What is best? French Doors, Sliding Doors or Bifolding Doors?

For new extensions or replacing dated patio doors, there’s a choice of French Doors, sliding doors or bifolding doors. Each of these has its benefits and differences and in most cases even suit the same door opening sizes. Here’s everything you need to know when trying to choose between French Doors vs sliding doors vs bifold doors.

French doors, sliding doors and bifolding doors in a large room

Choosing between French doors vs sliding doors vs bifold doors

First of all your choice between French doors, sliding doors or bifolding doors will depend on your project. Are you replacing an existing set of doors for something more modern or building a new opening?

Naturally for the latter, there’s more flexibility as you get to choose how large the opening is and the doors as a result. For an existing opening, you’re limited by the size of course. The bigger the door opening, the greater the choice of door options.

There are other considerations such as the sightlines you’d prefer, whether you want to reduce the aluminium and maximise the glass. Of course, patio doors also mean enjoying warmer days better and having these connect to the garden. However, with our doors closed for most of the year, do the views you get from a closed set of doors matter too?

How to choose French doors, sliding doors or bifolding doors for an existing opening

For replacing your old doors, the size limits the doors available. However, there remains a good number of options and solutions.  Today’s modern patio doors accommodate both large and small openings.

French doors will probably be the ideal choice for typical smaller openings and bifolding doors or patio doors for the larger ones.  There are several things to consider with all three but particularly sliding doors versus bifolding doors. 

Any size under 2m wide is best with French doors. From 2m wide to 2.5m wide, French doors with one or two sidelights are best. Once you go over 2.5m, the choices extend to both sliding and folding doors.

You may already be familiar with how your existing doors open. Here, therefore, it’s a choice of whether you want to retain the same operation or go with something different.

French doors in white at the back of a new extension

Four reasons why aluminium is always best for French doors, sliding doors or bifolding doors

You’ll get a reliable, secure and weather-resistant door whether you go with aluminium, PVCu, timber or even hybrid doors combining two materials. However, aluminium beats all these materials in four significant areas.

You get slimmer frame lines

When it comes to what doors are the slimmest, it’s hard to beat aluminium. PVCu is always thicker as it needs this bulk for strength and security. Timber is a wonderful natural material but this too is usually thicker than any standard aluminium patio door set.

So if reducing the visible sightlines of essential frame profiles matters, aluminium is the slimmest when choosing French doors, sliding doors or bifolding doors.

Larger doors, more glass and more light

Aluminium doors typically provide larger door leaf sizes than PVCu and timber doors. Most other materials give you door sizes of around 850mm – 900mm. Aluminium doors go well over 1m width with most systems.

It’s the same for the heights. For most 2300mm or taller openings, other doors mean you need a glazed light above them. Choose the right aluminium door and it’ll comfortably cover this height. The benefit is fewer aluminium profiles, larger glass sizes, more light and better views.

You can match other aluminium doors

What you might not know is aluminium gives the best solution for matching both French doors and bifolding doors.

You may have a larger extension with bifolding doors for your living area and a nearby study or dining room also leading to the garden. It’s possible to make single doors or French doors out of the same profiles as bifolding doors. The benefit therefore is matching doors where you need these three different types.

More choice of designs with aluminium

Aluminium doors come with a substantial choice of colours. That said, colour and glass technology is available with aluminium, PVCu and timber too. So for popular and trendy shades, they come with all types of patio doors.

Aluminium goes one better with more distinctive shades. Textured, metallic or anodised are three types of finishing you can’t get with timber or PVCu.

Even better with aluminium is the design choices. There are minimalist and slimline solutions for patio doors, even frameless. Steel-inspired, Art-Deco and industrial looks are only possible with aluminium or genuine steel product.

As well as this aluminium provides more opening choices with sliding or folding doors such as slide and stack doors, pocket sliding doors and doors with fully open corners.

Solarlux wood bifolding doors

French doors, sliding doors and bifold doors explained.

French Doors

French doors you may know as a set of double doors that most people choose to open outwards although of course, they can open in if you wish.

Double French Doors will be more suitable to the smaller structural openings, but aluminium french doors are better than PVCu French Doors because they can be made taller and wider.  This is good news if you have a typical 2400×2300 structural opening that PVCu doors can only go into when coupled to sidelights and toplights.  This means more bulky PVCu sections, less glass and a smaller door area.  Don’t forget that the sidelights and toplights add to the cost of a set of doors as well.

In aluminium, however, French Doors can be manufactured at maximum sizes of 1260mm wide for a single door and at least 2460mm wide for french doors.  Aluminium French Doors can also be made substantially taller than most PVCu doors at 2400mm high negating the need and the additional cost of a toplight.  Some other doors can also be built taller than this if needed.

French doors with most quality systems will meet high security using multipoint locking, and many have passed the latest PAS024 security tests.  Additionally, with aluminium french doors you will get substantially thinner profiles than any PVCu door meaning more glass area and less aluminium.

The advantage of french doors over patio doors is that if they are your only access door into your garden, you can use only the one leaf instead of both.  In the summer you have the option of opening both door leaves, and if needed these can be fitted with integral door restrictors.

The good news with French Doors is bifolding door profiles can be used to create them.  Origin offers French Doors matched to their bifolds, and this arrangement is available with virtually any bifolding door system too.

patio doors by sunflex

Sliding doors

The most significant advantage of patio doors and sliding doors is that because they slide on one track, they take up less space when open than French Doors or bifolding doors.  If you have a tiny patio or even a balcony, patio doors will make more sense.  Additionally, they will not be prone to blowing open or closed on very windy days like any swing type door.

Modern patio doors in aluminium now come at substantial sizes typical of the big glass sliding doors that you will have seen on Grand Designs.

Patio door technology has advanced quite significantly in recent years.  With a modern sliding door, you get one, two or three tracks.  These tracks enable the various door leaves independent sliding, also providing options on how you open your doors.

Patio doors are generally available as two, three or four pane sliders although custom doors with more panels are available.  The slim aluminium profiles now mean that even two-pane patio doors come suitable for doors up to five metres wide.  There are even sliding doors such as the Dutemann going up to 6.7m wide with jus,t two panels. As a result, you benefit from impressive views thanks to the expansive glass area, and with minimal visible aluminium.

Sophisticated hardware and rollers in modern aluminium patio doors mean that while some considerable patio door leaves can weigh several hundred kilos, they remain remarkably light to use and slide daily.

Some patio door systems can go up to three metres in height as well giving you huge doors if you are building a bespoke opening.

Patio doors also have sophisticated security built-in with protection where the door panels overlap and excellent multi-point locking systems.

origin bifold doors cost

Bifolding Doors

Bifolding doors are to many the ultimate door for the back of the house and obviously offer features that the other two types of doors cannot.  The biggest advantage is when fully open they open up the entire building opening to create a fantastic open space and a seamless transition between the inside and the outside of the house.

There are now many configurations of bifolding doors giving you flexibility in how they open.  If you have a simple 2 metre wide opening and wish to replace old french doors or an old two pane patio door, you can have two pane bifolding doors that concertina open.  But on a two pane door when they are open they won’t give you a much bigger clear opening than two french doors fully open.  The advantage is that you will only have open doors on the one side instead of both sides with french doors. You will also lose the flexibility of only opening one door as you can with French Doors.  Therefore, take a look at how bifolding door sizes in relation to French or sliding doors may affect your choice.

Again if your bifolds are the only access door into your garden, we strongly recommend one swinging access leaf opening on the one side with the rest of the bifolding doors sliding open on the other side.  This will enable you to simply swing open one door if you wish to take the rubbish out or on winter days without having to slide every door open.

Bifolding doors provide the best of all worlds when configured and designed correctly but are ideal where the open doors won’t encroach on the outside space and where the structural opening is big enough to accommodate them.  If you have an existing opening of 2700mm or more there is no reason why you cannot have bifolding doors.

solarlux bifolding doors review
Solarlux bifolding doors in the steel-look design

How to decide between French doors, sliding doors or bifolding doors.

Aside from any limitations with an existing opening if you’re still not sure what’s best, here are where bifolding doors, sliding doors and French doors differ.

When you want the slimmest sightlines go with sliding doors

For the thinnest possible aluminium and even door frames hidden in the structure for a near frameless look, only sliding doors are best.

French doors and bifolding doors don’t come with the 20mm mullion options of sliding doors and French doors can’t get the flush threshold possible with sliding or folding doors.

For getting an entire door opening, choose bifolding doors

Unless it’s a new extension and you design sliding doors with the pocket option and doors sliding into the wall, only bifolds will give you the maximum clear opening. Therefore these doors are ideal for smaller homes giving the illusion of more space with the doors fully open.

Need to make the most of great views? Sliding doors are best

Sliding doors come with glass sizes wider and taller than any bifold or French doors. Therefore, when you have a great view, a larger garden or even a penthouse apartment, there’s no better product for making the most of any great view than sliding doors.

If getting the most out of the winter months is also important, again sliding doors are probably best. When the doors are closed you enjoy fewer vertical mullions, more light during the shorter days and an altogether brighter feeling in the room.

When you want the best in steel-look doors, choose French Doors

Whilst bifolding and sliding doors all come in a steel-look style, only French doors deliver better aesthetics.

French doors in smaller openings look great in the steel look. Larger openings easily accommodate a set of double doors with side panels. Even larger openings mean more than one set of doors with side panels if needed. There’s nothing better for getting the Heritage, Art-Deco and industrial look than French doors.

French doors, sliding doors or bifolding doors explained

Summary

Ultimately this will be a matter of personal preference as to what best suits your home.  If you are on a budget for aluminium doors, then French doors are usually the cheapest option. Sliding doors are a little cheaper than bifolding doors and the folding sliding option the most expensive depending on the number of panels.

If budget isn’t the deciding factor, we suggest choosing your doors based on the sightlines you want, the appeal of the larger glass panels in sliding doors or how much of the available opening you want.

And if you’re lucky enough to have more than one door opening at the back of the home, mixing these different doors also creates a great end result.

Published on November 28, 2014