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How sliding doors work

Sliding doors are increasingly popular with homeowners, especially those short on space.
A sliding door has one or more panels that hang on rollers so they can slide horizontally along a fixed track. Most people have a single sliding door and another fixed panel, but they can be installed in single or double sliding panels.
Sliding doors come with a range of options. Sliding doors are available in sizes of two, three and four-panel designs, while multiple tracks allow panels to slide to the left or right.
A variation on the sliding door is the 'pocket' door, which slides into a wall recess and is mostly hidden from view when it is open. Pocket doors are often found in hallways and narrow passageways where space is at a premium.

How sliding doors operate

Sliding doors operate on a set of horizontal rails. The rail is usually fixed above the door, suspended from the rail on rollers. Lightweight doors are typically hung from the top, while heavier doors, such as exterior patio doors, also glide along the bottom rail. A rail is embedded into the floor to guide the door when opening and to prevent it from swinging outwards. The floor rail can protrude slightly to fit into a groove in the base of the doors, or the door may have a strip that fits into a grooved floor rail. Some sliding doors will have rollers or bearings both at the top and bottom of the door, and there is usually a stopper at both ends to stop the door from sliding off the track. The weight of the panel is a significant consideration with sliding doors, as heavy doors are more challenging to open and close. Sliding doors can be made secure with a variety of locks and catches. The type of security used usually depends on the manufacturer and the material, such as metal, uPVC, or timber.

Types of sliding door

There are several variations on the conventional sliding door. Lift and Slide doors operate with a handle that moves the door away from the frame, ready to slide into the desired position. The handle operates special gearing around the door sash to allow this. Tilt and slide patio doors combine sliding doors and tilt-and-turn windows. The tilt facility will enable you to open the hinged panel for ventilation, like a standard tilt-and-turn window, or slide the door open. Modern materials allow slimline patio doors with large areas of glass held in place by ultra-thin frames. Slimline sliding doors come in all sizes, from standard domestic openings to impressive panoramic widths. Similar to bifold door systems, sliding doors can now be designed to meet in the corner with no visible corner post. Open-corner sliding doors can also be designed to slide into a wall as a pocket system, although some structural work may be needed to achieve such dramatic results.

Where to use a sliding door

Sliding doors are usually found in interior rooms and hallways. They allow for much larger openings than regular doors despite taking up a relatively small space. Sliding doors have become popular outside, especially for patios and courtyard-type areas. The increased use of strong but lightweight materials such as aluminium allows homeowners to fit 'picture windows' of glass sliding doors. Sliding glass doors are a popular feature in rooms with decks or patios as they can be fitted with full-length glass panels, opening up a room to the outdoors while allowing easy access in and out. Glass is a good conductor of heat, as is aluminium and other metals, so homeowners should consider the thermal properties of any exterior sliding door installation. Many will specify double glazing or a low-E coating to prevent winter heat loss and mitigate summer solar heat gain.

Problems with sliding doors

The size and appearance of sliding doors depend on individual requirements and personal tastes. The biggest problem with sliding doors is that they can stick and become difficult to open or close. Debris can often accumulate in the lower track channel, especially with exterior doors. Regularly use a small brush attachment on your vacuum to clean the sliding-door tracks to avoid this. Squirting some lubricant into the upper and lower tracks will help keep them clean and working freely. For sliding doors that get a lot of use, the problem can be wear and tear on the rollers that start to rub against the track. Most modern sliding doors have an adjusting screw that raises or lowers the roller. After some adjustment, the door will roll more easily.

Advantages of sliding doors

Sliding doors are a popular choice in any home. They add character to the home with designs ranging from ultra-modern to period-traditional. They can improve the amount of natural light throughout the home, especially when glazed, giving the illusion of much more space. Sliding doors allow you greater creativity in planning internal spaces. You can create spaces in the home without sealing areas off, so rooms can combine privacy with family life. Conventional doors need an area left clear for opening, and a sliding door can free up valuable space with more installation options at your disposal. Most sliding doors provide bigger openings than standard doors, and busy areas such as kitchens can benefit significantly from the extra space and seamless access.

Alternatives to sliding doors

Sliding or bifold doors
Types of folding door
Choosing the best bifold

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