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Successful Steel Door Installation
By Jim Donlan, Steelcraft
Reprinted from Doors and Hardware/September 1999
Starting with the frame
Whether you are manufacturing an airplane, automobile, skyscraper or submarine, it is necessary to begin with a quality infrastructure. A solid and accurate basis on which to start will lead to a better finished product. The same is true for the installation of doors. A quality door installation hinges on the accuracy and quality of both the wall construction and frame installation.
What most people think of as a problem with the door is more likely a problem with the frame in which the door is hung, or the wall in which the door is installed. It is of the utmost importance that the frame be manufactured, assembled, shipped and installed with care and craftsmanship. If instructions are followed and care is taken when the frame is set, installation of the door is a breeze.
Metal frames for steel doors are available in a variety of profiles for different wall types and installation requirements, some of which are flush frames, drywall frames, light gage frames and multi use frames. These frame types can be separated into two categories: frames that are set prior to wall construction and frames set after wall construction.
Frames for use in masonry block walls are typically set before the construction of the wall begins. They may be furnished set up and welded or knocked down for assembly at the jobsite. Frames for new stud walls are also commonly furnished welded or knocked down and set up before the wall is constructed. Knocked down (slip on) drywall and light gage frames are designed for installation into rough openings in drywall construction after the wall is built. Recommended specifications for standard steel doors and frames can be found in ANSI A250.8 1998/SDI-100.
Although standards have helped alleviate many problems with interchangeability, it is often advisable to consider purchasing the entire door and frame package from one manufacturer if possible to minimize any problems of incompatibility or differences in tolerances.
Qualified installers should have no problem completing a quality frame installation job, despite the many variables it entails. Some programs are already in existence or being developed to train and certify door, frame and hardware installers. One such pioneering program is administered by the International Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners. These programs help trades people demonstrate their competency and ensure consistent results in the field.
Troubleshooting in advance
Most of the problems encountered during steel frame and door installation can be avoided by following the manufacturer's installation instructions, watching for potential trouble spots and taking steps to avoid them before they develop. Publications such as ANSI/DHI A115.IG-1994, "Installation Guide for Doors and Hardware"; SDI 105-92, "Recommended Erection Instructions for Steel Frames"; SDI I22-90, "Installation and Troubleshooting Guide for Standard Steel Doors and Frames"; and HMMA 840-87, "Installation and Storage of Hollow Metal Doors And Frames" provide excellent information on how to install frames and doors and what problems to look for. Improper clearance between the door and frame, twisted or distorted frames, misalignment, incorrect anchoring and other problems can develop in manufacturing, storage, assembly, installation or anywhere along the way. Correcting a problem at the earliest stage possible will help avoid compounding the error and minimize the resulting repair costs.
Masonry and other pre assembled frames installed prior to or during the wall construction period require more care during initial installation, since their potential for quick and easy field repairs is limited. Access to the anchoring system in not available, making any changes or adjustments very difficult. Slip on drywall frames installed after the wall is built allow access to the anchoring system and are easily adjusted if necessary.
Because pre assembled frames generally arrive at the jobsite and are installed well before the doors, some time may elapse before any problems are discovered. On many projects, masonry frames are often set during the early phases of construction. They may be grouted several months before the doors are installed, so an error in frame construction or installation may not be discovered until the mortar is long past the green stage. When the time comes to hang the doors and they don't fit the frames properly, the job is too close to completion to be tearing out a frame or part of a wall.
What to look for in the field
Masonry frames generally come to the jobsite pre assembled. While basically ready to install, they should be checked carefully both before and during installation for squareness, plumb and twist. Many frames are assembled locally from components shipped by the frame manufacturer. When a frame is welded, distortion can occur if it is not properly assembled. Some manufacturers have designed welding tables and fixtures and offer them to their distributors to help ensure that the finished frame is square and all key dimensions are accurate.
Poor assembly and welding could lead to oversize or undersize frame openings or frames out of square. Once the frame is installed and the wall is completed, correcting a minor problem becomes a major headache.
Protecting the frames
Frames generally arrive at the site well before the doors, both to avoid possible damage to the doors during storage and to minimize congestion from stored materials. The frames themselves may have to be stored temporarily if they cannot be installed soon after the arrive. Be sure to store them properly, as physical damage and corrosion can cause damage and delay the job later on. Avoid high or unsupported stacks that could cause bending. Keep the frames off the floor by placing them on wood sills, and avoid covering them with unvented plastic or canvas covers that could create a humidity chamber and promote corrosion.
Corrosion also may be a problem in Winter climates, where chemicals are often added to keep the grout from freezing. Any fully grouted frame should be back coated by the contractor, using a corrosion resistant coating.
When masonry frames are to be grouted, the grout can fill hinge preparations, strike preps and holes for silencers. Various types of mortar guards can be used to prevent the screw holes from getting filled with mortar and to serve as a breakout tab to allow for the installation of a heavy weight hinge when necessary. Mortar guards should be checked before installation, as they can save considerable time by eliminating the need to clean out or re tap holes that have become filled with mortar. Rubber bumpers or silencers cushion the door's closing and maintain the clearance between the door and frame stop. If these are note installed at the factory, they should be inserted before the frame is installed in the wall so grout does not fill the holes into which they fit.
Anchoring and bracing the frame
When welded frames are assembled, a temporary shipping brace or spreader bar is added to the bottom of the frame to prevent damage during transit. Because this temporary metal braces is only fastened across one side at the bottom of the frame, it does not protect against twisting or bowing of grout filled frames. Instead, full width wood or metal spreaders that span both rabbets of the frame should be used at the bottom as well as at the middle to maintain the door opening dimensions and help prevent the frame from twisting. Once the frame is properly installed, these spreaders can be removed.
When the frame is installed, it can be anchored in place in a number of different ways. Drywall frames are generally anchored with compression anchors. Masonry frames are usually secured with wire anchors, "T" anchors, or yoke and strap anchors. Wire loop anchors, typically formed of 7 guage wire, can accommodate a variety of jamb depths and eliminate the need for several different anchors. "T" strap anchors, typically 18 gage steel, are designed for a specific jamb depth and are normally viewed as an alternative rather than a standard.
Frames installed in steel or wood stud walls can use a variety of anchor designs. Anchors may be lock in type, shipped loose with the frame for field installation or welded in at the factory or distributor's facility. No matter what type of anchor is being used to anchor the frame, care should be taken when fastening the anchors to the stud or vice versa.
The critical step
The number of anchors used per jamb varies depending on the height of the frame. Typically, anchors should be installed immediately above or below each hinge reinforcement on the hinge jamb and directly opposite on the strike jamb. Refer to the manufacturer's instructions for recommendations concerning the specific number and placement of frame anchors.
Not only are jamb anchors required to install a frame, but the frame must be anchored at the base of the frame as well. Many manufacturer's offer a standard or optional adjustable base anchor that allows the height of the frame to be adjusted to meet the floor conditions, so shimming is not required. Welded in base anchors, standard with some manufacturer's, must be shimmed as floor conditions dictate.
If the frame is to be set before the wall is constructed as with most steel stud installations, it should also be braced properly, since the base anchors alone will not hold it accurately in place until the wall is completed. Many times, frames can be braced from the grids of the ceiling structure using a device with a clamp at both ends. In other cases, a frame may be braced to the floor. In this case, braces should be secured from the upper frame to the floor on both sides of the door, perpendicular to the intended wall. Either way, it is essential to ensue that the frame stays square and plumb until the wall is in place.
Drywall frames
Drywall frames are somewhat simpler to install and easier to adjust, since they are installed after the wall is built and the drywall is in place. They are assembled by slipping each component of the frame over the wall in sequence, locking the jambs and head together per the manufacturer's instructions. Once assembled, they are secured by adjustable compression anchors installed in each jamb approximately 4" to 6" from the underside of the head of the frame. They are also fastened at the base, usually with a screw through the face of the frame into the stud runner or a base anchor that is later covered with a baseboard.
Slip on drywall frames should be assembled following the manufacturer's instructions, which generally involve some combinations of tightening screws and bending tabs. Squareness, plumbness, alignment and twist must all be held within a tolerance of 1/16".
Retrofitting and remodeling
Retrofit and remodeling projects create other concerns. Whether a door is being replaced or a new door is being installed in an opening cut into a block wall, it is important to be sure the new frame is square, plumb and anchored securely. It will be necessary to drill into a block wall to install anchors, and shims may be required to make the frame fit properly. Whatever the case, installing the frame correctly will minimize most door problems.
If a new steel door and frame is needed to upgrade the existing opening, whether wood or metal, some manufacturer's make a steel frame and door replacement unit that can be installed into an existing frame to provide greater security and a fresh new look for the opening.
A few more details
Before the frame is installed, aligned and anchored, a few final details should also be checked. Electrical hardware and some door closers require a few precautions at the frame installation stage. Be sure there is enough space for an electric strike if specified. If an electric power transfer is called for, be sure any needed wiring can be installed. This is particularly true of frames that will be grouted, making future wiring difficult. Also be sure there has been enough room allowed for products such as concealed closers, which may require additional headroom above the frame.
Strike installation can come later, when the doors are installed. If the wall is built plumb and the frame is set properly, the door should be able to be hung with minimal adjustments and make for a long lasting, functional opening.