, and following up to ensure customer satisfaction pays off in profits and in reduced frustration.
Installation also can include some options and services that help separate a distributor from the competition. One such area is in providing decorative glass. While the glazing contractor may supply much of the glass on a project, a distributor with a source for decorative glass could profit by supplying a complete opening, rather than just a door and frame.
Packaging and Opening
As the door, frame and associated hardware come to be looked upon as a system, some manufacturers and distributors are looking at the possibility of offering packaged openings. Rather than prepping a door for one piece of hardware or another, an entire door, frame and hardware package could be offered for entrances of different grades or types, with reinforcements, preps, and other options grouped together and designed to meet popular choices. In a similar situation, the automotive manufacturers have found this an attractive approach to meeting the volume needs of the market quickly and at a reasonable price. Unlike years ago, cars today are seldom optioned and ordered from the factory by individuals. Popular option packages with some variety make it possible to find a product quickly that also meets most needs. Standardizing on some opening packages could bring similar benefits to the door industry.
Service Makes it Happen
In the final analysis, nothing else matters until the doors and frames are delivered. With the time pressures on every job today, manufacturers are making commitments to accelerated shipping schedules and greater accountability on delivery dates. Contractors need frames early in the construction process, and shipping programs are emerging to address these needs to a higher level than before. Combined with more design choices, flexibility, and the traditional durability of steel, these developments make steel doors and frames a natural choice for a broad range of applications.
by Al Urbaniak.