The doors on display in Scott Thurber's California showroom are huge: 25-by-9-foot slabs of glass, low-silled and minimally detailed. "People walk in and they're just blown away," reports Thurber, general manager of Associated Building Supply in Oxnard, Calif. "They say: 'That's what I've been looking for."'
Customers and contractors alike are loving big glass doors for a big reason: They help create the illusion of space in today's smaller homes by providing a seamless transition to outdoor living areas–areas that can be created at far lower costs per square foot than what's inside the home. While the cost of the giant panels of glass keeps most systems in the higher-end markets, interest has spread nationwide and is drifting down to the design details in average patio doors, which will see double-digit growth through 2012 and 2013, reports Window & Door magazine. This early in the game, the competition is tame relative to windows, Thurber says, so for him, big doors mean big margins.
Out Is In
"I spoke with a couple of architects this morning down in the South where their outdoor living spaces are as big as the house," says Mark Fanelli, vice president and general manager of Royal Window and Door Profiles. And at 20% the cost of conditioned space, moving outdoors is a good move in a bad economy, climate permitting. In May, the company launched the Opus Patio Door Series with a Super Quiet roller to make the transition easier, creating a 16-foot expanse of glass in the four-panel sliding door configuration. Multiplying the panels of a traditional patio door is only one way door designers bridge the demand for larger spans. There are several systems engineered to hold, move, and store massive panes of glass.
Lift-and-slide doors have a large handle that lifts heavy panels like a jack so they push open with a finger, such as the Ultra Series TerraSpan Lift & Slide Doors by Kolbe & Kolbe Millwork Co.; Marvin's Clad Ultimate Lift and Slide Door; and the Premium Series 1000 Sliding Patio Door by Ply Gem Windows, which requires just 8 pounds of force to roll open a 550-pound panel, the maker claims. Backed by substantial weight, these types of doors seal weather-tight when shut.
Other systems hang from a track. Jeld-Wen's Custom Fiberglass folding door system and the Bi-Folding doors by Panda Windows & Doors can be nearly limitless in length, while NanaWall Systems' Single-Track sliding doors are good for multi-angled walls because they track around obstructions. Solar Innovations' new SI30000 Monster Wall System accommodates doors that fold, stack, or slide, and its dual-wheel trolleys can hold 4-by-12-foot or larger panels.
"You can have your traditional slider, but that's 60-year-old technology," says Matt Thomas, director of marketing for NanaWall Systems. "In a typical two-panel slider, you only use half the opening. It creates a whole different emotional component when the entire wall opens up, because then you have connectedness." Doors with the latest technology fold accordion-style or hide inside the wall like a pocket door so the outdoor room integrates with the indoor space seamlessly. Typically, these configurations include an access panel that swings open independently so users don't have to push back the entire wall to let the cat out.
"Gone are the McMansions," says builder Stephanie Denton of Denton Homes in Waukee, Iowa. "We're seeing people want more flexible space; if you make a multi-purpose room and add a folding glass door you can make that room larger if you need it."
Custom builder Mike McDonald of Oakland, Calif., calculates that shaving 1,800 square feet from a 4,500-square-foot floorplan and then adding it back outside could make the home feel as large but cost much less. Still, for the average house, large transitions don't come cheap.
"When you create a big open void, you're going to have challenges and cost associated with it," McDonald says. The opening itself is a cost, as is the door, the installation, the engineering involved and, when required, the steel supports. "But that said, from a design perspective it's no more costly to put in a big opening system than it is to put in six panels," he maintains.
For homeowners who can't afford Weiland Sliding Doors & Windows' 16-foot-tall liftslide, there are other ways to open up the view for less: sidelites and transoms, low sills, thinner stiles, and details down to how the drywall meets the door.
Goodbye Ogee Lug
The 5-1/2-inch stiles and rails are getting narrower and more contemporary on French doors as well as sliding patio doors, Thurber observes. He also sees more drywall returns, where the wallboard butts the window in place of trim.
"People are probably tired of the old ogee-lug look where you've got a lot of different steps and millwork, heavy casings, shadow lines, and detail on the inside," a change he attributes to a growing desire for an uncluttered view.
Narrow stiles in Therma-Tru's vented sidelites, new to its Smooth-Star and Fiber-Classic Oak Collection patio doors, let in more light. The new vinyl Tuscany Series swinging doors by Milgard Windows & Doors are traditionally hinged but feature more than 30 single- and multi-panel configurations with fixed or operable sidelites.
Simonton recently added a 10-foot-wide, two-lite vinyl patio door to its Impressions line for the western U.S. market and plans to go bigger.
"We are seeing a continuing trend of homeowners in all regions of the country wanting to bring more of the outdoors into the home through large window-wall configurations, featuring combinations of patio doors," says Christopher Burk, product manager for Simonton Windows.