Automatic Door Openers for You & Your Pets.

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Automatic Door Openers for You & Your Pets.

© 2016 Charles M. Schwab Architect

The following article was originally published for PN Magazine, PN August 2016 Around the House Column, It is reprinted here in its original format.

Consulting with a Home-Modification-Remodel Pro

There are various kinds of automatic door openers and I’d like to focus on those specifically for residential use. These are for light traffic and low voltage. Commercial units just don’t look and feel appropriate for residential use and are more expensive than their residential counterparts

“These have really come a long way since they were first invented,” says Jim Costello, a disabled business owner of Affordable Adaptive Solutions. He’s been doing accessible remodeling in and around Pittsburgh PA for over 25 years. He’s also a licensed electrician while installing hundreds of various automatic door openers. Thanks to Jim for much of the knowledge shared here.

Mechanical door openers rely on rotary motors that perform a linear opening task. These units have hundreds of mechanical parts and should be used when the door is completely opened and then completely closed. It’s not really efficient to let a small dog or cat out for example. There needs to be a standard 110 V outlet located within 15 feet and connected to the low voltage transformer that recharges the battery. The battery is located up in the unit above the door. The unit typically operates with low voltage. This unit makes a slight noise when opening and closing.

The mechanical unit I am referring to here is called Open Sesame ™. Made in the USA it uses no plastic parts and is a complete system. The built-in battery backup is standard and it will operate for several hours after a power outage. It can be customized with a wide range of special switches and wheelchair controls. It can work with push pads, X-10 home control systems and voice-activated with an interface. This unit is used with traditional swinging doors only. It can be installed in new or existing doors. The door can also still be operated manually but there will be some resistance if the automatic operation is not used.

Pneumatic door openers are relatively newer players here. The Gentlemen Doors ™, also made in the USA, are powered by a small compressor that can be located up to 100 feet away. The compressor is most often installed in the garage (where you can also use it to inflate tires for example) or in a closet. Avoid the attic or basement that would make access difficult. After every 25-30 operations, the compressor will refill with air when it will make a noise of about 6 decibels. The compressor unit can be set on a timer so it does not fulfill this operation at night. Above the door (for a swinging door) is the single unit clinoid that moves the door. This is a single moving unit that is attached to the top of the door and concealed by a metal plate. The arm is attached to the door jamb. The door can be operated normally by others that do not use the push button, plate or voice actuator. It can swing freely on its own.

One compressor moves various doors and types. This unit can utilize one compressor to operate up to 4 doors as long as they are located within 100 feet. A small air hose connects to each door from the compressor and installs on or within the wall. There is also a nice pocket and double pocket door pneumatic product. These can work with swinging doors and all can attach to the same compressor. I should mention that both types will cost $1000 and above so these are for serious use and when emergency egress is necessary. Costs will vary depending on the use of voice activation or a handheld remote control and push plate.

Secret or Panic Room?

The pneumatic unit is my choice for use as a secret passage door. The pocket door clinoid can be installed above the door, inside the wall but can be surface mounted as well. It can be designed to integrate with a shelf that slides to the side or even within a pocket. I’ll specify an in-floor recessed track for the shelf and with quality sliding door hardware. When integrated with a voice-activated system such as the Amazon echo it can be a stealthy secret door.

Don’t forget the pets

There are also door operators designed for use with pets. One product called Autoslide™ works with an infrared sensor located above the door. Your pet can go in and out as it pleases. These are mostly for home convenience and they will be more difficult to operate if the power goes out without special adaptation.

For more information and to view my book titled Universal Design Smart Homes for the 21st Century, 102 plans you can Order and Build, go to web search for the above companies or contact me at

Author: Charles

Mr. Schwab is a home designer and licensed Architect specializing in universal and accessible design that is also sustainable and healthy. He also designs light commercial buildings.

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