Hotel Room - Barn Doors
DANGEROUS BY DESIGN
Best Left on Barns
By Michael Panish
Expert Witness & Consultant
Download PDF of this article here
Barn doors may be best left on barns. I currently receive about a call a month to ask if I can help with a hotel
room sliding barn door injury. This is a trend that has continued since
hotel designers decided that it would be a great concept to install sliding
type barn doors to separate bathrooms and other areas from the hotel guest bedroom.
The first time I saw a door of this type installed in a newly renovated
hotel room, I immediately thought that this was an accident waiting to
happen. It was either going to create a pinch injury, a crush incident,
or the door would just fall off the hanging rail and smash into someone.
I was more concerned that unattended children playing with these doors
would get seriously injured.
Sure enough, within a month of seeing this kind of door installation, the
calls started coming into the office. These calls have been ongoing for
the last 4 years.
The peculiar aspect of these installations is that there are too many small
hardware component pieces that can become loose and ultimately fall off
causing detachment of the door. Various manufacturers use different types
and qualities of materials to make the doors slide, however, most door
systems are subject to the same problems. They loosen, fall apart, fall
off of their track or move out of adjustment leading to serious personal
injuries of hotel guests as the sliding doors disconnect from their hanging
hardware in one way or another.
WHAT GOES WRONG?
Defectively operating hotel room barn doors have created injuries in many
different ways. Hanger bars have become detached from the wall. Guide
rollers and limiters have become disconnected. Screws have gone missing
and were unchecked. Door hangers have lost their grip. Rollers have cracked
and broken. Rubber stops have disappeared. The base plates and screws
that keep the door from swinging away from the wall have broken or disconnected
completely from the floor. Rust has affected the hardware due to moisture
from the bathroom, and parts have seized. Glass doors have shattered due
to stresses imparted as the door has been pushed into obstructions when
they are out of alignment.
When depositions of hotel staff are taken and they are asked about how
the barn door systems are maintained, the typical answer is “we
don’t do much”. Sometimes they claim that they have boxes
of replacement parts left from the original installation, and “when
we notice something wrong, we go get one of those spare parts”.
Many hotels claim that they make routine inspections of their guest rooms,
but I haven’t encountered one hotel that pays the needed attention
to these doors, even after an injury incident occurs.
In most hotels the housekeepers are charged with cleaning and preparing
the rooms for new guests. Those housekeepers are the only check for room
condition prior to a new occupancy. Housekeeping concerns are usually
limited to quickly checking to see if the carpet is soiled, trash can
liners are in place, the bed sheets are clean, and toiletries are in place
in the bathroom. Housekeepers do not have the skill set, time in the room
or training to evaluate loose hardware on sliding barn doors. Some managers
have claimed that they inspect the rooms with other hotel personnel on
a routine scheduled cycle, but their inspections are often too far apart.
Quarterly or even monthly room checks are inadequate to counteract the
daily changes that occur with the hardware on most barn style doors. I
have never seen any information regarding specific barn door hardware
inspections. In general, life safety and room security are the extent
of any door inspections, if those issues are even evaluated.
WHAT KIND OF PARTS ARE ON A SLIDING BARN DOOR?
Installations and hardware of these barn door systems often include up
to 30 separate components. There are bracket hangers that are attached
to the top of some type of a slab door. Doors can weigh over 200 pounds
depending upon the door width, thickness, and height. The door hangers
are attached to a roller of some sort. These rollers can be made from
steel, rubber, plastic or aluminum. Glass doors are hung using slots or
holes that have been precut in the glass prior to tempering. Glass doors
have hardware that must be gasketed with rubber or plastic to keep metal
components from making contact with the glass directly. All doors using
rollers are held in place with an axel or screws. Next, the rod or bar
stock that these rollers move on must be properly attached to the wall.
To ensure that the carrier rods or bars are safely mounted, there must
be steel backing plates or wooden blocking in the appropriate location
of the adjacent wall. Sometimes, a renovation of the room has not included
these backing materials, and the hanging rods are founded into drywall
alone. The brackets that mount these rods or brackets have to be positively
located into some formidable blocking materials, and appropriately mounted
using proper screws designed to maintain the weight of the door and sliding
systems. Deformation of the finished drywall surface, due to the weight
of improperly designed systems, has created looseness of the hanging tracks,
and ultimately led to barn door failures.
Many barn door carriers have only a top roller and rely upon a bar or piece
of metal to keep the door from lifting off the hanging track. Some more
sophisticated systems may have both a top and bottom roller to limit the
movement of the door when the door is inadvertently pushed up by usage.
Most wooden or metal barn door hardware sets require a slot cut into the
bottom of the door so that a flat plate, screw or t shaped piece of metal
can keep the door from swinging diagonally away from the opening when
used. Glass barn doors often have L shaped floor guides to direct the
travel of the sliding door. Not every barn door system has this bottom
piece of hardware and some are very weak.
In addition to these basic components, there are also additional stop pieces,
limiters, snubbers and other regulating pieces that maintain the door
on the hanging rod or bar stock, depending upon the system, manufacturer,
and design of the door hardware. Some barn doors are basically glass sheets.
These doors are usually tempered or made of laminated safety glass. Moving
doors made of glass can spontaneously shatter due to stresses imparted
to the glass as early as when manufactured. Glass doors used for these
barn door installations are like all other glass doors. They can be affected
by previous use, impact from vacuums or other normal operational conditions.
Sometimes holes or slots prepared in the glass that are used to hang the doors
become stressed and the door shatters without warning. Using a sliding
glass door comes with increased risk of failure as it is a moving piece
of glass. Glass is generally not as resilient to stresses as a solid wood
or a metal door and adds to the possibility of injury.
Add to all these various components, numerous screws to attach these parts.
Often, the screws are designed to have some sort of proprietary wrench
or driver. It has been seen repeatedly that the hotel maintenance staff
does not have possession of these proprietary adjusting tools. Sometimes
the screws have simple slotted heads or allen screws, but they all require
positive torqueing in order to assure that the screws will not loosen
in usage. It is good trade practice to bind these screws either with a
chemical thread locking agent or by deforming the screw threads to guard
against loosening. That extra measure of security is rarely observed when
defectively operating barn door hardware has been inspected.
My construction company has built hotel rooms for many major hotel chains
since the early 1980’s. New designs and ideas were generally tried
out and refined in several design stages and reviews before actually being
constructed and put into public use. First, the hotel designers would
configure the rooms for function. They would conceptually design most
of the elements for a new project. After review by different design departments
with operations and management commentary, my company would be called
upon to build a model room to full scale in a warehouse. The rooms, all
components, including doors, hardware, plumbing fixtures, lighting, furniture
and finishes would all be scrutinized during these model room mock-ups.
Construction spatial conflicts, operational concerns, maintenance of products,
sampling of finishes would all be photographed and checked and rechecked
prior to offering a new concept to a hotel in need of refurbishment. That
is the responsible way that a professional hotel group reworks their projects.
POOR DESIGN CHOICE
It appears that recent design choices, such as the sliding barn door did
not undergo the same design gauntlet that has been the standard in prior
years. In the effort to find a cool new look to appeal to the current
marketplace as to how to configure guest rooms, and with a goal of increasing
useable room square footage, the poor design choice to use sliding barn
style doors has become commonplace. If the amount of injury claims I am
aware of is indicative of a small portion of all sliding door injuries,
this type of door installation is a poor and predictable design failure.
Sliding barn doors appears to be leading the hotel industry as a major
contributor of unsafe room conditions.
From the hotel perspective, many chains require that a design format is
followed whenever a renovation is undertaken. That means that if the hotel
chain design requires installation of these barn doors, they are generally
incorporated in a renovation project without question. The contractors
that are installing these products are often doing so without any past
expertise or forethought as to how to properly install this hardware.
From my inspections of dozens of defective barn door installations in hotel
rooms where personal injuries or wrongful death has occurred, many products
have exhibited observable damage to the screw heads, rollers and various
components that were made during the original installation or through
improper maintenance and repairs.
When the renovated rooms have been turned over to the local hotel management
at the end of a construction project it is typical to receive product
instructions and suggested maintenance routines for equipment. I have
not been shown any documentation that describes how the hotel staff is
supposed to care for these doors. Training, maintenance protocols or any
basic instructional materials that provide any information or warning
that the hardware will become loose with use, wear, rust or break down
in a short period of time is non-existent. This seems to be evidence that
there was little thought given to the ongoing use and long-term functions
of these door systems.
Designers do not always get it right. That is why major hotel chains used
to review proposed changes for renovations and new designs for an extended
period of time prior to putting new ideas into hotel guestrooms. In the
case of sliding barn doors, designers have made an extremely poor choice
regarding the safety of the hotel guests. These doors require continual
observation and constant attention to ensure secure fittings. Without
a diligent inspection routine performed on a daily basis, and every time
the room is turned over, there is no way to know if all the hardware is
properly attached and secure.
HOTEL ROOMS ARE NOT BARNS
Sliding barn doors have been appropriate for barns for hundreds of years.
Hotel rooms are not barns. This recent design trend has not taken enough
consideration of the different occupants using these rooms. It has not
addressed the continual requirements for observation and maintenance or
considered the inherent danger with the door configuration. Children are
often injured when they are leaning on an adjacent wall space and the
door slides open in their direction. Guests that attempt to access these
sliding barn doors in the middle of the night, not realizing that the
door slides left to right, have pushed or pulled upon them, as it they
were a ubiquitous hinged door. These late-night encounters have resulted
in many injury claims where the sliding door has ended up on top of the
groggy hotel guest. Sliding barn doors are simply a bad design element
in today’s attempt to provide a trendy design for guests. Lack of
training, appropriate maintenance or understanding that continuous observations
need to be made on the part of the hotel management is an ongoing problem
with regard to these sliding door systems. If hotels had opted for old
fashioned pocket doors installed between walls, instead of this current
trend to surface mount barn doors now being installed, there would be
significantly less injuries to unsuspecting guests today.
For additional information or help with a barn door related injury claim
or any door or door hardware related claim, contact Sharon at 888 902-4272
www.ConstructionWitness.com. Mike Panish has been retained on over 1350 cases since the year 2000.
He specializes in all types of door related personal injury, wrongful
death, and door defect claims and can assist you immediately with your case.