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  • Writer's pictureRyan Shoop

Options for Electronic Access Control

It's like we're living in the future.

Doors can lock and unlock automatically. With a fob, with a numeric code, or even with your phone. The range of available options can seem overwhelming. This summary is intended to aid a better understanding of some of the main categories for electronic access locking hardware.

Locking hardware is the hardware that physically secures the door against unauthorized opening. There are a few major categories of electronic access locking hardware.

  1. Electric Strike

  2. Electromagnetic Lock

  3. Electrified Locksets and Panic Devices

  4. Electronic Cores

Each of these categories of hardware items will hold the door shut and/or keep the door latched. Unlocking and/or locking is activated by a signal from some form of credential input device or a button/switch.

Electric Strike

This device must be used in conjunction with a mechanical lockset or panic hardware. It is used in lieu of the plain metal strike plate that comes with the lockset. Ordinarily the device is closed and serves exactly the same function as any strike plate. Upon activation, the outer portion of the device folds open, releasing the latchbolt of the mechanical lockset, allowing the door to open whether or not the mechanical lockset is locked. The door can always be unlocked via the mechanical lockset, depending on the function chosen.

Electromagnetic Lock

The name is pretty self-explanatory. An electromagnet is installed at the head of the door and exerts a strong magnetic pull on a receiving plate to hold the door shut.

Electrified Locksets and Panic Devices

Similar (or identical) in form to mechanical locksets and panic devices except that they include electronic access control functionality. These can be stand-alone (offline), or integrated in a networked system. Cab be battery powered or connected to the building power.

Electronic Cores

This type of device replaces the mechanical core of a mechanical lockset or panic device. They are battery powered. Multiple credential options are available (electronic key, fob, etc.).

Pro's and Con's of Electronic Locking Hardware



Mechanical Lockset

(no electronic feature)

  • ​Can be lower cost than electronic access.

  • No hardwire or batteries required.

  • Achieving fire ratings is relatively uncomplicated.

  • Keying must be re-done at times and is 100% manual.

  • No option for remote operation or monitoring (except with peripheral components. See below.).

  • No way to control unauthorized duplication of keys.

Electric Strike

  • ​Depending on the mechanical lockset choice, can allow free egress from the inside even without electricity.

  • Can be retrofit to existing doors.

  • Can easily allow mechanical key override.

  • Mechanical lockset selection can be made (nearly) independent of the electronic access functionality.

  • Mechanical lockset can be suited to match non-electrified hardware in the building.

  • Cannot be used where the locking hardware does not have a frame or inactive leaf to strike into (e.g. pair doors with both leaves active).

  • Cannot be used in fail-safe mode in fire rated doors.

  • Mechanical key override can present a security and/or monitoring concern.

Electromagnetic Lock

  • Can be used on nearly any type of side-hinged swinging door.

  • Can be retrofit to existing doors.

  • Locking requires constant electrical power usage.

  • Loss of power leaves door unlatched, unless there is a mechanical lock/latch in supplement to the electromagnetic lock.

​Electrified Locksets and Panic Devices

  • Can be used in fire rated doors, with positive latching.

  • Wide range of options for remote operation and monitoring.

  • Some are battery powered.

  • Can be suited with similar mechanical locking hardware to match non-electrified hardware in the building.

  • ​Power must be routed into the door leaf (except battery powered units), which requires additional components.

  • Usually this is the most expensive electronic access option.

Electronic Cores

  • Can be used/retrofit in standard mechanical locksets.

  • Multiple types of credential options.

  • Battery-operated.

  • If electronic keys are used, they are more costly than standard mechanical keys.

Electronic locking hardware can't really do anything without additional peripheral components to make the system work.

Peripheral components are all of the devices other than locking hardware which are either essential or ancillary to the function of the electronic access control system.

Some categories include:

  1. Credential Readers (card readers, fob readers, keypads, biometric scanners, etc.). There are many types of devices that fit into this category, and the list seems to keep growing as new technologies are developed.

  2. Position Switches

  3. Motion Sensors and Push to Exit Buttons (required by code for electronic access doors which also serve as egress)

  4. Security Cameras

  5. Power Supplies

  6. Electric Power Transfer devices and Electric Hinges

  7. Remote control / data communication system

  8. Software

  9. Door Closers. It may seem obvious, but sometimes the obvious needs to be stated. If a door is not self-closing, the security of that opening relies entirely on each person manually closing the door behind them when they pass through. This introduces MANY links in the security chain (unnecessarily). Doors with electronic access control should always be self-closing. Electromechanical openers are also an option.

Did you know

Many electronic locking hardware products integrate peripheral components as a basic feature or as an optional add-on. For example, there are electrified locksets with an integrated keypad and camera, and electric strikes with an integrated position switch feature.

Questions? Ask me in the comments section or contact me directly. Also if you think I got something wrong, let me know and if appropriate I will make sure to issue a correction.

Architects, do you have a project with door hardware questions? Check out my website There you can find my contact info, and reach out to set up a call. Let's discuss how I can save you time and money while helping to ensure high quality results for your clients.

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