Access control technician fixes electronic exit device wires

Ultimate Guide to Commercial Electronic Door Locks and Hardware

Joe Wagoner National Hardware Director

Joe Wagoner
National Hardware Director

With as many manufacturers and products for commercial electronic door locks as there are on the market now, it’s a wonder how any of us keep up with physical security trends nowadays. We’ll break down the different types of electronic locking hardware products, and provide answers to where and when electronic door hardware should be integrated into a buildings access control and door security systems.


Where do electronic commercial door locks fit into the physical security ecosystem?

The general function of an electronic lock—no matter what it looks like or how it works—is that it carries out the command of the access system controlling it.

An easy example of this is you swipe a key card on a card reader, the security door opens.

What’s going on under the hood is the electronic hardware receives an electric current telling it to release the door’s latch for 5-seconds—or however long you want it to. The same idea plays out no matter what electronic commercial door lock you decide to use.

Because electronic door locks are the muscle behind any commercial security system for your business, it’s important to get it right and understand how this hardware actually functions.

Let’s dig into the different types of commercial door locks to figure out exactly what these differences impact.

What Are Electric Strikes, and How Do They Work?

Electric strikes are among the most common electronic door lock components we install as well as the most common type of commercial electronic door hardware we’ll find on the market.

Electric strike door locks work with door lock trim that is always in the secured state, meaning the lever or handle does not turn. Because the electric strike replaces the strike plate within the door frame, most traditional commercial lever set or exit device hardware trim will work with an electric strike.

TFL Los Angeles access control technician installs electric strike Think of an electric strike as a catcher’s mitt holding the latch bolt of a security door in place. Without actuating the strike in some way—that security door isn’t opening. Once the command from an access control system is given to release the electric strike, the door can be pulled open.

Electric strikes are so common due to being a cost-effective solution for both electronic gate locking hardware and door locking hardware because they can be used in so many scenarios.

Like all electronic hardware, it’s all muscle and no brain. To use an electric strike, you must have a companion access control system like a key fob system, key card, or keypad. An electric strike stays in the secure position and will only release to allow entry through a door when it receives a signal from the access control software.

Where are electric strikes needed?

Electric strikes are best used in situations where:

  • A single door needs controlled access
  • You can’t get wires through a door, but you can run wires down the frame, to the door strike
  • You have an access control system that can actuate the electric strike
  • Existing door hardware is present and in good working order

Fail-safe vs. fail-secure: electric strikes & beyond

There are two ways of powering electric strikes: there is a “fail-secure” or “fail-safe” option. “Fail-secure” electronic strikes do not require voltage to keep them locked, they are in the locked state without power and remain locked even if there’s a power failure. Only when voltage is sent to the strike will it unlock. Fail-secure doors need a mechanical key override to open the door in the event of an emergency if a building loses power.

“Fail-safe” strikes require constant voltage to keep them locked and will unlock if they lose power. Because they will unlock in the event of a power outage, it is not recommended to use the fail-safe method on exterior doors as the door will be accessible for anyone to walk through. A generator or back-up power supply should be used to keep the strike locked even if there is building power failure.

This same methodology applies not only to electric strikes, but to pretty much all commercial electrified door locks and hardware.

What is a Maglock?

Maglock is shorthand for Magnetic Lock. You may have seen these locks if you’ve ever walked into a business with a full glass or herculite door. However, they are typically mounted at the top of a door out of sight—so you likely didn’t even notice them.

When a current is applied to the electromagnet within a maglock, it creates a magnetic field that attracts a metal armature plate mounted to the door, locking the door in place. When you disable the current, the magnetic field disappears and the armature plate is released, allowing the door to be opened.

Traditionally, these kinds of locks must be integrated with a fire alarm system in most jurisdictions to meet fire code, meaning most commercial locksmiths won’t touch them. Because we work with fire alarm technicians in our locations, The Flying Locksmiths absolutely supply and install maglocks.

Maglocks are best used when:

  • There are full-glass doors and the hardware on the door is not compatible with any other electronic hardware
  • Climate settings would prevent strike function ie freezers and coolers
  • Interior doors have existing push/pull hardware but you want to restrict access to the space on the other side of the opening

Here’s a video of The Flying Locksmiths Director of Hardware Joe Wagoner demonstrating a maglock and how it releases when the push-to-exit button is used.


Electrified Mortise and Cylindrical Locksets

Electrified mortise locks and cylindrical locksets are a stylish way of electrifying door locking hardware. Instead of having a door lock and electric strike, the lock itself is electrified. This makes electrified locksets a very common way of electrifying a door, but also makes it difficult to replace if something breaks because the parts are usually not generic enough to make a one-for-one swap with most other hardware.

Electrified locks, mortise and cylindrical, are different from a smart lock, which is simultaneously the lock and “brains” to an electrified door locking system. Mortise and cylindrical electrified locksets still must be told when to lock/unlock via an access control system.

When you would consider using an electrified lock:

  • When an electric strike doesn’t fit in the application either due to frame issues or wiring difficulties
  • When aesthetics is most important to an end-user. With a plethora of finishes and handle designs, you can achieve a nice professional look to your door hardware

What is Motorized Electric Latch Retraction (MELR)?

When an opening requires an exit device push pad to retract electronically, you need an MELR exit device. This piece of hardware is very common with openings where automatic door operators are required. When an actuator is pressed, the MELR exit device retracts then signals the operator to swing the door.

Since automatic operators are required in ADA compliance laws, many hardware manufactures have created a solution for mechanical exit devices. Instead of replacing an exit device in good working condition, an Electric Latch Retraction Kit, or ELR kit, can be installed. When actuated by a push button or a signal from an access control system like a key fob system or card access system, the exit device push pad will retract.

Here’s a video of our Director of Hardware Joe Wagoner demonstrating how a motorized electrified latch retraction exit device functions. By swiping a key card, the access control system sends the command to retract the push bar.

Image of security technician demonstrating an MELR exit device

What types of access control can you put on electrified panic hardware?

Panic hardware, more commonly called exit devices, have various options for integration into access control systems:

  • Electrified lever trim
  • Delayed egress
  • Request-to-exit switch
  • Latch bolt monitor
  • Electric dogging
  • Alarmed exit
  • Electrified Latch Retraction Kits

What Is Delayed Egress, and Where Can It Be Used?

Delayed egress devices are set to only actuate the door after a certain amount of time and are commonly used in commercial and public buildings, such as schools, hospitals, office buildings and senior care facilities. There are two main types of delayed egress devices: manual and automatic.

Both manual and automatic delayed egress devices are designed to delay the release of the latch for a short period of time, typically 15-30 seconds, to prevent unauthorized access. This delay can be triggered by a variety of factors, such as an alarm system, a security camera, or a keypad.

Manual delayed egress devices are activated by pushing down on a bar or lever that is mounted on the door. This releases the latch and allows the door to be opened. Manual delayed egress devices are typically used on doors that do not need to be locked from the inside, such as those that lead to a stairwell or an exit.

Automatic delayed egress devices are activated by a motion sensor or other electronic control device. When someone approaches the door, the sensor triggers the release of the latch, allowing the door to be opened. Automatic delayed egress devices are often used on doors that need to be locked from the inside, such as those that lead to a secure area or a laboratory.

Overall, delayed egress devices are an important safety feature that can help to ensure the safe and timely evacuation of a building in the event of an emergency. They are widely used in commercial and public buildings and come in a variety of types and styles to suit different needs and budgets.

When do you need to use delayed egress devices?

Delayed egress devices are best used in circumstances where you need to control who leaves without credentialing them. If you’re unsure if you need or want it, ask us, we’re electrified door hardware specialists. Some of our most common installations involve:

  • Retail stores needing to prevent thieves from trying to exit a rear door quickly
  • Adult care facilities such as memory units and special needs programs
  • Childcare facilities that need access to exits in case of an emergency, but don’t want to allow children to wander out of the facility if they happen to be unsupervised
  • Doors leading to hazardous airport tarmacs

Request-to-Exit (REX) Buttons and Sensors

A request-to-exit button is a way of actuating electrified door locking hardware to allow a user to exit or enter based on the press of a button. Typically, this will be used with handicap operators in the form of door actuators or paired with the use of an intercom at a reception or administration desk.

TFL Boston access control technician installs request-to-exit sensorREX buttons are rather ubiquitous in the security industry and can be used with any type of hardware and with any functionality.

Where they’re most often used as an actuation method is when there needs to be a manual check without credentialing a user before they can enter or leave. Most common examples of this are for visitor entrances where the site doesn’t require credentials for visitors or for delivery entrances when paired with a video intercom or video system.

A REX sensor will most likely be seen when a door has a maglock. Since a maglock needs constant power to remain locked, a sensor must be installed to cut power when needed. As a patron approaches a door and comes within the range of the sensor, the power to the maglock is dropped, allowing the patron to exit the space.

Automatic Door Operators and Handicap Door Operators

Automatic door operators and handicap operators are just terms for the same thing and are truly more of an access method than an electrified door locking method.

A handicap operator, or automatic door operator, can be used with swinging doors, sliding doors or revolving doors. Under the hood, a small motor pushes an ‘arm’ which opens or moves the door in the preferred method. Automatic doors are best for facilities with high foot traffic needing to remain as accessible as possible to customers.

Automatic door operators can be paired with other electrified door locking hardware, or used independently from them. Most often on interior doors, electric strikes and MELR exit device hardware isn’t required with an automatic door, because they don’t typically require a credential to go through them. Interior automatic door operators are used predominantly in places where the door can remain unlocked during set times.

If the opening needs to secure at certain times, automatic doors can use manual door locking hardware like hook bolts to lock up for the day. Want to know more about manual locking hardware? Read world’s best guide to manual locking hardware.

For doors that open on command or on a set schedule, in recent years, many security professionals have recommended key fob reader installation for credentialed access, paired with wave-to-open sensors for touch free access.

Automatic doors can be installed anywhere a door can and provide a great, accessible first impression to a commercial property.

Final Notes on Commercial Electronic Door Locks and Hardware

Electronic Hardware isn’t hard to understand—even if there’s so many different types. The hardware your security professional recommends will be selected from a combination of fire codes, existing hardware, power and IT availability as well as a mixture of other factors.

If you’re having issues with your electronic hardware, we’re the best in the business at installing and maintaining electrified door hardware nationwide.

Frequently Asked Questions Regarding Electronic Door Locks & Hardware

Can an electric strike lock be set to a fail/secure setting?
Yes, absolutely. Any commercial electronic hardware can be configured to these settings. Most electric strikes will have a toggle switch to select fail-safe or fail-secure, but if not, the preferred method of powering an electric strike can be setup within an access control system like a key fob or card access system.

What kind of lock should be use with an electric strike?
Traditionally, any kind of lock can be used with an electric strike including lever sets, knobs and rim exit devices. However, the lockset function is important because it must be locked at all times to prevent the lever from retracting the latch bolt. If you’re unsure if your configuration will work, contact us.

Why do maglocks get hot?
Maglocks can run hot due to the electricity running through them. It’s that same electricity that creates the electromagnetic field used to secure doors and gates. If the maglock appears to run much hotter than you’d expect, it might be best to contact us for a free site survey.

What is the difference between an electric strike and a magnetic lock?
Maglocks and strikes work similarly, but maglocks secure doors through electromagnetic fields which attract a magnetic “armature” plate mounted on a door. Electric strikes replace the manual strike inside the door frame. They function by holding the door’s deadbolt until actuated by an access control system.

How strong are magnetic door locks?
Magnetic door locks, or maglocks, can be as strong as they’re stated on the box. On the low end, they can hold 300 lbs. of force, and on the high end, up to 2000 lbs. of force. Needless to say, there’s very little that can exert that kind of force, so maglocks are a wonderful way of securing tough entry ways.

Why do maglocks need to be integrated with fire systems?
Maglocks are wired into fire systems so that in case of a building emergency, the fire system can command the maglock to release so the buildings occupants can safely exit through all doors.

How Can We Help?

At TFL, we’re passionate about helping customers select the best products and services for their needs and budget. You can trust our experienced team of security specialists to ensure your facility is secure and accessible while enhancing the look of your building. Contact us if you need additional information or a free quote on commercial electrified door locks and locking hardware—we’re always ready to help!