Maglocks - Who Uses And Hates Them

Author: Brian Rhodes, Published on Jul 10, 2014

Many integrators hate maglocks. However, they are a common sight on many controlled openings. But how widely are they used?

In our exclusive integrator access control survey series, we share usage statistics and, more importantly, explain the 2 key reasons and the 4 main objections to using them.

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Comments (14)

At the university here, we generally only use them on the main building doors due to the architecture and door design, and not on other doors due to the problems cited.

Years ago, we had too many cases of office/labs being left open due to a fire alarm (including tests), power issues, and everything else mentioned.

They are simple and cheap just like a fast-food burger, and will come back to haunt you, just like a cheap fast-food burger.

A lot of comments cite life-safety issues and/or complications as a reason for shunning the use of mags. Brian, is that sentiment coming mainly from installs that require fail-secure systems via non-mains alternative power, e.g. battery?

Do you have a stat or whats your gut on how often mag-locks are installed in each config(fs/fo)? Since in another mag-lock article, you say that its a common misconception that the use of batteries for FS is illegal, I got the impression that most systems would be FO.

Relative to other alternatives, is it fair to say a fail-open mag-lock is one of the safer options available?

FWIW, I don't have any experience here, and 99% of my mag-lock knowledge comes thru IPVM resourses...

It may be a misconception that batteries on mags are illegal... however, two things stand in the way. 1. to make it legal requires more design and implementation of the emergency power. 2. AHJ's often think that they are illegal on battery/generator.

Does that make FS the exception then?

Thanks Michael. Right on.

Hello, Rukmini:

Even though national codes don't forbid using battery backup for maglocks, the practice could be deemed illegal at the local level. And even if it isn't 'illegal', if the AHJ doesn't allow it, you can't do it. (Although they might be challenged by a saavy integrator or end user.)

All maglocks, regardless of backup power situation, fail safe. This means if you remove power (mains, backup, or otherwise) they drop dead.

It's important not to mix up the idea of primary power dropping as a failure mode, because it isn't if there is backup power. Circular logic maybe, but it helps clarify 'Fail Safe' (Unlock when power drops) vs 'Fail Secure' (Stays locked when power drops).

As far as stats about backup power used on maglocks, we have not collected any on that specific point.

Anecdotally, I doubt it is widely permitted. Most AHJs are tough crankcases when it comes to maglocks, and they can just say 'no way' quicker than spending time verifying fire alarm override wiring.

Ok, that makes sense.

Do you agree then, assuming there is no backup power to the mag-lock, that they are safer than other options, because of the fact that they always fail-safe?

Calling them 'safer' seems weird, only because other options are 'just as safe'.

For example, electric strikes are typically 'fail secure', but they are just as safe as 'fail safe' maglocks.

Why? Well, the panic hardware on the door allows people to escape no matter the situation, power or no power.

I think you'll find IPVM's prerogative of locking hardware to be 'safety first, security second'. You'd be surprised at how this basic view rubs the 'security always' disciples the wrong way.

I bring this up because you can view 'Fail Safe' as a great thing for life-safety, but also as a showstopper for facility security. If the power drops and all my doors flap open, security managers have nightmares!

For example, electric strikes are typically 'fail secure', but they are just as safe as 'fail safe' maglocks. Why? Well, the panic hardware on the door allows people to escape no matter the situation, power or no power.

As you pointed out already, mag-locks have no choice but to fail-safe.

This 'panic hardware', is it something that anyone would intuitively and instantly know how to use without training or delay? Can it fail itself?

We have a tutorial on Panic Hardware (Exit Devices). By design, they only require one movement to unlatch a door, and the swing means it is typically in the direction of egress.

As far as failures, I'm sure they can happen, but there are many examples of exit devices that are 60 years old or older and have been continually used.

I am missing it, but we have a thread on here where someone posted a pic of a device first hung in ~1925 and it worked with minimal upkeep during that time.

Ok, thanks, read it... Final question, do they have exit bar style panics for mag-locks? It seems the easiest, just open the circuit, but that article was talking mainly about strikes and latches.

Crash bars that release in the 'one movement, outswing' mode for use with mag locks are available and quite common. There are mechanical and touch sensitive types.

The mechanical kind has a built-in relay that can be wired two ways: 1) to trigger the REX input of that doors controller and cause the panel to release the door - this is NOT preferred by AHJ bacause it relies on the electronic intermediary which can fail; and 2) wired as N/C right in the lock's power circuit so that it simply opens when pushed & breaks the power to the lock and releases the door - this has been considered a 'positive action' by AHJ's that I have dealt with. The second method will trip a 'forced open' signal, where the first method will be considered an normal opening.

The touch-sensitive type crashbar requires power to the circuit board that does the sensing. That introduces another link the chain of things that can fail and/or cause an AHJ to veto their use.

I prefer exit devices with two sets of contacts, one to imediately release the lock and the second to trigger an exit request. This approach meets code issues.

One thing that hasn't been discussed is the damage done to doors with Maglocks. The locking of the door at the top is not "normal" and door construction will can suffer depending on exactly what you do with the total door configuration. Fire doors with glass will often end up with broken glass and door will delaminate after they have been pulled on or pushed a few thousand time when they are locked. No amount of signage will fix this. There are many ways to help overcome this, but that may be a good topic for another time.

As for are they safer? don't forget the requirement for the door to be unlocked, but latched when released. Mags don't do this, the door hardware must be intact and functional. It's smoke that kills more people and a released mag will not stop a door from opening, neither will a released strike.

I've successfully used thousands, and never installed them in a way that will kill anyone, which is my final test of how they should be used. I am comfortable that I know what I'm doing and won't just do what a consultant or engineer or AHJ says is ok, I like sleeping night.

Short answer, there are great reasons to use them. If they are required go for it.

Don't forget electrified locksets, these will solve some problem situations like cross over floors.

I perceive that there is some confusing terminology with fail-safe, fail-secure, and fail-_____.

We have no fail "locked" doors - those that would not let someone out.

Mag locks often fail "unlocked" from both directions. And will let anyone in or out.

We also have electric hinges and latches. These fail secure/locked from the outside, just like a key lock, but they are mechanical egress, and they always fail-safe to exiting, and we call that "free egress". I don't have my NFPA books on hand...

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