Choosing A Patio Door
Natural light is one of the most important features of any home. A brightly lit home is more cheerful and can be substantially safer than one that is poorly lit. One of the best means of improving natural light is with a patio door. There are other advantages to a patio door, too. Depending upon the style that you choose, it can act as a striking architectural accent and allow you to enjoy a marvelous view outdoors. Moreover, when the door opens onto a deck or patio, it acts to “bring the outdoors in” and conveniently extends the entertaining space of your home.
The are two styles of patio doors – hinged (or swinging) and sliding. Aside from the fundamental differences in operation, there are other style-specific features that may influence which one you opt for.
Insomuch as design is concerned, a pair of swinging patio doors has a French elegance – thus the term “French Doors.” On the other hand, a sliding patio door has straight, simple lines that exude a more contemporary look.
It used to be that patio doors were only available in standard 6’- 8” or 6’- 10” heights. Today, 8’ high doors are standard for many manufacturers and virtually any height or size can be special ordered to suit almost any specific design need.
For most people, ventilation is equally (or more) important as natural light. Patio door style can affect the amount of 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 of the view with only half of the ventilation. There are, however, advantages to this style when it comes to furnishing a space.
A pair of swinging patio doors that are both active give you the best of both worlds – lots of natural light and lots of ventilation. The drawback is that they eat up quite 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; however, we don’t recommend this since the doors are 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. The same can’t be said for a pair of swinging patio doors – unless you’re willing to keep one of the active doors locked at all times. If you like the French door look but space is tight, consider installing a center hung hinged door that allows furnishing 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 around.
Before purchasing a patio door, (hinged or sliding) decide in which direction you want the door to slide or, in the case of a center hung door, which direction the door 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, keep in mind that 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 Multi-Point Locking 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 among the biggest reasons for patio door replacement. Better doors combine all of these to offer the best of all worlds. The construction (frame, track, rollers, hinges and hardware) are constructed of superior materials and engineered to operate with little or no effort. If you’re tired of struggling with you’re sluggish sliding patio door, you’ll be pleased to know that better brands take little more energy than slight pressure from a single finger to open or close. The same holds true for swinging doors with ball-bearing hinges and upgraded hardware and a multi-point latch system. Better built doors mean less maintenance, less hassle and more money in your pocket. So, don’t be shy about spending a bit more up front. It will pay off down the road.
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 of the components used to construct the door – the more efficient the door. Look for the “Energy Star” label as a means of ensuring that your new door will give you the best bang for your energy buck.
When it comes to material choices the sky’s the limit. In the olds days, wood was 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 are 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 kid on the block “material-wise” is fiberglass. It offers the best of all worlds. It is virtually indestructible, 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 to ensure a good fit. Patio doors come in a variety of sizes to meet your needs. Make sure to allow 3/8” on the sides and ½” at the head. Check all the wall surfaces to ensure they are plumb and check corners to ensure they are square.