How to Adjust Door Closer Speed
An hydraulic door closer is a mechanical device which automatically closes a door using springs and a system of chambers filled with a hydraulic fluids to control the motion/speed of the door.
While commercial locksmiths commonly adjust and replace failed closers, you do not need to hire a commercial locksmith to adjust a door closer if the door closer is still in good condition.
The most common door closer adjustments are:
- The close swing speed (or ‘sweep’ speed) – adjusting the door closing speed.
- The latching speed – the last few inches of the door closing to latch properly. Customers often refer to this as the door closer pressure since it is the adjustment that makes sure the door holds shut.
- Some hydraulic door closer models also allow adjusting the back-check. Door closer BC (or Back Check) means how the door responds when fully opened – the amount of resistance when opening the door past a certain point. Sometimes we hear customers say that the door is hard to open or that they want us to adjust the tension on the door closer, in these cases they are often referring to back check.
- You may also be able to adjust the delayed action of the door. When the door is open the delayed action is a delay time that is set to hold the door open for a bit (up to about 30 seconds) before it proceeds to close based on the sweep speed that has been set.
You can adjust an automatic door closer using only a ladder and the appropriate tool (screwdriver, hex key, or small wrench) by making small turns – less than 1/4 turn – of one of the adjustment screws. These screws will control the door’s closing speed, door delay, and door latching speed. Counter clock wise turns increase the door closing speed/force, clockwise decrease or slow the door down. Turn the screw, test the door, and repeat.
A properly adjusted door closer helps ensure that the hydraulic door closer will last longer and also that the door itself lasts longer (an improperly installed or malfunctioning closer will negatively impact the door and/or its framing). It will also ensure you stay within code compliance limiting your companies liability from injury claims.
Whether you need to stop a door from slamming or have other door closing problems, this article explains how to make the door closer adjustments needed. If after reading this article you don’t feel comfortable making the door closer adjustments, you’ll be better able to describe to your local locksmith the issues you are having and what type of service you are requesting.
CAUTION: Improperly adjusting a hydraulic door closer can be dangerous and cause serious harm. We have seen door closer pieces stuck in walls. Attempt all adjustments at your own risk. Hire a locksmith in your city if you have any concerns.
- How Door Closers Work
- Types of Door Closers
- Do You Need a New Door Closer? When to Replace the Door Closer
- How to Adjust the Door’s Swing and Latch Speed – Most Common Adjustments
- Other Door Closer Adjustments That Can be Made
- Prefer Video? What Our YouTube Video – How to Adjust a Door Closer
Quick Answers to Door Closer Adjustment Questions
Door closers operate by balancing two forces. The first force is a spring, which wants to pull the door back into a closed position. By itself, it accomplishes the goal, however by itself it would also result in the door getting slammed into the frame with excessive force, inflicting damage to the door, the frame, or any fingers that may be in the way!
To balance this force and prevent the door closer from slamming shut, a system of hydraulics is used.
Inside the closer are chambers filled with an oily fluid. When the door is opened, a check valve opens and the fluid rushes into a far chamber with practically no resistance at all. Very quickly.
But for the door to close, the fluid needs to return back to it’s starting chamber. The initial check valve won’t let the fluid return back the way it came in; instead, the fluid must navigate through restricted chambers or tubing, with much smaller openings. Restricting the back flow this way, slows the movement of the fluid and thus, slows the door closing speed, allowing it to close at a speed which is much more delicate on the entire door assembly.
So to adjust the door closing speed, you will be adjusting how fast the fluid can return to the original chamber.
This basic method has been used in door closers for over 100 years. While it is a simple concept, various adaptations to the principles allow for additional door closer features which have uses in different applications. Whether you have a very basic or a very complex model, they are designed so you can adjust a door closer for optimal performance.
The most common door closers are Surface Mounted. These closers require no special door preparation to install. They come in a variety of configurations suitable for most applications where a self-closing door would be desired. If you need to adjust door closer settings, these are great, because accessing the adjustment valves is easier.
The second common type is a Concealed Closer. The body of these closers is hidden in a ‘pocket’ at the top of the door frame (or within the door itself). These aren’t usually noticeable to the eye, so they don’t distract from the ‘clean line’ aesthetic that is desirable in modern workplaces.
Concealed door closers are also used for doors that swing in both directions, which is not possible with a surface-mount door closer. Concealed closers are excellent for high-traffic doors, such as store-front entrances, and are very common there. Making door closer adjustments to these can be more difficult, as the adjustment valve screws must be exposed.
There are also floor-mounted door closers and hinge-driven closers, but these are rarely seen in a typical commercial buildings and may also be more complicated, requiring your local locksmith to service properly.
Sizing is an important factor of door closers. They are sized from 1-6. What size door closer you have/need relates to how much force the main spring employs to close the door. It is based on the size and weight of the door. Size 1 is for the lightest doors, size 6 the heaviest.
Before making any door closer adjustments, it’s a good idea to inspect the door closer for other problems that may either be the root issue itself, or may indicate that servicing is not going to be enough to correct the speed of the door closing.
The number one thing to look for is if you have any visible oily leaks or oil stains around where the door closer is housed. If you see oil, there’s no need to go further. A leaking door closer needs to be replaced, rather than adjusted.
Sometimes you can easily see the oil (as in the photo) but for darker duronotic doors, it will may be hard to spot the stain.
If you are skilled with tools, you can likely replace a leaking surface mount door closer on your own. You can find many commercial door closers on Amazon for good prices.
If you don’t need a commercial-grade product or you just need something for a light interior door, it’s hard to beat the prices of door closers at Home Depot.
Concealed door closers should only be replaced by a skilled, licensed, commercial locksmith.
If there are no visible signs on the exterior, inspect the interior for signs of leakage.
Surface-mounted door closers have a plastic or metal cover that is held on by tension alone. If you don’t see any obvious fasteners on this cover, it can simply be pulled off. If it does have fasteners, most will only require you loosen the fasteners to allow the cover to slip off. Quite often the cover plate is missing, saving you this step.
Concealed closers are harder to expose. In a typical aluminum-framed storefront entry door, the original locksmith or door installer should have exposed the adjustment screws by drilling holes into the door frame top plate so that you can adjust the closer without removal of the plate. Sometimes this hasn’t been done. Even if it had been, you won’t get a good look at the closer to check for signs of damage.
The cover plate for concealed closers can usually be taken off with a couple screws, but sometimes you will need to remove the door to remove this plate.
If you are capable of doing this work yourself:
- Remove the plate to inspect the door-closer body for leaks (see below),
- If adjustment holes had not been drill during the original installation, measure where the adjustment screws are located and drill holes in the top plate to make them accessible.
- Replace the plate (and if necessary the door), and you can then access these adjustments with the door plate in back in place.
Sometimes concealed door closers can be a little daunting, any you’ll want to hire a professional, commercial locksmith instead. But if you feel up to the challenge, you may be able to save money by tackling this yourself.
What You are Looking for When Inspecting the Door Closer
The main reason for exposing any closer is to check for leaks. The seals around the adjustment screws and the closer arm interface (the spindle seal) can and do fail due to age, rust, and weather.
A door closer leaking oil fluid means only one thing: it’s time to replace the door closer. Attempts to repair a door closer leaking oil are futile at best, and worthless at worst. You may resolve the problem for a short time, but it will come back again and again, and may fail during use, which can be dangerous and your company will be liable. It’s also labor intensive, so in the end, it’s simply cheaper to replace it.
You can likely replace a leaking surface mount door closer, especially if you order the same model ensuring the existing holes line up with the new unit. You can find many door closers on Amazon for good prices.
The best answer to the question “How to fix a leaking door closer?” is to replace it. Very often, if your problem is “how do I stop my door from slamming,” it’s likely due to the door closer leaking oil.
Other things to check for are loose screws or bolts on the arm of the door closer or broken components within the arm assembly. Arm assemblies are typically available for replacement so long as that style of door closer is still available.
Loose components wear out faster and/or don’t function properly, so making sure everything is properly assembled can resolve many problems – sometimes you need not adjust a door closer at all, if tightening up loose components resolves the issue of how to fix a door closer!
Most people do not even think about their door closer operation – until it stops working properly.
The two main door closing issues are either the door is slamming shut or the door is not shutting fully. If the closer is otherwise in good repair, then these issues can be resolved with the adjustment of two valves, the sweep speed valve and the latch speed valve.
In most cases, these are marked on the closer using letters or numbers. In the United States, the sweep speed valve will be marked with a ‘C’ (for ‘close’) or an ‘S’ (for ‘sweep’). The Latch valve will be marked with an ‘L’. In European models, the sweep speed valve will be labeled ‘1’, and the latch valve ‘2’.
One VERY important thing to note before making any adjustments: DO NOT, UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES, COMPLETELY UNSCREW THESE VALVE SCREWS. By doing so you will allow the fluid inside to come pouring down upon you, ruining your door closer, your clothing, and any nearby carpeting or other porous surfaces.
It takes very slight adjustments (1/8 turn at a time) to make big differences in the door closer operation, so there is no need to make any large turns that might allow these (or other adjustment) valves to come out.
With the door in a closed position, use a screwdriver or hex key (allen wrench) to tighten these two valves all the way closed by turning them clockwise. You should NOT need to use excessive force to do this. When it stops turning, that is sufficient. Over-torquing these screws may damage your door closer seals and create leaks. If, when the door is opened, you will have no access to these points, then give them a 1/4 turn back counter-clockwise, to ensure at least a little fluid is able to move through and allow the door to close so you can make any further adjustments needed.
Ideally, an open door should close in 7-9 seconds (this time specification may be regulated by local building codes; always check with your local governing bodies regarding ordinance codes to ensure that you are making adjustments within compliance regulations in your area).
We can accomplish this by making small (1/8th turn, counter-clockwise) adjustments to the sweep and latch valves. Initially, both these adjustments can be done equally, and this will allow a smooth closing motion for the entire door. Test the door after each adjustment.
Sometimes, though, a door may not latch properly when it closes, so the latch speed can be adjusted to be a little quicker, ensuring a proper latch close. This valve only affects the door when it is in the last moments of closing (10-20 degrees typically). Vestibule entryways or windy areas or air pressure differences between buildings and outdoors are also reasons you may need to adjust door closer settings to ensure the door closes properly, every time.
Once you have your door closing properly, you will want to test it multiple times, even 10 times, to see that it closes properly each time. If it does, it probably will continue to do so.
If, after a couple of “adjust door closer” attempts, it still won’t work consistently, then there may be other issues with the closer that cannot be addressed with adjustments. Typically, it will need to be replaced, as while repair MAY be possible, it would be labor intensive, making replacement a more economical fix. When in doubt, you can always have a good local locksmith come out and help you make these determinations.
Almost all door closers will have the above two adjustment hydraulic valves, but some have additional features which can be adjusted similarly.
The ‘back-check’ valve, if featured, will usually be set apart from the first two discussed, and may be marked with a ‘B’or ‘BC’. This adjustment is used to stop the door from opening too fully, or too quickly. It forces the closer to slow down after opening more than about 80 degrees, to prevent the door from slamming into a wall or other obstacle. Clockwise rotation of the valve screw will make the door harder to fully open, and counter-clockwise rotation will allow it to open fully more easily.
Another valve that may be featured is the Delayed Action valve. This valve allows the door to stay open for up to 30 seconds, to allow time for someone with mobility concerns to get through the door before it closes. Clockwise turns keep it open longer, and Counter-clockwise turns allow it to close sooner.
Sometimes people or businesses have a need to know how to keep a door open. Some door closer manufactures feature this option as a non-adjustable setting called “Hold Open” (HO). An HO design should hold the door open simply by opening the door widely enough.
Non-Hold Open (NHO) door closers, on the other hand, do not keep the door open and you need to hold it open with an object. If you have a NHO door closer you can replace it with the hold open type if you want the door to stay open once fully opened.
Some closers have an adjustment nut, located on the arm of the door closer, where this can be changed to either hold a door open or not. There are several design differences in door closer arm operation; it’s best to determine which closer you have and try to find a manual for it online. Or, of course, you can call your local locksmith who will know how to make these setting adjustments.
And lastly, some door closers are adjustable in the amount of force applied by the spring. This adjustment is usually located on the far end of the closer furthest from the spindle, and it’s typically a large nut that uses a crescent wrench. Clockwise turns torque the spring to make it close more strongly, and counter-clockwise turns make it close less strongly (here may be makings that indicate what strength the adjustment may achieve). It will also affect how easily the door can be pushed open.
This setting is very important because if set improperly (or if an incorrectly sized non-adjustable closer is used), over time the door frame itself can be damaged if it is set too high, and if set too low the door may not latch properly every time. If your closer was sized and installed correctly, this should not need to be adjusted.
If adjusting the door closer settings above still leaves it either difficult to open, or the door has trouble latching still, after making these other adjustments, then it may be that the ‘power’ or size of the door closer is not correct. If the door closer does not have this adjustable feature, consider hiring a locksmith to replace it with a model sized more correctly.
Adjusting a door closer for speed and latching is a project that most business owners of maintenance staff can easily handle. However, if you see any oil stains in the vicinity of the door closer, you need to replace it right away to avoid liability. Surface mount door closer replacement is a project you may be able to handle based on your skill level, but concealed door closers should only be replace by a professional, commercial locksmith.
Disclosure: As an Amazon / Google / Home Depot / eBay Associate I may earn from qualifying purchases.
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