Patio doors swing wide open to usher the outside in

Aluminium bi-fold doors. Where space allows, bi-folds can take away an entire wall in one glide, reynaers.ie.

Like magic portals, patio panels and doors conjure up spellbinding new possibilities in Irish architecture, says Kya deLongchamps.

THERE’S a lot of illuminating chatter about indoor/outdoor spaces. The magic portal making any of this possible for most homes is a fully glazed detailed exterior door (or set of panels), framing outdoor views and opening fully to the garden.

Even in the worst weather, the results from a south or westerly aspect are spiritually uplifting, with essential passive solar gain (a free sunny heat-shunt) as a bonus. The right design will frame static views when shut and will allow you to sweep an external wall or a good portion of it, right out of the way. With superb flooring meeting paving and a minimal threshold, the effect can be like an instant extension.

Whether you are building a complete house, putting up a new wing, or changing out old doors, get to know the character, look and strengths delivered by the available options in French doors, sliders and bi-folds. Any product you choose should be airtight and watertight when closed with a U-value (thermal) of 0.5W/m2K in the centre pane.

Don’t neglect privacy in any large floor-to-ceiling glazing project. Work out with your architect or installer how to avoid the “goldfish bowl” finish if you are overlooked in any way, especially when lights go on after dark. Simple sheers, garden screening, or an overhang to the roofing can often deal with neighbours looking down and into your home from adjacent buildings.

Sleek sliders

The market has seen a steady return to sliding patio doors as they are reinvented by superb new engineering and weather-performance detailing. The door set is fixed into a floor track with at least one panel fixed (as a window). Finished in black they deliver the 1930s Crittall steel look. Jim Toal of Fairco Windows & Doors says: “The design demands and technological advances in glass production means architects can now specify much larger openings of up to six metres in open space.

In these instances, lift- and-slide patio doors, which use a hydraulic handle to lift the glass and slide it, are ideal, as each door can be up to three metres wide.” Sliding doors in standard sizes are an economical, acceptable choice for most builds. For any special additions in glass to any choice of moving glazing (balconies and glass verandahs, for example) Cork Glass Centre at the Kinsale Road Business Park is an architect favourite; corkglass.ie.

Patio/slider essentials

  • Offer slim frames in large apertures, enhancing outdoor views when closed
  • Leaves slide and stack neatly in two- or even three-track designs
  • 3m leaf widths compared to 1.1m bi-folds
  • Cheaper than bi-fold doors
  • Engineering well understood by most builders
  • Have contemporary heights and large sizes
  • Metal, wood and PVC doors have been radically improved for “cold-bridging”
  • Best aluminium examples are highly secure when professionally installed
  • Lift-and-slide versions offer high weather sealing and easy action for even a small person
  • Standard bars, hinges and sliders can create a fully glazed proper corner for an extension
  • Compare to pocket doors that slide completely out of view

French fancy

A side-hinged French door in PVCu is ideal for a seaside situation.
A side-hinged French door in PVCu is ideal for a seaside situation.

French doors are often first up for many buyers. They are ideal for classically styled homes, charming, familiar, flexible and come in a range of glazing bars if you want to interrupt plain panes. Keep in mind how the open doors will impact furniture placements. Where bi-folds and sliders can skim past say a couch or dining set with nothing more than pedestrian passing room, French doors may need to swing in across the room.

Aluminium and timber varieties can be powder-coated and painted to match windows. Timber hardwoods with superb thermal resistance are now detailed to have centre pane U-value as low as 0.5W/m2K (Munster Joinery Prestige Hardwood range matches its Ecotherm range in bi-folds); munsterjoinery.ie. Costello Windows offers a typical quality multi-chamber PVCu frame — a great start in performance and economy; costellowindows.ie).

French door essentials

  • Great for period or contemporary homes
  • Available from most window manufacturers
  • Standard openings 1.2m/1.5m/1.8m with bespoke sizing available
  • Good large panels for standard height openings and can be scaled up or out to the side
  • Limited by two-door design but can combine with other door actions
  • Hinge and lock into the floor/frame and into each other. Good security ratings with multi-point locking (home insurers will demand this of all exterior door systems)
  • Can be extended visually with side-lights
  • Economical choice compared to bi-folds
  • Keep in mind the intrusion of the French door when open — to keep a charming period flavour, compare to bi-folds before purchasing

Beautiful bi-folds

A bi-fold system set in a floor runner allows you to push the “wall” away and stack it on one side of the opening. Still a relative newcomer to the market, bi-folds are a popular compromise between the neat, versatile mechanics of sliding doors and the divided more nostalgic aesthetic of a French door with side-lights when shut. They suit spaces of less than 4m but, with a steel support across the top of the void, can go wider.

Generally more expensive than French doors, they are becoming more available across most window makers. Bi-folds also offer an alternative to pocket doors. Pocket walling must be well planned to ensure the doors don’t snag on retreat and that the insulation of the hosting wall is not compromised.

Choose a quality supplier offering slim aluminium profiles with a master door that can work independently as your everyday door. Try Robert Kennedy and his team at Sky Windows; skywindows.ie.

Bi-fold essentials

  • More framing on view when closed than most sliders/French doors; 6m would need six doors. They can be”‘busy” in even smaller openings
  • Frames when shut can be heavier on the eye — more sight-lines
  • Regarded as “modern” by some designers, they can be a great choice for period homes
  • Framing can cover wide areas. Standard panels come in at 1.1m Check with the manufacturer for door action over complete widths larger than 4m. Alternative? Sliders
  • Pushes almost completely out of the way. Felling walls. Great for entertaining, but requires around 1m sq on one side to stack a standard set of doors
  • Low threshold, making them easier to step out over or even move a wheelchair or furniture

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