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Hotel Room – Barn Doors Dangerous by Design – Best Left on Barns
Barn doors are best left on barns. I currently get a phone call about a month to ask if I can help with a sliding door injury from a hotel room. This is a trend that has continued ever since hotel designers decided it would be a great concept to install sliding barn doors to separate bathrooms and other areas from the hotel guest room.
When I first saw this type of door installed in a newly renovated hotel room, I immediately thought it was an accident waiting to happen. It would either cause a pinch injury, a crush injury, or the door would simply fall off the hanging rail and hit someone. I was more concerned that unsupervised children playing with these doors would get seriously injured.
Sure enough, within a month of seeing this kind of door installation, the office started getting calls. These challenges have been going on for the past 4 years.
The peculiar aspect of these installations is that there are too many small pieces of hardware that can come loose and eventually fall off and cause the door to separate. Different manufacturers use different types and qualities of materials for sliding doors, but most door systems face the same problems. When sliding doors become detached from their hinges in one way or another, they become loose, fall apart, fall out of their track, or become misaligned, resulting in serious injuries to hotel guests.
WHAT IS GOING WRONG?
Malfunctioning hotel room barn doors have caused injuries in many different ways. The hanging rods separated from the wall. Guide pulleys and limiters disengaged. Screws were missing and not checked. The door hinges have lost their grip. The cylinders are cracked and broken. The rubber stops are gone. The base plates and screws that keep the door from swinging away from the wall have broken or completely detached from the floor. Rust affected the hardware due to the humidity from the bathroom and parts seized up. The glass door broke due to the stresses caused by the door being pushed into the obstructions when it was out of alignment.
When testimonials are received from hotel staff and asked how barn door systems are maintained, the typical response is “we don’t do much”. Sometimes they claim they have boxes of spare parts left over from the original installation and “when we notice something wrong, we go get one of those spares”. Many hotels claim to conduct routine inspections of guest rooms, but I haven’t met a single hotel that gives these doors the attention they need, even after an accident.
In most hotels, housekeepers are in charge of cleaning and preparing rooms for new guests. These housekeepers are the only room condition check before new occupancy. Cleaning concerns are usually limited to a quick check for soiled carpet, trash can liners, clean sheets, and bathroom toiletries. Housekeepers don’t have the skills, room time, or training to evaluate loose hardware on sliding barn doors. Some managers claimed that they check rooms with other hotel employees on a routine scheduled cycle, but their checks are often too far apart. Quarterly or even monthly room inspections are insufficient to deal with the day-to-day changes that occur in the hardware of most barn-style doors. I have never seen any information regarding specific barn door hardware checks. In general, life safety and room security are the extent of any door inspections, if these issues are evaluated at all.
WHAT ARE THE PARTS ON A SLIDING BARN DOOR?
Installing and fitting these barn door systems often involves up to 30 separate components. There are cantilever hangers that are attached to the top of some types of panel doors. Doors can weigh over 200 pounds depending on the width, thickness and height of the door. The door hangers are attached to some sort of roller. These rollers can be made of steel, rubber, plastic or aluminum. Glass doors are hung using slots or holes that have been pre-cut in the glass prior to tempering. Glass doors have fittings that must be sealed with rubber or plastic to prevent metal parts from coming into direct contact with the glass. All doors using rollers are held in place by a pivot or screws. Furthermore, the rod or rod stock on which these rollers move must be properly attached to the wall.
Adjacent walls of steel buttresses or wooden blocks must be in place to ensure safe installation of support bars or rods. Sometimes the renovation of the room does not include these base materials and the hanging rods are only embedded in the plasterboard. The brackets that mount these rods or brackets must be positively placed in some formidable blocking materials and properly mounted with the correct screws designed to support the weight of the doors and sliding systems. Deformation of the finished drywall surface due to the weight of improperly designed systems caused the suspension tracks to loosen and ultimately lead to barn door failure.
Many barn door carriers only have a top roller and rely on a rod or piece of metal to keep the door off the hinge track. Some more sophisticated systems may have both an upper and lower roller to limit door movement when the door is inadvertently forced upward. Most wood or metal door hardware kits require a slot cut in the bottom of the door so that a flat plate, screw, or t-shaped piece of metal prevents the door from swinging diagonally away from the opening when in use. Glass barn doors often have L-shaped floor guides that guide the movement of the sliding door. Not every barn door system has this lower piece of hardware and some are very weak.
In addition to these basic components, there are also additional stops, limiters, dampers and other regulating elements that keep the door on a hanger or rod, depending on the system, manufacturer and design of the door fittings. Some barn doors are basically panes of glass. These doors are usually toughened or made of laminated safety glass. Movable doors made of glass can break on their own due to the stress applied to the glass already during production. The glass doors used for these barn door installations are like any other glass door. They may be affected by previous use, vacuum shocks or other normal operating conditions. Sometimes holes or slits prepared in the glass that are used to hang the door
be stressed and the door will break without warning. Using a sliding glass door brings an increased risk of failure because it is a moving piece of glass. Glass is generally not as resistant to stress as solid wood or metal doors and increases the potential for injury.
Add numerous screws to all these different parts to attach these parts. Often the screws are designed to have some kind of proprietary wrench or screwdriver. It has been repeatedly seen that hotel maintenance staff do not have these proprietary adjustment tools. Sometimes the screws have simple slotted heads or socket head screws, but all require a positive torque to ensure that the screws do not loosen during use. It is good business practice to bind these bolts either with a chemical threadlocker or by warping the bolt threads to prevent loosening. This extra level of safety is rarely seen when malfunctioning barn door hardware has been inspected.
My construction company has been building hotel rooms for many large hotel chains since the early 1980s. New designs and ideas were generally tried and refined through several stages of design and review before they were actually built and put into public use. First, the hotel designers configured the rooms to work. Conceptually, they would design most of the elements for the new project. After review by various design departments with input from operations and management, my company would be asked to build a full-scale model room in the warehouse. Rooms, all components including doors, fittings, plumbing fixtures, lighting, furniture and finishes will all be explored during these model room mockups. Construction space conflicts, operational issues, product maintenance, finish sampling will all be photographed and checked and checked again before offering a new hotel concept in need of renovation. This is the responsible way a professional hotel group redesigns its projects.
BAD DESIGN CHOICE
Recent design choices like sliding barn doors don’t seem to have gone through the same design gauntlet that was standard in previous years. In an effort to find a great new look that appeals to the current market when it comes to how to configure guest rooms and to increase the usable area of the room, the poor design choice of using barn style sliding doors has become common. If the amount of injuries I know of is any indication of a small fraction of all sliding door injuries, this type of door installation is a poor and predictable design failure. Sliding barn doors appear to lead the hotel industry as a major contributor to unsafe room conditions.
From a hotel perspective, many chains require that a design format be followed in every renovation. This means that if a hotel chain’s design calls for these barn doors to be installed, they are generally included in the renovation project without question. Contractors who install these products often do so without any prior experience or forethought on how to properly install this hardware.
From my inspections of dozens of defective barn door installations in hotel rooms where injury or wrongful death occurred, many products showed observable damage to screw heads, rollers, and various components that were produced during the original installation or through improper maintenance and repairs. .
When renovated rooms have been handed over to local hotel management at the end of a construction project, it is typical to receive product instructions and recommended equipment maintenance practices. I was not shown any documentation describing how hotel staff are supposed to take care of these doors. There is no training, maintenance logs, or any basic instructional materials that provide any information or warning that the hardware will loosen, wear, rust, or fail in a short period of time during use. This seems to indicate that little thought was given to the continued use and long term function of these door systems.
Designers don’t always get it right. This is why major hotel chains have been vetting proposed changes for renovations and new designs for a long time before introducing new ideas to hotel rooms. In the case of the sliding barn door, the designers made an extremely poor choice regarding the safety of hotel guests. These doors require constant monitoring and constant attention to ensure secure fittings. Without careful checking on a daily basis and every time the room is turned over, there is no way to know that all the hardware is properly connected and secured.
HOTEL ROOMS ARE NOT BARN
Sliding barn doors have been suitable for barns for hundreds of years. Hotel rooms are not barns. This recent design trend has not adequately considered the various occupants of these rooms. It does not address ongoing observation and maintenance requirements, nor does it consider the hazards associated with the door configuration. Children are often injured when they lean against the adjacent wall and the door opens in their direction. Guests trying to get to this sliding barn door in the middle of the night, not realizing that the door slides from left to right, pushed or pulled on it because it was the ubiquitous hinged door. These late-night encounters have led to numerous injury complaints when a sliding door ends up on top of a dazed hotel guest. Sliding barn doors are just the wrong design element in today’s quest to provide guests with a trendy design. Lack of training, proper maintenance, or understanding that ongoing observations need to be made by hotel management is a persistent problem with these sliding door systems. If hotels opted for old-fashioned pocket doors installed between walls, instead of the current trend of surface-mounted barn doors, there would be significantly fewer injuries to unsuspecting guests today.
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