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  • Dr. Robert Keefer

Do you Really Want to Push Those Buttons?

Dr. Robert Keefer

I have been at the Mount long enough to remember when the first ‘push to open door’ buttons were installed in many buildings on campus, including the Academic Center and Bradley Hall. Patriot Hall came with its door openers already installed. It was great to see the Mount taking strides to make our buildings more accessible to those who were using wheelchairs or other assistive technology, or who were otherwise unable to easily open the often-heavy doors. Injured students, often athletes, could now easily navigate these entrances without assistance. And when carrying an armful of books or supplies, they could be a boon to almost anyone.

However, these door-opening conveniences are now being used by nearly everyone, it seems. Many, if not most (nearly all?) of the people using the big blue buttons to open the doors for themselves could easily open one of the ‘regular’ doors with little effort. People also slap at the buttons after they’ve gone through, as an act of kindness, it seems, to those who may (or may not) be behind them. The automatic feature of the door will also kick in if you just use the door, without hitting the blue button.

So, what’s the big deal about that? Why should anyone care?

There are two reasons that I think you should avoid pushing the automatic door opening button whenever you can. First, every push increases your carbon footprint. The doors do not open magically; there are small electric motors that open the doors for you. This is great when needed or necessary, but if it’s not really necessary, you are just adding to the energy debt of your university and, ultimately, climate change. Not that much, you say? Sit by one of these doors and count how many times a day that button is being pushed. It adds up.

Secondly, and likely an even bigger impact on climate change, is the fact that many of these doors are in ‘double door’ entrances, the main entries of both the AC and Patriot Hall being

prime examples. Why the double doors in the first place? The double doors act as a barrier to the exchange of outside and inside air masses. On the beautiful spring day when this is being written, that doesn’t matter much, as the air temperature is about the same inside and out.

But during most of the year, and most days, there is a temperature differential, sometimes substantial, between the comfortable air inside these buildings, and excessively cold or (soon) excessively hot air outside the building. The double doors help prevent this exchange, and thus substantially reduce the expense to heat (or cool) the air inside the building. The doors are far enough apart, and close as soon as the person using it has stopped pushing on it and gone on to the next, so that little air escapes (or enters) the building.

However, when using the automatic door opening buttons, the doors remain open for several seconds after the person has gone through and stays open even after the next door has also been ‘held’ open, even longer if you hit the button again for someone who might be following you.

This is important because if you’re in a wheelchair or other assistive transportation device, you need that extra time to make it through the opening. But when someone walks quickly through such a held-open door and hits the button for the next door, we now have a clear opening from the outside to the inside. The energy-barrier function of the double-door entrance has been defeated; the free mixing of the air outside and in will commence, meaning another energy expense with all its knock-on effects.

You no doubt have been introduced to the concept of ‘mindfulness,’ the state of being aware of something, focusing on the present moment. I would urge you to approach these doors with a little mindfulness. Much like the slow drip of mineralized water that creates stalactites and stalagmites, every little bit adds up over time. Do your part; if you are able, open your own regular door.


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