Watch Out for Leaking Door Closers

BUILDINGS - Smarter Facilities Management


Watch Out for Leaking Door Closers

By replacing leaking door closers, building professionals minimize safety risks to persons entering and exiting a doorway.


Leaking closers (top) may present a risk to personnel. "No-Leak" closers (bottom) minimize such problems and are a longer-term investment for the future.

The Invention of Door Closers
In 1876, Lewis C. Norton was sent to Boston to help build the Boston Trinity Church, which took over 4 years to complete. Located on the Back Bay (facing south and west), the church encountered some very severe wind conditions; in fact, the strong winds made the doors close with a thunderous bang. Norton’s first attempt to remedy the situation was to hang the doors on double-spring hinges; although the slamming stopped, the strong winds made the doors stand open. He tried rubber stops, special door linings, and some other ideas. Nothing worked. One day, he had an epiphany when he tried to slam the door shut and it bounced back. Although his early attempts were not successful, Norton finally used the principles of the lever and air pressure to create a closer that made the doors close quietly.


By Matthew T. Orcutt

There are valuable service opportunities in replacing leaking door closers. Closers that have oil leaking from the cylinder may present a risk to personnel - specifically the potential hazard it presents to those entering and exiting a doorway. The oil inside the closer drips down and can make floors extremely slick, not to mention stain the clothing and personal belongings of those passing beneath the closer. More importantly, when the oil drains from the cylinder, the closer’s ability to control the door is lost. If this were to occur, the door would swing freely and could lead to injuries (as well as costly damage to the door and frame).

Leaks typically occur in two forms: o-ring malfunction or cylinder cracks. One type of o-ring malfunction results from excessive use or abuse of the opening. This can cause the o-ring seal to wear, creating a leak point. A second way the pinion seal can malfunction is most commonly found in aluminum closers with steel pistons. The rigid steel piston can wear on the softer aluminum body, creating tiny metal contaminants - abrasive fragments - that can quickly wear an o-ring. In either case, replacing a pinion seal in the field is not an option.

The other potential malfunction - cracking in the closer cylinder body - may be caused by excessive use or abuse that can create excess internal pressure in the closer. These cracks are often undetected to the naked eye; over time, however, oil will begin to seep through. This condition is also not correctable in the field, and the closer must be replaced.

If leaks occur, several options exist to solve the problem. One is to switch to a more durable material structure, such as cast iron. Another option may include moving to the next model size in durability.

Reduced door-closer function often creeps up gradually. Building owners may not even realize this until loss of door control occurs. Many closers are not built with heavy-duty construction and materials needed to withstand the constant use of their installed applications. Have your maintenance staff take a look at each door closer and touch the area where the arm connects with the body. If oil is leaking, the closer should be replaced. The cost to replace a leaky closer is relatively small and can be done quickly (in 15 to 20 minutes).

Assuming that the average locksmith makes 20 to 25 calls per week on commercial buildings, he/she may see in excess of 100 doors during that time period. If only two closers are identified and converted per week, that equates to over $20,000 in product on an annual basis (based on an average sell-through price of $200 for each closer, including labor).

For replacement closers, consider the following: Closers made of heavy-duty cast iron can stand up to the toughest applications and help prevent leaks. Installation is usually easy - particularly when the closer offers a common hole pattern and fast, accurate install brackets.

Matthew T. Orcutt is LCN-product manager at Carmel, IN-based IR Security & Safety (


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