NEW-PRODUCT INVESTIGATION: Automatic Closing Devices

© 2004 Door & Access Systems
Publish Date: Fall 2004
Author: Tom Wadsworth
Pages 44-48

Automatic Closing Devices

By Tom Wadsworth

Garage door dealers throughout North America are being tempted to sell a new garage door opener (GDO) accessory. Depending on your perspective, this new product is either:
· A convenient automatic closing device that offers greater security for the garage and home, or
· A potentially dangerous device that may void the opener’s warranty and fail to meet the requirements of UL 325.

One of these new products, Autocloser, has been targeting garage door dealers as an ideal channel to sell their product. Autocloser’s manufacturer, Xceltronix, recently joined the International Door Association (IDA), has advertised Autocloser in Door & Operator Industry magazine, and exhibited at Expo 2004 in May.

“Interest was very high (at Expo),” says Lisa Irvin, business manager for Xceltronix. “Many dealers commented that they have had numerous requests for such a product from customers.”

How It Works

An auto-close product can take various forms, but it’s often a timer mechanism that closes the garage door automatically if it has been open for too long. Some products even allow the homeowner to close the door from a distant location, such as with a cell phone.

Autocloser, for example, works in conjunction with the garage door opener. The unit senses when the door has been open for a preset time period and then closes the door automatically. Autocloser also includes audible and visible warnings that the door is about to close.

The devices offer a sense of security to homeowners and could help to prevent a growing problem of thefts from open garage doors. This theft problem is particularly rampant during summer months when homeowners are more likely to leave their garage doors open.

Look Before You Leap

These new products would appear to appeal to consumers and dealers alike. But before dealers buy a truckload, you would be wise to ask some fundamental questions.

· Is the device safe?
· Does this product affect the garage door opener’s compliance with UL 325?
· If a dealer sells and installs the device, does the dealer’s company become more vulnerable to liability lawsuits?
· Does the device void the opener’s warranty?

Voiding the Warranty

Some GDO manufacturers are indeed taking the position that this add-on device will void the GDO warranty. Door & Access Systems talked with several major GDO manufacturers about this issue, and every company expressed some degree of concern about the safety of the devices.

For example, Mark Tone, executive vice president of administration at The Chamberlain Group, simply says, “We would argue that it voids our warranty.”

Yan Rodriguez, director of access systems at Wayne-Dalton, explains, “As a general rule, any third-party products that require the modification of our … garage door openers as part of their installation procedure will void our warranty. Also, any accessory product that modifies or interferes with the normal operation of our products will also void our warranty.”

Some add-on products must be wired to the inside of the opener. Such wiring can be viewed as altering the opener, which voids the warranty. Other products may attach to the user inputs of the GDO.

“Some of these devices have a ‘constant close contact’ output which may cause the deactivation of some of the safety systems in a garage door opener,” adds Rodriguez, noting that this also voids the warranty.

Hugo Francisco, director of engineering at Marantec America, also cited “a host of safety concerns” about auto-close mechanisms. “Currently the UL standard does not permit any unattended door operation,” he adds.

Unattended Operation

The issue of “unattended operation” is a key questionable feature of all these various auto-closing devices. Even though these products are relatively new (Autocloser came out in 2002), the concern about unattended operation is not. The concern has been around the industry for at least ten years.

The industry-approved Garage Door System Safety Guidelines include this caution: “When using the push button or transmitter, keep the door in sight until it completely stops moving.” That guideline was approved in 1993 by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), the National Safety Council (NSC), and the Industry Coalition for Automatic Garage Door Opener Safety.

The guideline’s concern is obvious: make sure no person or animal gets in the path of the closing door. Unattended operation does not allow that extra safety measure.

UL’s Current Position

In the middle of the debate about auto-closing devices is Underwriters Laboratories (UL) and UL 325, the key safety standard that applies to garage door openers. UL’s principal engineer for door operators is Joel Hawk, who has responsibility for UL 325.

Concerning auto-closing devices that allow unattended operation of residential garage door openers, Hawk says, “UL 325 currently does not include requirements for these types of devices. UL believes that certification of these types of products should not occur until requirements have been adopted through an appropriate consensus-development process.”

“The primary safety concerns are related to entrapment,” Hawk adds. “Companies seeking to pursue new designs are welcome to submit proposals to the UL 325 Standards Technical Panel to begin the process of developing requirements.”

Questions in Canada

Lisa Irvin at Xceltronix says their Autocloser has been tested by ETL, a respected testing laboratory. She says, “The Autocloser was tested, investigated, and found to comply with the requirements of multiple CSA (Canada) and UL standards.”

Door & Access Systems talked to UL and to two different officials with CSA, but could not confirm whether Autocloser conforms to all applicable UL and CSA standards.

Kent Pengelly, CSA manager of special investigations, says, “This is probably a manufacturer self-declaration which doesn’t mean much before regulatory bodies. If the CSA mark doesn’t appear on the product, that’s a pretty clear indication that it may be a manufacturer self-declaration. If they’re self-declared, they’re not CSA certified.”

Autocloser Responds

Lisa Irvin responds to safety concerns, saying, “We believe that Autocloser provides the safest approach possible for unattended operation of a garage door.” She says Autocloser gives a 30-second warning beep when it is about to close the door. The audible warning is followed by a visual warning: the door begins to close and then stops.

“These warnings give an opportunity to press the disable button which will interrupt the closing process,” says Irvin. After the two warnings, she says the door is then completely closed while a warning beep sounds during the closing process. She adds that Autocloser does not override any of the opener’s reversing mechanisms, such as an interrupted photo-eye beam.

If the door cannot close, Autocloser will try to close the door two times. Irvin says Autocloser will then disable itself and remain disabled until it is reset.

A Global View

Irvin also says the auto-close concept “has been approved and available on garage door operators in Australia for some time.”

She’s right. A Web search confirms that auto-close is available in New Zealand and Australia on GDO brands such as B&D, Dominator, Merlin, and ATA. In England, an inherent auto-close feature is available on Henderson openers and possibly others.

Stay Tuned

Thus, on one side of the story, some auto-closing devices (such as Autocloser) seem to address several safety issues. And the concept of an auto-closing device, when inherent with the operator, has already earned acceptance in other countries.

Yet, in this country, UL 325 is king. And major GDO manufacturers are naturally reluctant to accept an add-on product that may affect the operation and safety of their openers and void their warranties.

“Unattended operation is a subject of much debate in our industry,” concludes Yan Rodriguez. “We believe that there are ways in which these features can be safely implemented in a garage door opener system.”

He adds that Wayne-Dalton and several other GDO manufacturers in DASMA are now drafting a set of rules and guidelines for the proper implementation and operation of these devices. And UL is waiting to hear from manufacturers so that “an appropriate consensus-development process” can create requirements.

Thus, the ending to this story likely lies with UL. However, until UL has announced final requirements about auto- or remote-closing devices, dealers might be wise to proceed with caution.

Joe Hetzel, DASMA technical director, urges dealers to check with their opener manufacturers before attaching such devices to an opener. Hetzel says DASMA will continue to keep dealers informed of progress in the current debate about unattended operation.

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