Natural light is an important feature of a home. A brightly lighted home is
more cheerful and safer than one that is not. A patio door can enhance natural
light. And, depending upon the style that you choose, it can be a striking architectural
accent and allow you to enjoy an outdoor view. When the door opens onto a deck
or patio, it extends the entertaining space of your home.
There are two styles of patio doors—hinged (or swinging) and sliding.
Aside from the fundamental differences, there are style-specific features that
might influence which one you select.
A pair of swinging patio doors has a French elegance—thus their name—French
doors. A sliding patio door has straight, simple lines—a more contemporary
Once, patio doors were available only in standard 6-foot 8-inch- or 6-foot
10-inch heights. Today, 8-foot-high doors are standard for many manufacturers
and virtually any height or size can be special ordered.
Patio door style can affect the available ventilation. For example, a swinging
patio door can consist of a pair of "active" doors. This means that
both doors can be opened. Or, one of the doors can be "center hung"—hinged
on the center mullion—while the other door is a non-operational "fixed"
panel. This allows all the view with only half of the ventilation. There are,
however, advantages to this style.
A pair of swinging patio doors that are both active give you much natural
light and ventilation. The drawback is that they eat up a chunk of space when
swinging open and can limit furniture placement in a room. An alternative is
to swing the doors out onto a deck or patio. We don't recommend this since the
doors would be subject to deterioration from weathering. It is the tops of the
doors that are most vulnerable to deterioration. They are protected by the jamb
and weather-stripping when they swing inward.
Where space is a concern, a sliding patio door is the answer. Where furnishing
a room is a challenge, you can place a piece of furniture in front of the fixed
panel of a sliding patio door without affecting its operation or impairing traffic.
If you like the French-door look, but space is tight, consider installing a
center-hung hinged door that allows furnishings in front of the fixed panel.
And, though it may offer only half of the ventilation of its French counterpart,
it makes up for it with natural light (since the frame is narrower all the way
Before purchasing a patio door, decide in which direction you want the door
to slide or, in the case of a center-hung door, which direction it will swing.
Pay attention to existing light switch- and floor-register locations before
making a final decision. Both may need to be relocated should the door style
or placement change. And when creating a new patio door location or installing
one in place of a current window, you will want to install a new exterior light
and switch for safety, security and convenience.
And speaking of safety, security and convenience; you can get the best of all three with better brands of patio doors. If you’ve been getting piece of mind by engaging a secondary thumb turn latch at the base of your sliding patio door or you’ve had an old broomstick in the base track to prevent intruders, you are in for a surprise. High end patio doors – both swinging and sliding – come equipped with a multi-point locking system that will positively latch the door to the jamb in three to five locations depending upon the height. Therma-Tru, a leading manufacturer of fiberglass and steel exterior door systems for residential and commercial construction (www.thermatru.com), has such a system that enhances security because the lock engages the frame at several points, rather than only at one strike plate. It also keeps the door panel seated squarely in the frame, ensuring proper alignment and weather sealing even if the house settles. There is nothing like it when it comes to security and piece of mind.
Besides enhanced beauty and security—ease of use, lower maintenance
and energy-efficiency are reasons for patio door replacement. Better doors combine
all of these. The construction (frame, track, rollers, hinges and hardware)
is of superior materials and engineered to operate with little or no effort.
If you've struggled with a sluggish sliding patio door, you'll be pleased to
know that better brands can be opened and closed with minimal pressure from
a finger. The same is true of swinging doors with ball-bearing hinges and upgraded
hardware and a multipoint latch system. Better built doors mean less maintenance,
less hassle and more money in your pocket.
Sweating glass, drafty doors and high energy costs are a thing of the past
with new energy-efficient frames, weather-stripping and glass options. The lower
the "U-Value"—the sum of all the components used to construct
the door—the more efficient the door. Look for the Energy Star label.
Wood used to be the standard for swinging patio doors, and steel or aluminum
for sliders. Today, you can enjoy the natural beauty of wood at the interior
and have the maintenance-free protection of a vinyl, aluminum or steel cladding
at the exterior. Solid vinyl frames offer good energy efficiency and low maintenance,
but can't be painted—a reason why some opt for this material. And, though
waning in popularity, on the low end of the energy efficiency food chain are
powder-coated and anodized aluminum—what many people are replacing.
The new kid on the block is fiberglass. It is virtually indestructible and
maintenance-free; it can be painted or stained, it won't rot, it is stable,
and it won't ding, dent or rust like steel doors. Nor will the patio doors swell,
rot, crack or warp like wood doors.
Installing a patio door can be a do-it-yourself project if you have the right
tools for the job. Measure your opening carefully before purchasing your door.
Patio doors come in a variety of sizes. Make sure to allow three-eighths of
an inch on the sides and a half-inch at the head. Check all the wall surfaces
to ensure they are plumb, and check corners to be certain they are square.