Common House & Common Spaces

Entry Systems for the Common House

Q&A logoWhat kind of door entry system do we need for the Common House?

Door entry systems don’t last forever and the technology will become outdated. You will need entry access control for the common house whether you use it 24/7 or not. One that all generations can use. Urban communities will use it more often than rural communities. Possibly just keys will work fine for you.

Most important is having a system that your local locksmith can service. That means you will probably want to use the locksmith’s favorite door entry system. Before you reject it as too expensive, consider the following:

  1. Find a locksmith who is dependable and recommends quality products. Larger cohousing communities need semi-commercial stuff.  You will use your locksmith much more often than in a single household. The locksmith will probably suggest a system that is more expensive than seems necessary. But with 50-60 adults and several teens who using the entry system, some several times a day, keypads wear out.
  2. Check compatibility with other devices. Are keypads on other doors compatible with the main door entry system. Can they use the same codes? Complexity makes it hard to explain the system to service providers and delivery people. The substitute mail carrier for example.
  3. Ask about features that keep the keypad working under many conditions. Grounding for lightning strikes. If the system is outdoors: moisture barriers and heaters. Not all door entry systems are designed for outdoor use. They can stop working when it drizzles for several hours or days. Now that most people have cell phones they can call someone to get buzzed in or have them come to open the door. But still, it’s an issue at 4:oo in the morning or when no one whose phone number you have in your phone is home.
  4. Test the process for reprogramming telephone numbers and codes. It is not uncommon to have instructions with 11 things to remember when programming for each unit—not 11 steps to reprogram—but a list of things to do and not do. Things that look wrong but are necessary and serve a purpose—don’t change them. A process may seem simple until the person who used to do it moves, someone has to find the instructions and learn how to do it. Be sure there is battery backup so everything isn’t lost when the electricity goes out — even for 3 seconds. Reprogramming a whole set of telephone numbers and codes can be time-consuming and not something you want to do on an emergency basis.
  5. Check that there is something firm under the buttons—this is where a good locksmith is important because they will know the history of everything they recommend. Often used numbers will weaken those buttons. Not a major issue but an indication that the buttons may fail before you need to replace the whole system.
  6. Check illumination. Is the screen readable under various conditions? Does it fog over? Is it legible in the sun? Guests and delivery people are dependent on reading the messages on the screen. If the system lasts 20 years, reading the screen will be a problem for 20 years. It also means the system will probably be replaced before it is necessary for functionality.
  7. Use a dedicated phone line. Sharing one line for the entry and the CH will probably not work. Even if most of your members have cell phones, there will still be too many times when someone will use the landline and talk a long time—particularly guests. The entry won’t work unless the line is free.
  8. Don’t get more functionality than you need. Each step of complexity breeds more complexity. More things to break down. A system that links to a landline in each unit is nice until no one has landlines. Systems with unique codes for each resident, plus codes for the mail carrier, pest control, etc., are designed to track who was using each code.  The software will be equally complex. A huge dashboard in the basement with a maze of intercom and telephone wires means every time a new landline is installed or changed, the telephone installer who has never seen one before will be likely to mess up the whole system. Stick to the basic functions that have been tested over time.
  9. Choose a keypad that can be adapted. Some have spaces to install the universal key mechanism that postal workers need. A fob reader that can be added if you need one later. And there will likely be a need for Bluetooth. Can it be upgraded if you find you do need this or that?

These sound like little things—maybe a lot of little things—but choosing a door entry system that is close to what you need and that can be repaired avoids the daily irritation of defective or erratic systems. And will mean fewer visits from the locksmith. Those are expensive too.

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