Our opinion: Say goodbye to the ubiquitous doorknob?


Some are calling it the perfect example of the nanny state run amok. Others are welcoming it as a recognition of the needs of the disabled and the elderly.

Starting on March 31, the city of Vancouver banned doorknobs in all new buildings, including private homes. In their place, levers are now required.

"The war on doorknobs is part of a broader campaign to make buildings more accessible to the elderly and disabled, many of whom find levered door handles easier to operate than fiddly knobs," noted The Economist. "Vancouver's code adds private homes to rules already in place in most of Canada for large buildings, stipulating wider entry doors, lower thresholds and lever-operated taps in bathrooms and kitchens."

Colin Lecher, writing for Popular Science, believes getting rid of doorknobs is a good thing.

"Cue: Libertarian cries of government overreach and nanny-state-ism and evil G-men in suits entering homes and stealing all of our doorknobs despite our constitutional right to them. Fine," wrote Lecher. "But anyone against the idea might feel differently when they're pushing 80."

According to studies about knobs versus levers, noted Lecher, "Knobs, you see, involve pronating and supinating your wrist, (stretching it, basically) which is less fun for everyone, but probably won't make you run out and immediately switch to levers. ... Unless, that is, you're elderly. You get older, maybe you get arthritis, and this doorknob-to-lever issue stops being academic."

According to the Centers for Disease Control, an estimated 67 million adult Americans will have arthritis by 2030, wrote Lecher. "For them to have a more productive life, they'll need doors that are easier to open. You can't throw a fit about the law unless you're also against mandatory wheelchair ramps for businesses."

"The rules have provoked grumbling about the nanny state, much of it from doorknob manufacturers," wrote The Economist. "The Canadian Home Builders' Association complains that Vancouver ... changed the rules on its own, instead of asking for a revision of the national regulations, which would have triggered more detailed cost studies."

Vancouver is the only city in Canada that reserves the right to set its building codes. Elsewhere in our northern neighbor, that duty falls on the shoulders of the provincial governments.

Jeff Lee, of the Vancouver Sun, wrote that as goes Vancouver, so goes the rest of Canada.

"The changes made here are often chased into the B.C. Building Code and Canada's National Building Code, and then put into practice in cities and towns across Canada. Vancouver's influence is wide. And as go the codes, so too goes the construction industry."

"I can understand if you have a public building where everybody wants to have free access and that is a problem," Allen Joslyn, the president of the Antique Door Knob Collectors of America, told the Vancouver Sun. "But to say that when I build my private home and nobody is disabled that I have to put levers on, strikes me as overreach."

Nevertheless, other Canadian officials are seriously considering Vancouver's ban and Philip Rizcallah, who manages the federal body responsible for the national code, says he would be open to considering the measure, noted The Economist.

Lee pointed to low-flow toilets replacing regular toilets and incandescents being replaced by fluorescent bulbs and LEDs. "The change has crept up on us silently and without fanfare."

"Technology changes," Will Johnston, the former Vancouver chief building inspector who wrote the changes, told the Vancouver Sun. "Things change. We live with that. When I look at what we are proposing, it is simply good design. It allows for homes to be built that can be used more easily for everybody."

The Economist worries, perhaps tongue-in-cheek, and perhaps not, that while the levers will make it easier for the disabled and the elderly, it also makes it easier for bears ... yes, bears.

"In British Columbia, bears have been known to scavenge for food inside cars -- whose doors have handles, knob advocates point out. Pitkin County, Colorado, in the United States, has banned door levers on buildings for this very reason."

For that very reason, we may not see a similar law in Vermont, where this time of the year, bears are coming out of their long winter sleep and are on the prowl for food, any food.

We would also point to another group that might not welcome the replacement of doorknobs with levers -- parents of toddlers. As anyone who has a precocious little tike in their homes knows, a doorknob is often the only thing that keeps the little ones out of trouble.

And, it's also true, a toddler, once inside a closed-off room, can cause just as much damage as a hungry bear.


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