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Electric Lock Provides a Better Experience

Rick Gallant, ESNT

What was your experience like the last time you approached an opening with access control? Well, it probably does not stand out as something too memorable. With your credential in hand, you presented it to the reader. Beep, click, unlock, enter. No real thinking required. Just like brushing your teeth and carrying on with your day.

But can you remember how the door unlocked? Well, upon a valid read, the access control system activated its lock output to unlock the door. In a great number of openings, the device that access control system unlocked is the electric strike. In fact, this is one of the most basic functions of an access control system.

But, if you had the ability or opportunity to do so, what would you change about your experience? 

Maybe something a little more exciting when you unlocked the door like an acknowledgement that it was you by a speaker saying: “Hi, George. Welcome to Vandelay Industries. Fresh coffee is ready for you in the lunchroom. Enjoy your day!”.  We probably will not be seeing something like this for a while, but I’d like to turn your attention to something that we can change right now or at least direct our attention to. 

On a great number of access-controlled doors, we often see a reader with an electric strike. On the door hardware side, we also usually see either a door pull or a storeroom function lockset. 

What exactly is a storeroom function? a storeroom function lockset is when the outside lever is always fixed or rigid and cannot be rotated. A Key is required for entry and the inside lever is always free rotating (unlock what is shown in the movies, you cannot get locked in a storeroom!). Historically, these locks were usually specified on a storage room or closet and that makes sense. You could use your key to unlock the door, gather the supplies you need and close the door behind you and not have to worry whether you remembered to lock it. 

Now, place that same function on an access-controlled opening. When you unlock the electric strike with your credential, you reach for the door lever and push or pull the door to open it. (remembering that the lever is fixed and cannot move). Would you call this user-friendly? No, Not really. In fact, I have heard of situations where a user unlocks the door and then puts their hand on the outside lever and still thinks that the door is locked. They did not realize they had to push or pull the door open. So, they walk away and either give up or go get help.

You can imagine this scenario being played out at the opening shown in this photo:

Instructions had to be posted on the door! This just isn’t right... Unlocking and opening a door should not require some sort of special instruction or guidance.  It should be quick, seamless, and fluid.

So, after seeing this, you no doubt would agree that there must be a better way to do this. And in fact, there is! If you have some experience in the door hardware world or have been around long enough in the access control/security space, you likely know as well. But let’s discuss it here so we are all on the same page.

In this picture shown above, an electrified mortise lock would be a much better solution. Why? When a user presents their credential at the reader, the lock will unlock the outside lever, allowing one to grasp the lever and physically turn/rotate it to retract the latch and then open the door. No special knowledge required. No instructions posted on the door to guide the user. 

Benefits of an Electric Lock:

  1. Better opening aesthetics - device and wiring is completely concealed within the door through a pre-prepped wire raceway. No preparation required on the strike jamb of the door frame creating a better looking and more secure opening.
  2. No chance of pre-load on the electric strike - a situation where because of misalignment from the door or lock, pressure is exerted on the strike gate thus preventing it from unlocking when it is supposed to.
  3. Less noise and moving parts - when unlocking the door, you will barely hear the lock actuate as the solenoid is completely concealed within the lock body inside of the door.
  4. Bonus of including a built-in request to exit switch that will activate upon turning the inside lever. No need to have a separate request to exit motion sensor installed above the inside of the opening to shunt the door contact.
  5. More functions available - some newer models of electric locks now can retract the latch and unlock the outside lever. This works perfectly for when you have an automatic operator on the door and need the latch to retract when someone presses a wall switch to open the door and still need the outside lever to unlock separately.

But why don’t we see more electric locks on doors? 

Here are the main reasons:

  1. Cost - electric locks are generally more expensive than electric strikes and will require a electric hinge or current transfer device
  2. Complexity of installation and door preparation - the door needs to have a wire raceway prepared before installation and the lock should be pre-wired beforehand to ease installation.
  3. Availability - these locks are typically only available to the door hardware distributor or supply firm. The security integrator typically only has access to buying electric strikes and therefore is relegated to only using them.
  4. Lack of knowledge - electric locks are not as popular as electric strikes and many may not be aware of them.

Because of these reasons, in most cases electric strikes are used instead of hardwired electric locks. But, with good pre-planning, design, coordination, and understanding of the benefits, electric locks offer a great alternative to electric strikes and make openings smarter, you could a more intuitive and natural way.

It is understood though that sometimes you cannot avoid specifying or using an electric strike (all depending on the circumstances and/or application). In a lot of scenarios, sometimes an electric strike may be the better choice. But, if you have the opportunity and take the time to stop and think about how we can make the user experience better on openings, I think you will agree that an electric lock is an excellent option, based on what we just discussed.  You will be providing a much better experience and your opening will look and function better too.

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