Light is one of the most desirable features in a new home, because it creates the illusion of space and makes a house feel more livable. Traditional windows and patio doors bring in some light, but pivoting, or bifold, patio doors do this and so much more.
Pivoting patio door systems look like regular doors when closed, but they fold away to create large, uninterrupted exterior openings with panels measuring up to 4 feet wide and 13 feet tall. Extremely popular in Europe and Australia, the doors are hot in high-end housing here.
“The biggest demand has been from homeowners and architects,” says Jon Sawatzky, an architectural consultant with Steinbach, Manitoba, Canada–based Loewen. “Architects were always limited to a pair of doors for their exterior openings, but these doors can go over 50 feet. It's the way people want to live these days.”
But is such a product appropriate in production move-up housing? “Bifold systems have a valued place in production housing, albeit somewhat limited,” Sawatzky says. “To increase their popularity, a small revolution in thought and lifestyle must occur. Architects, homeowners, and builders need to realize that bifold systems have a relatively high cost, but in exchange, they provide an unrivaled lifestyle that is currently unavailable in production housing. The ability to intertwine interiors and exteriors is really lacking in today's housing.”
“We are getting bifolds specified in three developments in Southern California and Arizona,” says Shane Meisel, assistant products manager of Klamath Falls, Ore.–based Jeld-Wen's door division. “Once builders saw that it was available, they loved it.”
Ebrahim Nana, president of Nana Wall Systems in Mill Valley, Calif., says he is definitely seeing his products used in high-end production housing. “The doors are also being installed in the model homes, so it is offered as an upgrade,” he adds. “It is a high-priced product, but with the wow factor it creates, they are desirable.”
Bifold systems are ideal in a warm climate, but you don't have to live in places such as California to enjoy the benefits. Because these systems can be engineered with high-performance glazing, they can be used in both hot and cold climates as well as in coastal areas that are prone to strong winds. Nana says his company offers two impact-tested systems that can accept 1 ½-inch-thick glass.
Once upon a time, these doors were available only from custom fabricators and a limited number of manufacturers, but traditional fenestration companies now offer them too. Jeld-Wen's product combines the style of a French door with the benefits of a sliding door. Loewen's system can be ordered for a 52-foot-wide opening; it can also operate like a traditional swing door. Dubuque, Iowa–based Eagle Window and Door partnered recently with Vista Pointe Architectural Systems to introduce multi-slide and bifold doors. Using Eagle panels and Vista Pointe hardware, the doors create an opening up to 24 feet wide and 10 feet high.
So how much will these doors set you back? Jeff Shaffer, founder of Tucson, Ariz.–based A& J Installation, which builds and installs the doors, says systems cost anywhere from $1,500 to $3,500 per panel. Meisel says builders can usually keep costs down by sticking with standard installations and avoiding curved applications.
Sawatzky recommends that builders “use standard sizes, hardware, and glazing, and eliminate or limit the simulated divided lite pattern. Select a manufacturer that has a lot of desirable standard features and sizes.” Sawatzky continues: “It's usually more cost-effective to use larger panels than to increase the number of panels.”
Used in the right application, folding doors can make a big difference in a house. Says Sawatzky, “They emit an aura of luxury and sophistication that other types of windows and doors can't.”