Open & Shut

Gentleman Door Automation LLC's original pneumatic door with push-button control. Photo courtesy of Gentleman Door Automation LLC
Reprinted from PN/Paraplegia News August 2016

Automatic doors are a common and convenient part of life

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Whether it’s at the mall, grocery store, airport or countless other businesses and public buildings, automatic doors are a common and convenient part of life. However, these automated entryways can also be a great addition to make any home more accessible.

There are plenty of options for automatic door openers that can be used in residential units since commercial units don’t look or feel appropriate for a home. Commercial units are also more expensive than their residential counterparts.

Jim Costello, the owner of Affordable Adaptive Solutions (, has been doing accessible remodeling in and around the Pittsburgh area for more than 25 years. He’s also a licensed electrician who’s installed hundreds of automatic door openers. 

“These have really come a long way since they were first invented,” says Costello.

Mechanical Openers

Mechanical door openers rely on rotary motors that perform a linear opening task. 

Autoslide door with an optional pet door application. Photo courtesy of Autoslide

These units have hundreds of mechanical parts and should be used when typical door operation is completely opened and then completely closed, as opposed to partial opening and closing. It’s not very efficient for letting out a small dog or cat. 

There needs to be a standard 110-volt outlet located within 15 feet to connect to the low-voltage transformer that recharges the battery. The battery is located in the unit above the door. The unit typically operates with low voltage and makes a slight noise when opening and closing.

The mechanical unit I’m referring to here is Open Sesame ( The built-in battery backup is standard, and it will operate for several hours after a power outage. It can be customized with a wide range of special switches, wheelchair controls or voice activation. This unit is used with traditional swinging doors only. It can be installed on new or existing doors. 

The door can still be operated manually, but there may be slight resistance if the automatic operation isn’t used.

Pneumatic Openers

Pneumatic door openers are relatively newer players in this area. 

Gentleman Door Automation LLC ( is a veteran-owned company. Its openers are built in the USA and powered by a compressor located up to 100 feet away.

The compressor is most often installed in the garage (where you can also use it to inflate tires) or in a closet. Avoid the attic or basement, which will make access difficult. After every five to 10 operations, the compressor will refill with air and make a noise of around 60 decibels (roughly the same volume as an air conditioner). The compressor unit can be set on a timer so it doesn’t operate at night. 

Above the door (for a swinging door) is a single cylinder that moves the door. This unit is attached to the top of the door and concealed by a metal plate. The base is attached to the door jamb. The door can be operated normally by others who do not use actuators. It will swing freely 
on its own.

One compressor moves various doors and types. Pneumatics can utilize one compressor to operate several doors as long as they are located within 100 feet. The amount of door use, rather than the number of doors, is what determines the size of the compressor. A small air hose connects to each door from the compressor and installs on or within the wall. There are also pocket, double pocket, barn door and patio slider door operators. These can work in harmony with swinging doors and can attach to the same compressor when properly sized. 

The supplier will assist with sizing. Both types will cost $1,000 (with compressor) and above. These are for regular use and when emergency exit is necessary. Costs will vary depending on chosen configurations.

Secret Or Panic Room

The pneumatic unit is my solution for operation of a hidden passage door. 

The pocket door unit can be installed above the door, inside the wall and can be surface-mounted as well. It can be designed to integrate with a shelf that slides to the side or even within a pocket. 

I’ll specify an in-floor, recessed track with quality sliding-door hardware for shelf stability. It can be integrated with a voice-activated system, such as the Amazon Echo, for a stealthy private door.

Don’t Forget Fido

There are also door operators designed for casual use with pets or with people who have their hands full. 

One product called Autoslide ( comes with an infrared sensor that works with a magnetic collar worn by the animal. A sensor floor mat can also be used for combined people and pet use. However, these doors will be more difficult to operate if the power goes out, unless a special adaptation is installed.

For more information, visit

By using coupon code “UDHomes,” PN readers receive a $10 discount on the home plan book Universal Designed “Smart” Homes for the 21st Century.   


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