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Operable Partition Pass Doors & ADA requirements

Sometimes what appears to be the most simple of requests and need becomes a challenge for a manufacturer in both design and price. The perfect example is a pass door in an operable partition. After all, all you have to do is cut in an opening in a panel, frame it and hang a door with hardware installed. Right? No – Wrong! There are so many things to consider. Let’s look at factors affecting Operable Partition Pass Doors.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (commonly referred to as “ADA”)

A law enacted by the US Congress in 1990. For the purposes of this paper we are going to assume that the laws of other countries where Moderco does business will be satisfied if Moderco manufactures product compliant with ADA. ADA is basically a multitude of laws and requirements prohibiting discrimination based on disability (a physical or mental impairment that limits a major life activity). Moderco has to manufacture a total product that complies with this basic ADA definition but in particular to “pass doors” in operable partitions. The sections (from ADA 2010 standards, Titles 2 & 3) that apply to pass doors are: (I am not always quoting verbatim but summarizing what the sections say)

309: Operable Parts
(in our case devices to open and/or close the door).

309.3: Must be located maximum 48” above finished floor

309.4: All parts must be operable with one hand and shall not require tight grasping, pinching or twisting of the wrist. Force required to activate parts shall be 5 pounds maximum.

404: Doors (manual Doors and doorways intended for user passage)

404.2.3 Clear Width: Openings shall provide a clear width of 32 inches. Openings shall be measured between the face of the door and the stop with the door open 90 degrees. (Diagrams in the act show this need as applicable to a “hinged door, a sliding door and a folding door”)

404.2.5 Thresholds: Thresholds if used shall be ½ inch high maximum

In summary the Moderco pass door has to be installed in a panel that provides an opening width of 32” plus the thickness of the pass door (see 404.2.3 above) – about 36”- and on it install an opening device no more than 48” from the finished floor without having to grasp it firmly, pinch it or twist the wrist to make it open the door.

In every respect Moderco Pass Doors are compliant with all ADA requirements. In particular, note that ADA DOES NOT exclude the use of a threshold. Moderco chooses to use of a threshold for both acoustic integrity and structural stability reasons as noted elsewhere herein.

Building & Fire Codes

As it is with all building components Operable Partitions must comply with applicable Building & Fire Codes. Fortunately most governing bodies including States, Provinces, Municipalities, Counties and other jurisdictions agree on universal needs and regulation requirements. All have typically adopted a similar model building code that is maintained by an independent standards organization thus allowing Architects, GC’s & manufacturer’s to design, construct or manufacture projects or products that are universally acceptable. The three most common design issues where operable partition requirements are determined by Building or Fire codes pertain to: Deflection, The need for a fire rated partition and “Egress” pass doors.

“Egress” is defined as “the way out” or “exit” The opposite (antonym) is obviously “the way in” or “entry”. Many times a pass door and sometimes even the number of doors in an operable partition are designated as a “means of egress” door because of the size and determined maximum occupancy use of the partitioned space. If so designated as an “egress” door, the door must swing “out” (as an exit) and have installed on the inside face “panic hardware” designed and approved for use in an emergency situation. Pushing on the panic device activates a mechanism that unlocks the door. To comply with ADA, the panic device cannot be installed higher than 48”. If the door is designated as two way (can also be used as a “way in”) then conventional hardware may be installed on the “in” side as long as it complies with ADA requirements.

The other Building Code issue is “Exit Signs”. An “exit sign” is a device in a public facility clearly denoting the location of the closest emergency exit in case of fire or other emergency. Most codes require exit signs to be permanently lit, unmistakable and understandable. All operable partition “egress” pass doors must come with an exit sign.

Since visibility may be reduced in a fire, due to smoke or failure of electric lighting, the sign is often required to be permanently illuminated, usually by one of 4 ways:

  • Self luminous whereby a phosphorous coating in a glass tube causes the sign to glow.
  • Photoluminescence where light is absorbed by the surroundings and slowly re-emitted.
  • Electric light with a local rechargeable power source.
  • Electric light from the building’s emergency lighting system with back-up from generators.

How to mount the panic hardware device on the “egress” door and exit signs on the partition may create a problem. It is desirable to have “flush mounted” panic hardware in order to maintain a maximum 4” panel thickness for stacking purposes as well as to minimize damage to adjacent panels caused by the item contacting and damaging the skin of the adjacent stacked panel. Moderco uses a flush mounted “push-pull” ADA approved panic device. In addition Moderco pass doors are clearly outlined by means of extrusions so as to define the doors perimeter making it easier to locate in an emergency. Although “trimless” pass doors may be more desirable aesthetically Moderco puts safety first. If the door does not require panic hardware then we will use roller latches and flush pulls.

All Moderco pass doors are compatible with and meet all building codes and fire codes that are contained therein. Where required Moderco will provide approved panic devices and photo luminescent exit signs either flush or surface mounted.


When Moderco builds an operable partition it does so according to pre-determined design criteria based on structural integrity, durability, project specifications and maintaining an STC value as determined by the construction of the tested acoustic sample. The same applies to a pass door installed in the panel but to the best of our knowledge no one has ever conducted an STC test that included a full size pass door. To incorporate a pass door in a partition we have to cut a hole in a panel, install framing components and then install the pass door with acoustic sealing components that do not inhibit or limit movement (think back to ADA) and doing all we can to maintain the overall acoustical integrity (STC value) of the partition.  Therefore and understandably installing a pass door will have a negative effect on the ability of any wall to stop sound transference. But there are measures we do take.

The pass door is of “equal construction” to the acoustically tested panel so it is acoustically sound. Any sound leakage will occur around the door perimeter. Keeping in mind that this is a pass door that has to be easily opened and shut (back to ADA) we have designed a continuous perimeter acoustical seal system that works in concert with the opening and closing of the door. The panel legs in which the pass door frame is mounted have in their base individually operated mechanical acoustic seals. When the panel is positioned properly, turning the handle on each leg drives down an acoustic seal as well as a continuous ADA approved threshold and releases a safety device that locks the “egress” door in place when the partition is being relocated. The panel leg seals fit tightly against the finished floor with significant pressure eliminating sound leakage. In addition an operable mechanical seal in the pass door seals against the threshold when the door is closed. When the door is opened the seal retracts. Perimeter acoustic bulb and finger sweeps on the door verticals and top as well and mechanical top seals or fixed sweeps on top of the partition complete the acoustical integrity of both the door and the panel. Fixed door base sweeps are also an option.

Moderco pass doors are always of equal construction (equal STC) to the partition panel in which they are installed. We do not use “similar construction” or inexpensive non rated hollow metal pass doors. Like the partition, Moderco Signature 8000 pass doors/panels have mechanical acoustic seals across the entire base width, either fixed sweeps or mechanical seals on the panel tops as well as an ADA compliant threshold ensuring sound integrity.

Structural Considerations

There is a great deal involved in hanging a pass door in an operable partition panel. First consideration is weight. Consider that an OP pass door that is 36” wide by 6’6” high might weigh 175# as compared to a conventional hollow metal door at 98#. In order to support the door Moderco has to build in considerable extra structural support in the panel legs weighing an additional 90#. In addition when the partition is in position the panel legs want to bow inwards as a result of the force of panels on either side and the force generated by the expandable closure. Too much bowing will make the door inoperable. The threshold is designed to compensate for this pressure and keep the panel legs separated.

Moderco panels and Pass Doors are structurally engineered to endure the toughest of field conditions.

You can see that there is a great deal more involved than cutting a slot in a panel and hanging a door. In fact Pass Doors are one of the most complicated, time consuming and costly accessories that we have to provide. But rest assured that we will continue to modify and improve.