Should I Choose a Patio Door?
As with most innovations, patio doors were once hailed the very latest development in their field: replacing French doors with the promise of an uninterrupted view of the garden, more natural daylight pouring into the home and unfettered access to the outdoors.
Patio doors are still hugely popular and have become increasingly sophisticated. However, they have not completely replaced French doors and the two very happily co-exist on the market, benefitting the home-owner who has a choice of door options to consider.
A fairly recent contender has made an entrance in this space – pardon the puns. Bifold doors offer yet more of what the patio started in terms of exploiting the width of the aperture and they do negate some of the drawbacks that came with sliding patio doors and that existed with French doors. It could be argued that bifold doors offer more elegance and certainly do come with increased flexibility. However, they are not a universal panacea and there are still choices to be made. This document aims to assist purchasers to make an informed decision on what kind of door is most beneficial to their lifestyle and property.
Bifolding doors are certainly considered by many to be a more attractive product than a patio door, and although patios are available in most colours and finishes, they do not have the flexibility of style that French doors offer. Neither do they have the high tech advantage of the bifolds that allow stacking to one side so that they almost disappear when not required, although to achieve this satisfactorily, choose carefully who manufactures them as the handles can be positioned so that they knock against the glass and prevent full opening.
In a period property, it may be necessary to match the style of existing windows and doors and this can be achieved to wonderful effect by sympathetic manufacturers of bespoke doors and windows. French doors can be built to complement any style, any period and any architectural design, something which cannot be achieved using patio doors, and although bifold doors may complement a property, they will always be modern in appearance. To some this juxtaposition of styles is unpalatable.
Choice of door type is a matter of lifestyle and convenience. In a small flat with little outside space, the inconvenience of having to accommodate French doors can be impractical. With its ability to span an entire aperture and to open it up entirely, the bifold door can allow a balcony or garden to become part of a room on a pleasant day, in some cases doubling its size. However, these are more expensive and it may be necessary to go for the patio door to keep within budget. The patio has the advantage that one pane slides behind the other and still gives reasonable access and good line of sight to the outdoors. It is also a good solution where a door is required to be partially opened for ventilation without allowing animals or children to escape from the room. Although a bifold door can be configured to include a single opening door, it is either open or shut.
If there is space to open French windows, the door itself can be designed to be part of a pretty entrance to a small balcony or garden filled with flowers in a traditional property or even in a modern building. PVC is the least expensive material and designs are now so well advanced that a trained eye is required to see easily that a door is not timber.
Bifold doors have the additional advantage of flexible arrangement. There are numerous combinations of opening and folding, allowing for two leaves to open as French doors in the centre, or one leaf to open in traditional fashion when the rest of the door is closed. A useful feature for some is that the threshold can be designed to be completely flat – invaluable for wheelchair users, those with small children who may have difficulty negotiating a ledge, and for use, for example, round a swimming pool where swimmers move in and out of the building to use outside facilities in good weather.
Once upon a time, patio doors were easily penetrated from outside, even when locked. Security is now improved and the doors have become relatively secure. French doors have long been subject to rigorous conditions by the insurance companies and locks can be fitted at every level of security to prevent intrusion, depending on the material used.
However, the bifold doors offers increased security options and are good enough to use in commercial premises. For example, in garages which display high worth cars, vehicles can be driven in and out, or in restaurants where the doors are useful fully opened, diners can be allowed to spill out onto the pavement in the summer.
Bifold doors and patio doors are clear winners for thermal features in any material. Their modern brushes and seals have been developed to adhere to the stringent buildings regulations resulting from the current focus on climate change and the rise in fuel costs has encouraged home owners to seek efficient doors.
French windows are available with far greater draught proofing qualities than even ten years ago and there are numerous companies which can enhance the thermal efficiency of your French doors. However, particularly with timber French doors, thermal considerations are the last on the list after a property’s period, compatibility with existing windows and doors and – well – taste.
PVC or aluminium French doors benefit from the latest technology available in those materials, but if we compare traditional timber French doors with modern doors made from other materials, the timber French door cannot boast that it is equal in terms of energy efficiency. It may, however, be just what is needed to keep in sympathy with the style of a building.
A major issue with patio doors, which is still not entirely resolved, is that accidents all too frequently happen when the door is mistakenly thought to be open, but is in fact shut, as sometimes it is almost impossible to distinguish. If someone walks into it – or more worryingly a child runs into it – a glass door can cause significant damage. Safety glass is now fitted as standard so that the severe lacerations from broken glass that were seen in the early days can no longer occur, impact at speed with a sheet of glass on a head or face can nevertheless cause serious injury and care should be taken to ensure there is a warning to anyone using the door – especially little people!
To avoid this issue altogether, and specifically if warning notices do not appeal, consider a French door which will have narrower panes of glass and most likely cross bars to frame them, or bifold doors which have a maximum of 700mm wide leaves and are framed top and bottom to give an indication that the door is closed.
There is a massive choice of doors on the market with advantages and disadvantages to each. Further help can be sought from a reputable door specialist that sells a full range of door types so understands and is equally happy to sell any of them.
And once that decision is made, having taken into account what material is most suitable for your situation – aluminium, aluminium-clad timber, timber or PVCu – all that remains is to choose the colour – mahogany, oak, white, green, red ……
Derek Rogers is a freelance writer who writes for a number of UK businesses. For information on doors, he recommends Henry James Doors, a leading supplier of patio doors.