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The Doorbell – Transient Lodging & Dwelling Units


Janis Kent, Architect, FAIA, CASp © July, 2016

Doorbells have a variety of requirements with the implementation of the 2010 ADA Standards. This would be within communication feature units both for transient lodging guest rooms as well as for residential dwelling units. These features are for people who are deaf or hard of hearing, and blind or partially sighted.

The issue, as I see it, is that the regulations state the sound and visual notification devices for doorbells are NOT to be tied into the emergency warning system. Therefor, everyone assumes you use the same devices but just not connected to the alarm system. This is an incorrect assumption and not only is it not required but it leads to much confusion and uncertainty.

If I can not see well or at all, how do I know that the alarm sound is really a door bell? It doesn’t sound like one. In fact it can cause panic since it sounds like an emergency alarm. If I am hard of hearing or can not hear at all, I see just the flashing strobe which also appears like an alarm notification. I have seen some guest rooms where the emergency alarms are labeled, so I suppose I am suppose to first check if there are other alarms labeled as emergency and if this flashing strobe does not have a label (could fall off) then I presume it is the doorbell?

And then the best part is, the doorbells on the hallway or public side are labeled ‘depress the button for at least 5 seconds’. So now I get to see the flashing light or hear the noisy alarm for a period of time. Does this really trigger the reaction that there is someone at the door or does it trigger emergency? In my opinion it triggers the latter.

A communication feature dwelling unit, is to have a button or switch hard-wired at the corridor or exterior side of the primary entry. This is to trigger both a visible and audible signal on the interior. If there is a visible appliance in a sleeping room then it is also to have an on-off control to deactivate it in that room. This does not mean there is a requirement to actually have the notification device placed in the sleeping room – just if there is one.

Now a transient lodging communication feature guest room is only required to have a doorbell or a door knock tied into a visible notification device, not an audible signal. Again, this should not be tied into a visible alarm signal. A visible alarm system (not a doorbell) is required to be hard-wired for new construction or when an existing fire alarm system is upgraded or replaced or a new fire alarm system is installed. Regardless of whether there is a visible alarm system in existing facilities, a visible notification device is to be provided both for an incoming phone call and for a door knock or door bell.

There are a number of products that allow for an adjustable volume that sounds like a normal doorbell as well as a flashing light. There are also products that are sensitive to someone knocking at the door or stepping on a mat at a door. Some products have sophisticated receivers that will recognize a doorbell, or an incoming phone call, or an alarm clock, that will vibrate or flash a LED light or that can connect to a watch or a smartphone. These transmitters do need to be hard wired for residential dwelling units with communication features. So just because the regulations state door notification systems are not to be tied into a fire safety system does not mean it should look and sound like one. And one other item – dormitories, one of several types of student housing, are considered transient lodging, so only a visible  notification device, not audible, is required for a door bell or door knock and the phone.

Be aware that your local City or County may have additional requirements that are more restrictive and providing greater access than the State or Federal requirements. Also, this article is an interpretation and opinion of the writer. It is meant as a summary – current original regulations should always be reviewed when making any decisions.

© Janis Kent, Architect, FAIA, CASp 2016