No Touch, Low Touch
Guide for public buildings: find a way to eliminate the spread of germs
- By David Price
- Oct 06, 2020
The global COVID-19 pandemic
has made eliminating the
spread of germs a critically important
This is especially true for building owners/
managers and for those that specify, install
and maintain the low voltage building systems
used in those buildings, including automatic
doors and access control systems.
Whether it be an office, hospital, university
campus or industrial plant, compliance
requires either eliminating manual
door activation, for example a hand pressing
a switch or using a handle to open a
door, and replacing with an automated
“no-touch” solution or, when that isn’t
desired or possible, enabling the manual
door activation to be done with another
part of the body (i.e., arm, elbow, hip,
knee or foot), which is referred to as a
manual ‘low-touch’ solution.
It should be remembered that although
the urgency of employing no-touch solutions
has skyrocketed in 2020, many of the best solutions now being deployed were
actually developed long before the COVID-
19 pandemic occurred. Industry manufacturers,
such as Camden Door Controls,
have invested heavily in no-touch technology,
including motion sensors and wireless
systems. This was partly to serve specialty
applications, such as switches to eliminate germs in operating rooms, but also to provide
the added benefits of much greater
convenience for all building occupants,
as well as enhanced ADA compliance for
persons with disabilities.
The review of no-touch and low-touch
solutions below will provide a quick guide
to “best practices” for eliminating the
spread of germs in public buildings, including
activation devices installed on entrance
and egress doors, washroom doors
and interior partition doors.
The use of touchless switches (also referred
to as “no-touch” or “hands-free”
switches) to activate automatic door operators
or de-energize locking devices is
increasing at an unprecedented rate. It’s
very likely that touchless switches could
become more common than push plate
switches in the not too distant future.
There are several different sensor technologies
being offered by touchless switch
manufacturers, including microwave and
capacitive sensors, but the most common
technology is active infrared. This technology
has proven to be the best choice
due to a low manufacturing cost, easy adjustability
and a high degree of reliability
across all applications.
This is not to say that all infrared
touchless switches are created equal.
There are important differences in switch
design, features, and performance that
system specifiers and installers need to
know before selecting the switch that is
best for their application.
Let’s start with the design of the infrared
sensor itself. Having the lowest current
draw means saving energy over the life of the
switch but it will also enable battery operated
models to last a long time. This is why Camden
Door Controls developed infrared ‘micro-
burst’ technology. This patented design
greatly reduces the power requirement of the
switch (by cycling and minimizing power to
the switch sensor) and allows ‘SureWave™
battery powered touchless switches to last up
to two years with common alkaline batteries,
and up to four years using lithium batteries.
When we think of battery life, we typically
assume that a device is wireless. Although
this is true in most cases, some manufacturers
do also offer a battery-operated
touchless switch with a wired relay contact.
This switch design is ideal for replacing a
non-powered manual switch with a sensor
switch in a matter of minutes.
The selection of a smart touchless
switch is also an important consideration.
A smart switch has inputs for a REX detector/
switch and door contact (required
for restroom control and other door control
applications). Smart switch functionality
can save the installer hundreds of
dollars by avoiding unnecessary equipment
costs and installation labor.
Another important consideration is
the decision to select a hard-wired touchless
switch vs. a wireless switch. Wireless
touchless switches provide cost savings on
virtually any project but provide the greatest
benefit when running wireless is time
consuming or impractical.
Passive infrared REX detectors are
specialized motion detectors that are typically
used to shunt an access control alarm
when a building occupant exits a door.
They’re also able to facilitate door automation
in a range of other applications.
REX detectors are designed to operate
differently from PIR motion detectors
used as part of an intrusion alarm system.
The detection pattern is ‘targeted’ and easily
directed with mechanical dampers, and
the more advanced models on the market
offer a number of value added features not
found in ‘basic’ REX detector models.
Wireless Handheld Fobs
An alternative to installing a sensor device
that will enable a door to open automatically
is to provide each building occupant
with a manual activation device that
only they will use. The most common of
these devices is a wireless key fob.
There are two types of receivers used
in wireless systems; secure Wiegand wireless
receivers that are used in access control
systems, and non-secure relay output
receivers used for general door activation.
As a rule, security fobs are used to prevent unauthorized building
occupants from entering a doorway while ‘non-secure’ relay
output receivers are designed to make it easier for any building
occupant, including persons with disabilities, to enter a doorway.
Since the design of a non-secure fob and receiver are less complex
to design and build, and they do not require an access control
system to operate, ‘non-secure’ fobs are an affordable and
highly reliable activation device to use in our fight to prevent the
spread of germs.
Access Control Card Readers
As discussed above, secure hands-free access control devices,
including key tags, fobs, and card readers, are an excellent way to
eliminate the need to manually activate a door opening. In many
cases, an access control system may already be installed in a facility
and automating a door opening will only require a small
system change to add this functionality.
The access control market is currently undergoing a major
shift in the use of Bluetooth™ enabled mobile credentials – software
applications that turn a smart phone into a secure credential
that is recognized by an access control system. This is a low cost,
easily maintained solution that eliminates the need for each building
occupant to carry around a unique tag, fob or card.
‘State of the art’ manufacturers now offer mobile-ready card
readers for use with any access control system, with the option to
recognize system users with smart phone, key tag and card credentials
on the same reader.
Low-Touch Push Plate Switches
It is not always necessary or even desirable to install a sensor,
wireless receiver, or card reader to reduce the spread of germs.
Any door activation device that can be operated without the need
to touch the device with a hand can serve the same purpose. Thirty-
six inch tall push plate switches are a good alternative because
they can be easily operated with an arm, elbow, hip or foot.
Originally developed to comply with state and provincial
building code requirements for high/low push plate switches (that
are installed at the height of a hand and a wheelchair foot), 36”
tall push plate switches are also able to contribute to the reduction
in the spread of germs.
New Equipment Solutions
We are in the early days in our response to COVID-19. Virtually
all of the low voltage device and system solutions that are
currently on the market were introduced long before the pandemic
All manufacturers are now investing heavily in the development
of the next generation of equipment solutions that will aid
us in our fight against the spread of germs. It is incumbent upon
each of us to be informed of the latest initiatives and to actively
participate in the adoption of practical new solutions that provide
better health protection to building occupants.
This article originally appeared in the October 2020 issue of Security Today.