Yesterday, for the first time in the three years of admiring my slimline aluminium framed bi-folding doors with integral blinds, I felt dissatisfied. This is because, for past few months, I have become increasingly aware of how much more visibility I could have with frame-less double glazed doors.
Time-travelling back a few years, the best option for doors between house and garden were central-opening double doors (French doors) which are still popular today. Fifty-ish years ago, sliding patio doors enabled us to embrace more light in the home. Typically, these comprised two panes of glass that could slide left or right within side-by-side parallel grooves so that, when closed, natural light and a good view could be enjoyed. To open, one door would slide to overlap with the other door so that the total width of the opening was similar to that of French doors. Another down-side of sliding doors is that they all too often became ‘sticking’ doors which became worse with the introduction of double glazing, doubling the weight of the doors and reducing the glass to frame ratio.
Moving forward to the next innovation… enter the bi-folding door: a combination of hinged doors that open in concertina style. Often called folding-sliding doors, bi-folds have various mechanisms that allow one side of the door panels to be guided along top and bottom runners while the remainder of each door panel is pushed out, together with its hinge-attached partner, and so on for as many door panels that are connected. In this way, a number of doors are swept aside in a zig-zag to reveal access widths of up to seven metres.
Since the turn of the century, the bi folding door has become increasingly popular with home-owners modernising their houses and flats. It is also the standard for many enclosed swimming pools.
Bi-folding doors are generally offered with three frame types: Timber, Aluminium and PVC. All are available in different qualities and therefore the prices vary. When comparing the cheapest PVC or wood-framed door sets from a D.I.Y. store with made to measure bi folding doors from a specialist manufacturer, remember that the built-to-order price generally includes installation by experienced bi folding door fitters.
Other points to consider may include the origin of your custom built doors.
- Are they made locally or imported? There could be unforeseen delays if the measurements are inaccurate.
- Does the company use an experienced team or cheap, untrained labour for installation?
- Is the Company established with a good reputation, in case something goes wrong?
Good quality wooden frames look good in traditional homes. Hard woods, such as teak and oak are more expensive than soft woods but are also more resiliant. Timber frames are more prone to weather conditions – sun and rain can take their toll – swelling, shrinking or warping the frames, making the doors difficult to open or close and facilitating draughts. Stained or painted, wooden frames are high maintenance compared with aluminium or pvc.
The term thermally-broken aluminium basically means that the aluminium exposed to the temperatures on the outside of the frame and the aluminium on the inside of the frame are separated by a non-conductive material so that heat or cold doesn’t pass through. Aluminium itself can be quite ugly therefore the aluminium frames are powder-coated in a polymer that provides a smooth, warm finish. Colours can be added to the coating to produce a virtually maintenance-free frame (it will need a wipe now and then) in white, graphite, silver, green, brown, blue or up to almost 200 colour choices – including purple, orange, red or pink. Barbie and Jordan would love that!
Often available in wood-grain finish as well as white, PVC door frames vary from cheap and nasty that will probably be a nightmare to open and close, to metal-reinforced, high quality systems. The better PVC bifolds have many of the qualities of aluminium bifolds, such as low maintenance and good performance – but the frames are always wider, detracting from the potential view when doors are closed, and the profiles are also wider, reducing the access space when open.
For character homes, frameless glass doors are the stunning alternative to the traditional. For contemporary homes, there really is no alternative – this is it! The ultimate Lifestyle choice. Instead of having to consider the safety of natural wood versus repercussions of fashion fopars with copper, graphite or plum finishes, choose frameless. No frames.
Evolving from bifolds, an absence of side frames meant having to develop a method without hinges. This is achieved by having a main door that pivots open at right-angles just like a regular door, enabling each of the remaining doors to slide across the gap left by the open door and also pivoting at right-angles, to rest against the previous door. In this way, maximum access is achieved when all the doors are fully open.
And when the doors are fully closed, there are no frames to disturb the view. It should be noted, however, that because patio doors are double glazed, there is a small interruption between closed doors where the gasket seals the vacuum between the outer and inner glass panes.
Internal & Commercial Frameless
As a footnote, if you want frameless glass doors as internal room dividers, conservatory doors, doors to an outbuilding or on commercial premises, such as a removable front wall of a café, single glazed doors can be fitted. Not only are there no side frames but there is no gasket – just edge-to-edge glass (unbreakable quality, of course).
The price of frameless glass doors is a fraction over the cost of good quality bifolding doors. Browse the internet for photographs and companies that offer comparative, no-obligation quotations. Meanwhile, I’m wondering whether I should close off the kitchen with a frameless glass room divider – the dishwasher is quite loud sometimes…