The basics of door hardware specifications

Fail safe versus fail secure

Fail-safe products are unlocked when power is removed. Power is applied to lock the door. Fail-secure products are locked when power is removed. Power is applied to unlock the door.

Here are some tips to keep in mind:

• Fail-safe locks should be used on stairwell doors requiring re-entry and any other doors that must allow free access upon fire alarm or power failure;

• Fail-safe electric strikes cannot be used for stairwell re-entry because fire door assemblies require fail-secure electric strikes for positive latching (fire doors do not require fail-secure electric locks, only fail-secure electric strikes);

• Be aware when a fail-safe product is used, the door will be unlocked when power is removed (e.g. it would be removed during a power outage and, in some systems, during a fire alarm);

• Electric latch retraction panic hardware is only available fail secure;

• Fail-secure products are more common than fail safe due to security concerns, as they provide security when power is not applied; and

• Most electrified products, with the exception of electromagnetic locks, allow free egress at all times, regardless of whether they are fail safe or fail secure.


Just as a key fits a lock, a card, biometric, fob, or phone requires a reader. There are a number of options to choose from. In some cases, the lock and reader are combined into one unit. Readers can be contact-based, which requires the credential to be swiped or touched by the reader. They can also be contactless, requiring only a certain proximity or range to communicate. Biometric readers are also an option. These use unique human characteristics as the credential, such as the size or shape of the hand. The most secure reader options on the market, biometrics are more common in high-security applications, such as data centres, airports, banks, and government buildings.

When specifying a card reader, it is advisable to ensure it has the capacity to read all types of cards: smart, proximity, and mag stripe. Specifying a multi-technology reader can eliminate the expense of installing new readers should credentials change down the road. In today’s market, it is also important to make sure the specified product is able to read mobile credentials.

Panic hardware

Panic hardware—also known as exit devices, crash bars, panic bars, panic devices, or push bars—is designed to provide fast and easy egress to allow building occupants to exit safely in an emergency. These devices allow the exterior side of the door to be locked, while ensuring people can always exit from the interior. Consisting of a spring-loaded metal bar or touchpad mechanism fixed horizontally to the inside of an out-swinging door, it activates a mechanism that unlatches the door, allowing occupants to leave quickly.

Dogging is a feature used in panic hardware to hold the touchpad or crossbar in a retracted position, thus allowing a door to operate in push/pull mode without latching. Mechanical dogging is not allowed for fire doors, so fire exit hardware will not have the ability to be mechanically dogged. Fire doors may be dogged electrically, as long as the latches project upon fire alarm to positively latch the door.

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