Operable Walls – should you go manual or electric?

One of the options when having an operable wall system designed and installed is whether you should have them set up for electric or manual operation.

To help you make the right choice we have looked individually at a number of different considerations you need to think about.  We hope they help.

Cost of the System

Your budget will most certainly be the first thing that will influence your choice. Electrically operated walls or room dividers will be more expensive. The motor drive parts, extra installation time and accessories will make them more expensive to install than manually operated doors plus you also need to factor in the servicing, wear and tear and spare parts as a likely ongoing cost.

As a rule of thumb an electrically operated wall could be a lot more expensive than a manual wall of the same size.

However, whilst cost is always going to be a major factor in any decision there are other things to consider before making the final choice:

The Size of the Space

The size and structure of the space where the wall is to be used will need to be assessed.  For example if the ceiling is very high or non load bearing, it would not be possible to install an electric ceiling hung system. The panels would need to be operated via a floor track system.

Equally if the size of the wall to be installed was considerable, say 50ft, it would mean too much weight is put on the steel beams from which the system is hung and a manually operated wall would be necessary. ASTM E557 calls for a maximum beam deflection of 1/8″ in 12′-0″. An electrically operated wall as one large unit which is all hinged together with little flexibility and movement will put considerable strain on the hinges.

The Function of the Wall

The purpose and function of your operable wall will also come to bear when deciding whether manual or electric operation will provide the best solution.

operable wall with printed graphics

Image of Building Additions operable wall with printed graphics

The following are just some of the questions you need to answer:

How important are the acoustic properties of the wall? – Both manual and electric systems have good sound proofing qualities so will not impact on the overall acoustic performance of the wall.

How often will it be moved? – If the space is going to be re-arranged several times a day, then you will need to consider the practicalities of doing this via manual operation.

Will it need to be set up by one operative? – Depending on the size of the wall, it maybe that if there is only one person available to set up the space then an electrically operated wall will be required.

Will it need to be set up or down very quickly? – An electrically operated wall can be set up in a much shorter space of time than a manual one, especially if the wall is very large. So if time is a factor, then it may be that an electric wall one is a better choice.

Is the function of the space totally dependent on the moveable wall? – If the space was unable to operate efficiently without the moveable wall, we would suggest a manually operated one. However reliable an electric system is, there is a higher chance of it failing at the wrong time and potentially rendering the space unusable.

Storage and Stacking Options

When the wall is not in use, the panels will need to be ‘stacked’. There is considerably more versatility with a manually operated system as the panels can be stacked at angles and are not restricted by the central line of the wall. So the wall can be stacked in a smaller space giving a more versatile floor space.  If space for storage is therefore tight a manual system would be better.

Care and Maintenance of your operable wall

The cost and time implications for maintaining an electric wall system are greater due to the extra motorised parts. Whilst we always recommend an annual service and maintenance on any operable wall system it is certainly more important with electrically operated ones.


There are certainly pros and cons to both manually and electrically operated movable walls and which one you use will depend on a number of different factors around your available budget, size and function of the space and wall.

Working with an experienced operable wall company will also help you make the right choice.  Their initial survey will certainly include a review of the available space and they should also discuss your specific requirements of the space so that they can advise you on which is the right operation system for your needs.