Benefits of a well-defined access plan

Avoiding costly alterations and complying with Secured by Design guidance means considering all possible access arrangements at the start of a BTR project

Design access control from the very start – or be locked into inferior choices

Access control is an integral part of any Build to Rent scheme, and it invariably works better if designed in from the start of the project. Every poor decision at the beginning restricts choice later on. A clear, well defined access control plan will leave as many options open as possible.

1. Make sure your access control company is accredited

A typical access control provider’s engagement will be with the mechanical and electrical (M&E), Alarm or CCTV company throughout the project; rarely would they engage directly with the builder.

In any event, new BTR developments are subject to the official police security initiative Secured by Design (SBD) guidance, as set out in their Homes 2019 document  (v2 March 2019). See Appendix 1, Sections 27 and 28 for relevant information for access control in multi-occupancy residential dwellings.

It is important, therefore, that you ensure your access control company is SBD accredited; this can be done via their website

With electronic systems now the norm, it’s necessary to consider how an access control strategy can influence the final design of the building. For example, electronic locks can grant access to different parts of the building with one key (say through a locked doorway to a landing and then through an apartment door) whereas a mechanical version would require two separate keys for the resident.

Impact on the customer: A well-designed access system can help residents feel secure and improve satisfaction

Impact on the project: It’s important to find the balance between automation and interaction to give residents a seamless experience

Impact on the investor: Leaving decision-making over access arrangements to the last minute will add to costs and make it difficult to provide a secure, future-proofed system

2. Budgeting for access control

Consultation with your access control provider at the design stage is vital. It ensures the most important factors are included when allocating budget. This is sometimes done even before planning permission is obtained.

TOP TIP: If mechanical access control has been specified, it’s more difficult and more expensive to pivot to electronic locks later in the build. Be consistent in your approach – avoid mixing access control on main doors with mechanical locks on apartments.

The end client should agree rates with all suppliers at the start of the project. A tiered structure can help maintain cost control. Transparency of supply chain ensures there are no nasty surprises; conformity and quality of product is assured.

As a rule of thumb, the earlier funding is agreed, the better – and never buy solely on price.

There is a ‘sweet spot’ to be found where a level of automation is balanced by a degree of resident engagement

3. Resident experience

Operators should look to optimise the resident experience, thus maximising resident satisfaction and aiding retention. A seamless, unrestricted path for residents through the building should be implemented at the design stage (see Fig 2). A consistent access control strategy helps to achieve this, and ensures the information the builder gets matches the developer’s requirements.

In some instances, the operator may specify a highly automated resident environment, with no reception or concierge staff and a total reliance on smart access control. At the other end of the scale, operators may want a highly interactive resident experience with little or no automation. There is, however, a ‘sweet spot’ to be found between these two extremes, where a level of automation is balanced by a degree of resident engagement.

For example, during working hours there may be a part-time concierge who manages parcel delivery. Out of hours their function is replaced by smart lockers or an access-controlled parcel room.

It is often the case that some level of human interaction helps to build community and enhance the wellbeing of residents, both physically and mentally.

TOP TIP: It is perfectly possible to hit the engagement ‘sweet spot’ whilst still maintaining SBD compliance in respect of access control provision.

An important consideration for any BTR developer or operator is elevator / lift control. It should be established at an early stage whether residents are to be allowed open floor access throughout your building, or only to certain floors. This affects how the access control integrates with the lift hardware and should be incorporated in the design.

It should be decided at the design stage whether residents should have the ability to allow visitors free access to all floors

4. Visitor experience

Access control systems for visitors have a range of solutions that depend upon the operator’s requirements.

For example, are visitor movements to be access-controlled throughout the building? Or, is it the intention that residents collect their visitor from outside the building and accompany them inside?

A blended solution could be the part-time concierge issuing a restricted key card to the visitor upon verifying their identity.

It should be decided at the design stage whether residents should have the ability to allow visitors free access to all floors.

TOP TIP: Secured By Design specifies a minimum of three access-controlled points before an individual reaches the apartment, for example, main entrance, stair or lift core, cluster door to residential landings.

From a security perspective, the SBD guidance (see Appendix 1 Homes 2019, section 27.14) states PAS24:2016 accreditation as a minimum for a door set in a communal residential setting.

Note that single-point, battery powered door locks are also included in the SBD guidance.

5. Electronic locksets on room doors

Typically, locks on BTR room doors are self-contained and battery powered. It is desirable that they can be operated by a number of methods. As a minimum these should include Smartphone (Bluetooth digital key), contactless RFID key card or fob, and provide some form of emergency override function, usually a metal key and cylinder.

Aim to choose a lockset with interchangeable levers, escutcheons etc. There are modern electronic locksets that can be configured with a wide range of architectural ironmongery, enabling them to blend with the building’s aesthetic.

Door compatibility is of paramount importance.

For example, fitting fire-tested locks to a door that has not passed a fire test renders the entire door set nonconforming.

Note that there are more stringent fire testing regulations for doors that are intended for use with electronic locks. From a security perspective, the SBD guidance (see Appendix 1 Homes 2019, section 27.14) states PAS24:2016 accreditation as a minimum for a door set in a communal residential setting. Note that single-point, battery powered door locks are also included in the SBD guidance.

TOP TIP: Source an electronic lockset which meets the above criteria. Making these choices at the start leaves options open for the rest of the project.

A good access control company will liaise with your stakeholders to draw up clear, accurate plans

6. Access control on main entrances and communal doors

Shared access points, including main entrances, lobby doors, gyms, restaurants and even car park barriers, are usually controlled by hard-wired access control readers. They should accept the same access tokens as battery-powered door locks and be managed on the same integrated software platform. A good access control company will liaise with your stakeholders to draw up clear, accurate plans.

As with battery locks, early consideration of access control systems is important.

For example, assume the building has external glazed metal doors. Your access control company is likely to fit electronic strikes in the door frames. If the door manufacturer is not aware, no provision will be made. The access control company would then need to use a magnetic lock (maglock), which is not well suited to metal doors. Liaising with all stakeholders helps avoid this problem.

TOP TIP: Make a list of all access-controlled doors, and decide which will use electronic strikes and which will use maglocks. Establish who is providing these devices, your M&E contractor or your access control company?

Another important planning consideration is the positioning of vertical risers. Hard-wired readers and locking devices require a control unit. Usually situated in a riser, they should be no more than 100m cable-run from their corresponding door. A good access control company will always liaise with your M&E, to pre-contain cabling, and with your data company to ensure enough data ports are available for every door.

If elevator / lift control is included in your specification, always ensure there are compatible ports in the lift panels to accept access control inputs. Otherwise the lift access controller and lift panel may not communicate, which may delay the installation of lifts.

Placement of hard-wired access readers is an important consideration when engineering traffic flows throughout the building. If you intend to enforce write-back, wherein readers act as a virtual online network, they need to be installed where you are going to collect data from residents and visitors. For example, you may wish to measure traffic flows through the lobby, for which you should install readers on both sides of the lobby door.

TOP TIP: Consider access control holistically, and plan for the future. Access readers and rooms locks should be treated as an integrated system to optimise the user experience.

1 – Make sure your access control company is accredited

2 – Budget for access control

3 – Plan for your residents

4 – Plan for visitors

5 – Consider electronic locksets

6 – Have access control on main entrances and communal doors

7 – Integrate your system with smart building technology


7. Smart Building integrations

Modern access control is part of a shared ecosystem integrated with other smart building technologies. Residents expect to be able to control a host of core functions from a single, convenient resident app.

Some access control providers only have closed, proprietary apps with no integration. This should be avoided as, increasingly, BTR operators require a full resident solution. Of vital importance is to choose a versatile third-party resident-facing mobile app that allows for integration of access control and all other smart building functions.

In order to make this choice, establish which ‘middleware’ the building will be running to allow all the separate systems to communicate with the resident-facing app. Some integrations will be open protocol or a designated proprietary system (for example, Z-Wave or Zigbee). You can leave as many options as possible by choosing an open protocol solution.

TOP TIP: Look for an off-the-peg resident solution with ready-made integrations. Ideally, one that already works with your applications; you don’t want to be constantly asking your access control company to build new integrations or, worse still, forcing your residents to use several mobile apps.

It is recommended that you share your access control plans with your SBD Designing Out Crime Officer (DOCO). They are listed on the SBD website.

Responsibility for access control does not end with the practical completion of the building. Warranty and aftersales support are vitally important going forward so ensure your access control provider offers adequate service levels, including both on-site and remote / online technical support. Ensure you are happy with their warranty provision for electronic locksets and access control systems.

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