A Barn Door By Any Other Name

Using sliding doors to save space and ensure acoustic privacy in commercial buildings.

Sliding doors with sound-attenuation systems help ensure private conversations and reduce noise transmission in healthcare and other facilities. Photos courtesy AD Systems

By Tysen Gannon, AD Systems

Tune into any of the popular home-improvement shows on HGTV or the DIY Network and you’ll likely see homeowners oohing and aahing over the barn doors added to their homes. Likewise, homebuilding industry media describe residential barn doors in breathless terms like: “a hot trend” and “incredibly hip.” Given that homes for sale with “barn door” in their listing sold for 13% more than expected and 57 days faster, according to a study by Zillow Digs, there’s something to this trend.

What about barn doors in commercial applications?

While designers have used barn doors/sliding doors in commercial and institutional buildings of various types for many years, recently the options have exploded, offering much greater design flexibility. Design professionals typically specify sliding doors (surface-mounted and pocket doors) for their clean, modern aesthetic, while saving space compared to swing doors. Now, they’re also using sliding doors to create private conversation spaces and reduce interior noise, as well as to slow the spread of fire.

With this expanded range of benefits, common commercial applications for sliding doors include private offices, collaboration spaces, phone rooms, mother’s rooms, and single-occupant restrooms—spaces that all heavily benefit from space efficiency, good acoustics, and privacy.

Space savings

A key benefit of sliding doors is they offer significant space savings compared to swing doors when you consider the swing path and approach clearance requirements under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This provides more usable space in exam rooms, enclosed offices, and conference rooms.

The specific amount of area saved with sliding doors depends on the door swing direction and placement of the door opening within the wall, and can include space savings on both sides of the wall—in the room and in the corridor. For example, 48 in. are required for the front approach to an opening with a sliding door compared to 60 in. with a swing door. Additionally, the sliding door eliminates space needed to accommodate door swing, while also enhancing safety by removing the risk of being struck by a door swinging open.

Aesthetics and functionality

Whether configured as surface-mounted, top-hung barn style doors, or as pocket doors, sliding doors provide a contemporary look with their simple, clean lines. Manufacturers offer a wide range of styles to integrate with any interior design. Options include wood door leafs in a range of wood species—or that can be painted—and doors with glazed panels. Designers can incorporate such doors into assemblies with sidelites or transoms to enhance visibility and daylighting.

In addition to their good looks, sliding doors are available with a multitude of attractive and functional hardware. Handle options include a range of levers and flush pulls in a wide variety of finishes. Security mechanisms include ADA-compliant thumb locks and self-latching mortises. Specifiers also can incorporate magnetic locks for key-card access.

Conference rooms benefit from the space-saving form and clean lines of sliding doors.

Acoustic privacy

While privacy is valued in many building types, in hospitals, clinics, pharmacies, and other healthcare facilities, privacy is codified in federal law. The 1996 Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) specifies criteria for patient privacy. The HIPAA “Privacy Rule” (45 CFR Part 160) “requires appropriate safeguards to protect the privacy of personal health information and sets limits and conditions on the uses and disclosures that may be made of such information without patient authorization.” This has implications for designing spaces—including door selection—to protect patient confidentiality when discussing medical issues.

In addition to attenuating sound to ensure private conversations, doors play a key role in helping reduce noise transmission through spaces, whether in healthcare, schools, or offices. Despite the recent popularity of open-office concepts, more design professionals and researchers are noting the shortcomings of open offices. A powerful case in point is an Inc. magazine story that quotes a study of more than 40,000 workers in 300 U.S. offices, as published in the “Journal of Environmental Psychology.” The information states, “Enclosed private offices clearly outperformed open-plan layouts in most aspects of IEQ (Indoor Environmental Quality), particularly in acoustics, privacy, and the proxemics issues.” More succinctly, “noise and privacy loss [were] identified as the main source of workspace dissatisfaction.”

In light of the need for privacy and to reduce noise, designers increasingly are creating enclosed offices and conference rooms in facilities of all types. When designing these spaces, it’s important to remember that the doors and openings, by nature, have lower sound attenuation than the surrounding wall. This is largely due to the fact that walls are thicker and multi-layered and doors can leave gaps where sound travels into or out of the space. Nevertheless, doors play a role in sound reduction.

Traditionally, swing doors out-performed sliding doors for controlling sound. Until recently, sliding doors typically had lower STC (sound transmission class)/NIC (noise isolation class) ratings than swing doors due to the difficulty of sealing all sides of a sliding door in the closed position.

Now, however, sliding door options are available that achieve NIC values on par with swing doors by sealing all four sides of the door leaf. Some sliding door assemblies provide NIC values to 39, which meets or exceeds the Chicago-based Facility Guidelines Institute’s STC 35 target for speech privacy in exam rooms. In addition to providing privacy for conversations, this level of sound attenuation helps reduce noise outside the private space for an overall healthier and more productive indoor environment.

In addition to sliding doors that help block sound, design professionals, as of 2018, now can use sliding doors where building codes require a fire rating. The first such product is a surface-mounted, top-hung single-leaf wood door with a 45-min. UL 10B fire rating. As a result of this fire-rated configuration, even more spaces are open to realizing the benefits of sliding doors.

Mountain View Hospital

The expanded and refurbished emergency department (ED) at Mountain View Hospital in Payson, UT, features sliding doors from AD Systems, Everett, WA.

“It was critical that we create transparency in the ED so that everyone—doctors, nurses, staff, and patients—can look around and immediately see what’s heading their way,” said Nathan Murray, design principal of TSA Architects, Salt Lake City. The sliding doors “enabled us to maximize the space in an efficient way so we could achieve a fluid environment that can respond to the fluctuating levels of demand placed on it at any given time,” he said.

The doors offer space savings, durability, and acoustic mitigation. ADA-compliant operation and soft-close features ensure that patients of all ages and abilities can easily open and close the doors.

“We now have the means to provide a broad range of emergency care services faster to even more people,” said Kevin Johnson, CEO of Mountain View Hospital. “This state-of-the-art expansion, combined with our award-winning ED processes, will help us to deliver care in the most effective manner possible.”

For design professionals who value the contemporary aesthetics and space-saving nature of sliding doors, the growth in options means not trading acoustic performance, fire-ratings, hardware options, or reliability by deciding to design with sliding doors.

Tysen Gannon, LEED AP, is director of business development for AD Systems, Everett, WA. He has more than 15 years of experience in the architectural-products industry, including roles in sales, product management, research, and marketing, with a focus on glass and glazing, fenestration and, façade systems.


AD Systems

Facility Guidelines Institute

TSA Architects

“Open-Plan Offices Kill Productivity, According to Science”

“Acoustics in Healthcare Environments”

“Measurement of Speech Privacy Of Closed Rooms Using ASTM E2638 And Setting Criteria In Terms Of Speech Privacy Class”

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