The Top 4 Electric Locking Components for Building Access Control Systems
By Pete Weber, RCDD – In the access control world, I am often asked about various electrified hardware options used in access control systems. Out of the wide variety of solutions, I’ve found four that meet the needs of most projects due to their high degree of functionality and versatility.
In order to help you better understand the roles of electric locking components and their functionality, we need to start by defining the differences between Fail-Secure and Fail-Safe. Here’s a simple explanation:
- Fail-Secure: The lock unlocks when power is applied.
- Fail-Safe: The lock unlocks when power is removed.
There are quite a few electrified hardware options out there and choosing the right solution can be a daunting task. Four of the more commonly used components – and their functions – may help you arrive at the perfect solution for your next project.
A Fail-Secure Electric Strike is a replacement for situations where you’d otherwise use a flat strike plate used with cylindrical locks, mortise locks, and mortise panic bars, or the surface-mounted obstruction used to engage a rim panic bar latch. Locks used with electric strikes typically have their own method of mechanical release, either by turning a lever or pushing on a panic bar, making the door free-egress. These are the preferred strikes because they are highly secure and fire-listed. You’ll often see Fail-Secure hardware in Pharmacies, Banks, and areas where sensitive information is kept such as data rooms or file rooms.
A Fail-Safe Electric Strike is also a good alternative for a flat strike plate used with cylindrical locks, mortise locks, and mortise panic bars, or the surface-mounted obstruction used to engage a rim panic bar latch. Removing power causes the fail-safe electric strike to fail in a released position. Typically, these electric strikes are wired to release an alarm from the fire system. The drawback to their use is that they cannot be fire-listed as their release would prevent positive latching.
Electric Cylindrical or Mortise Locks
Locks for storeroom functions are made for both Fail-Secure and Fail-Safe solutions and are used in hotels, apartment buildings, and commercial buildings. Selecting the right lock for your project depends on the owner’s needs. Storeroom function, electric cylindrical or mortise locks are free egress door locks with a small solenoid inside that will change the function of the lock to passage. We use each version when to line up with different outcomes:
- Fail-Secure, Storeroom Function, Electric Cylindrical or Mortise Lock is a free egress door that changes the function of the lock to passage when power is applied. It is also known as electrically unlocked. Latching is maintained and the lock is available as a fire-listed device.
- Fail-Safe, Storeroom Function, Electric Cylindrical or Mortise Lock is a free egress door lock that changes the function of the lock to passage when power is removed. It is also known as electrically locked. Latching is maintained and the lock is available as a fire-listed device, making it an ideal choice for high-rise stair towers (IBC 403.5.3).
Panic bars are mechanical door hardware operated from the inside of an outswing exit door. Electric latch retraction (or release) panic bars always allow free egress and allow ingress by electrically retracting or releasing the latch. They are also available as fire-exit hardware. Typical uses are schools, hospitals, transportation hubs, and office buildings.
Free egress is provided by the panic bar and is not impeded by the electric trim. Depending on the needs of the owner and the building, there are several door solutions for design teams to consider. With Electric Trim, Fail-Secure, for Panic Bars doors remain locked from the outside when power is removed while Electric Trim, Fail-Safe, for Panic Bars doors unlock from the outside when power is removed. This device is perfect for stair tower doors (IBC 403.5.3). Both control ingress only and can be fire-listed.
Quiet electric latch retraction (QEL) provides electronic control of an exit device for environments where limited operational noise is desired. These devices always provide mechanical egress. The electrified latch retraction can also be activated by an access control system to unlatch the exit device momentarily or for an extended period of time. The extended time period feature is used often in schools when students are arriving in the morning.
An Electromagnetic Lock is a surface-mounted lock with no moving parts. Commonly called a “maglock.” It is always fail-safe and has no interlocking mechanisms. It cannot bind or lock when power is removed and requires additional devices to release it by interrupting power to it. Depending on the code used, the year, and local supplements, additional devices include:
- Panic bars with switches.
- Non-latching bars with switches.
- Button/timer/motion detector combinations.
Electromagnetic locks can be used in many circumstances including glass doors and doors that require a basic level of access control. They are also great when retrofitting a door without a hollow door frame or mullion.
Do you have a project you are working on or one coming up and are not sure what the right lock is for your particular application? Ask us, we can help you make the right decision that is code compliant and aesthetically pleasing.
Pete Weber, RCDD is a Senior Communications Designer with more than 25 years of experience in all facets of telecommunications, physical security and audio-visual design for commercial building projects of all shapes and sizes. When not at work, he can be found outside with either a snowboard, mountain bike or river raft.