How to choose sliding patio doors

Are you wondering how to choose sliding patio doors for your home?  Choosing any home-improvement product needs careful research and an understanding of the many different options that are available.  In this article, we offer our top tips and advice as well as encourage you to think about whether the alternative French doors or bifolding doors may actually be a better solution for your property. Here is what you need to know.

An Introduction to Sliding Patio Doors

The sliding door took a back seat in the last ten years mainly due to the popularity of the bifolding door.  Most of the aluminium systems companies and product designers relegated their sliding door products seeing that there was little demand for sliding doors.  This has now changed.

When it comes to product development and new types of doors to hit the market, sliding doors outnumber bifolding doors.  There hasn’t been a radically different bifolding door for several years now.  Sliding doors, on the other hand, are nothing like they were before. Gone are the dated, chunky, heavy and aesthetically dull patio doors.

This new desire for sliding doors is again thanks to the contemporary living spaces and the desire to transition our homes to the outside areas too.   Simply put, when you choose sliding patio doors today you get more light, bigger doors and better views. These are the two most desirable factors fueling this new interest in patio sliding doors and leading the way in how we design our home extensions and renovate our properties.

What a new sliding door will give you is a highly contemporary door with bigger glass areas than any other type of glazed product – even a window. The design of modern patio sliding doors has very much followed the trend for architecturally appealing aluminium that is highly contemporary while functional, secure and energy efficient.

When it comes to thermal performance, any door that has as much glass as possible will give you low U-Values.  The glass you can expect in your door will typically contain soft-coat low-emissivity coating,  warm edge spacer bars and argon gas between the glass.  Triple glazing is available as is enhanced glazing for acoustic performance as well. Either way, if big glass doors are what you desire, a sliding door is for you.

What is the best type of sliding patio door?

It depends. First of all, is where you’re planning on having the door. Not only are there exterior sliding doors but sliding patio doors also make excellent room dividers. You’ll also have some idea of how minimal you want the door in appearance, will you want a standard or recessed track and the number of panels that are best. All of these factors mean no one sliding door does it all.

how to choose sliding patio doors showing slim doors in a luxury home
When closed, sliding doors have fewer visible profiles than bifold doors

Why aluminium is always better for sliding patio doors

Aluminium sliding doors will give you the slimmest types of sliders and they’re capable of larger panel sizes than PVCu or timber doors. Aluminium is also less prone to thermal expansion and especially on South or West facing elevations.

PVCu sliding doors are the more affordable option and there are some excellent PVCu products on the market but sightlines are thicker, chunkier and the styling of PVCu isn’t to everyone’s taste today.

So if you’re wondering whether the sliding door is old-fashioned or passé all you need to do is study how different sliding doors are today from those you may be familiar with.  A modern sliding door is:

  • More thermally efficient.
  • More secure and more weather resistant.
  • Can achieve impressive width and heights exceeding 9m2 per sliding door panel.
  • Slimmer and stronger and even available virtually frameless.
  • More functional with cornerless doors, lift and slide doors and even automatic sliding doors.
  • Effortless to open, regardless of their size.

What should you look for in a new sliding door.

You have never had more choice when it comes to new sliding patio doors.  Design, functionality, performance and sliding actions are dramatically different to the traditional ‘inline’ sliding door.

First of all, you can get in touch with us for help and advice. We’ve worked with and seen the vast majority of sliding doors on the market. So if the choice is overwhelming, we can help narrow the options down to meet your needs and budget.

The best advice we can give you with over 35 years in aluminium doors and windows is there is no bad or substandard product. It is true they differ in price, quality of components, engineering and how advanced they are as a product. But even a reasonably priced sliding door well made and well fitted is reliable, secure and will serve you well. Only when a door is badly made and fitted does it create a poor user experience. It’s unlikely to be the product itself by design.

Look for a company offering a range of sliding doors. This means you’ll more likely get the right door for your needs. A good installer is confident in how they talk about the product, is aware of other brands on the market and can talk to you about differences in these.

Make sure sliding doors feature prominently on their website and marketing materials – another good indicator that you’re dealing with someone genuinely providing better sliding door products. A good mix of case studies is a further indication of their knowledge. Also, check out their reviews. You can also contact us for details of good installers or suppliers near you.

steel-look sliding doors by sunflex
The SVG steel-look sliding door by SUNFLEX UK

How do you choose a good sliding patio door?

Think about the size you want and how you want it to open. Will your new sliding door be the only back door out to your garden and are you constantly using your doors even in winter? If so you may find other types of patio products better, so research those too. Above all go see products and try them out. Only then can you be sure of the right door for you. Avoid buying sliding doors online unless you know exactly what you’re doing and the many pitfalls of this.

When you come to choose sliding patio doors at your research or browsing phase, beware of the misleading marketing messages around doors claiming to have more premium aluminium. Virtually every exterior grade sliding door on the market is made with only one type of aluminium alloy grade. That is the 6063 type suitable for architectural applications. It’s highly unlikely you’ll find aluminium (as a metal) better on any product available by the major UK product design houses. It is virtually impossible for you to find sliding doors made out of scrap aluminium as some content writers on property renovation websites or even sliding door websites claim.

Are there doors with thin aluminium and substandard quality? Probably if they’re sourced in China, Turkey or other sources not using a specific ‘system’. And most reputable sliding doors use a system, not just any aluminium profile. Even the independent brands of sliding doors use architectural quality aluminium.

Then there are other potentially confusing messages around the powder-coated finish when you come to choose sliding patio doors. Again it’s highly unlikely you’ll find a door with an inferior paint finish. And there are several key reasons for this.

Most systems companies creating patio door systems have their own certified and quality assured paint plants – they’re seriously sophisticated places. Those that don’t paint their own profiles use an equally impressive network of independent powder coaters. All of these work to set standards, very strict criteria and don’t churn out bad quality metals.

You’ll find products claiming a marine-grade finish. This is true, it’s hard for you to see it and it’s slightly thicker than the already good standard paint finish. Importantly, don’t assume marine-grade means your doors are automatically suitable for a marine/coastal environment without checking first what this means for your particular installation. We can also help if you get in touch.

sunvista some of the best sliding patio doors
Slimline doors give you even less visible aluminium and larger glass sizes. The Sunvista sliding door with 19mm mullions

Top Tips to help you choose sliding patio doors

  • Always visit a showroom and try out the products.  We can help you find installers.
  • Choose a sliding door with a good choice of handle options, colours and product flexibility.
  • Doors at first-floor level or above may be assembled in your home or specialist equipment required.
  • Ensure your installer has expertise in fitting sliding doors. They are not all the same.
  • Check out the security and weather performance of sliding doors.
  • Remember sliding doors vary greatly in quality, design, performance, aesthetics and engineering.
  • You get what you pay for.

Pros and cons of sliding doors.

Even for smaller openings,  a sliding door has many advantages.

Advantages of Sliding Doors

The doors slide within a track meaning they will not encroach into your outside or inside spaces.  Sliding doors are therefore good for putting furniture close to them or if you have a small patio or garden and want to maximise the space.

Sliding doors will look great whether they are open or closed. With a sliding door,  you’ll benefit from far less visible profile than other types of doors.

If you are building a new extension, a sliding door gives you the capability of creating a glass wall.  Many sliding door products can comfortably exceed five or even six metres with just two panels.  Heights of 3 metres or more are possible.  What you get with such big doors is weight.  You may think such big heavy doors will be difficult to open. The latest generation of sliding doors even at 300kg or more per panel are effortless to slide.  Such is the engineering and quality components behind them.  To appreciate the engineering of a modern sliding door you need to see them and try them out. Contact us and we can put you in touch with local showrooms. Sliding doors from Origin as one example come from one of the biggest UK Manufacturers.

Disadvantages of Sliding Doors

With such large doors comes the issue of careful glass handling and health and safety.  Always choose a reputable installer that has the equipment and skills to handle big glass panels and heavy doors.  Ask to see examples of their work and ask direct questions about how they intend to handle the large glass panels.  You can also expect some disruption as mobile lifting equipment may be used on the day of installation.  Of course, the cost of this is borne by you.

A sliding patio door will not open up an entire opening like a bifolding door can. What it can give you is multiple tracks.  Two or more doors can slide in either direction.  Three panels can stack to the one side giving you at least a two thirds clear opening with a three panel or fifty percent with a two panel. Four and six panel doors will provide different clear openings depending on the number of tracks.

Is a patio sliding door right for you?

Despite all the appeal of latest generation sliding doors, it is worth looking at the pros and cons of French Doors and Bifolding Doors.  How do they compare to sliding doors?

patio doors in white at the back of a new extension

Pros and cons of aluminium French Doors.

French doors comprise just two door leaves, hinged to open in or out (but not both ways).

Advantages of French Doors

If you have an unusually small door opening, we recommend a set of French doors as you will get the most glass area and the most prominent door clear opening with both door leaves hinged open.

If you are thinking about a two panel bifolding door for a smaller opening, again a set of French doors will give you the bigger clear opening.  With most typical double door structural openings ranging from 1200mm to 1800mm, consider whether French Doors will actually let in more light and look better.

While two panel bifolding doors are all well and good, they can only fold in one direction making them less convenient. Quickly unlocking a French Door to let in a pet or take out the rubbish you’ll find more comfortable than unlatching a bifolding door and making it concertina open.

Finally, it’s worth bearing in mind that most two panel bifolding doors must have a floating mullion on the locking side giving you an inconsistent sight line on one side.  Just like bifolding doors and sliding doors, low or ramp type thresholds are available.

Disadvantages of French Doors

The obvious limitation of French doors is how wide and tall they can be.  This limits them somewhat although when made of aluminium,  French doors are possible wider and taller than their PVCu or composite door counterparts. It is possible with most aluminium French Doors to cover a structural opening 2200mm wide and 2400mm high without needing static sidelights or top glazed lights. Any bigger openings than this and we would suggest a sliding door or a folding door.

warmcore french doorsTips for choosing French Doors.

  • Consider aluminium doors. These are substantially thinner than PVCu or timber.
  • French doors will give you the most light on openings under two metres than other doors.
  • French doors are cheaper.
  • French doors can accommodate midrails if pet flaps are required.

Pros and cons of aluminium bifolding doors.

Bifolding doors are appealing for their ability to open up your home and create a link between the inside and the outside. They add visual impact to any room and can even be a focal point.

Bifold doors are desirable, beautiful and highly functional.  No other door can appear to open up the wall of your home and extend your living or dining space when needed. Even when closed, bifolding doors enhance a room.

A bifolding door can also be functional thanks to their flexible configuration with single or double traffic doors available allowing you to use them like regular doors when they are closed. Bifolding doors start from two panels right up to seven, eight or even more with elaborate designs.  Thre are bifolding doors that work on faceted or curved walls.

With bifolding doors being so widely available another consideration is what is the best bifolding door system? It is tempting to go purely on price from your desire to have a bifolding door. Our advice is to go with bifolding doors having quality components, running hear and hardware. This is one way to ensure a product that is reliable in the longer term. See and try out the product. The differences between a basic bifold and a highly-engineered one are visible and obvious in use.

Believe it or not, many people building a new extension leave the choice of bifolding door to their builder.  Builders do have access to trade prices but what they may not have is the warranty offered by some manufacturers.  Check what guarantee you are going to get from your builder compared with the one offered directly by a bifolding door company.  The peace of mind guarantees many people see could be based upon the doors only being fitted by a trained or approved installer.

slimline visofold bifold doors in grey in a glass extension

Advantages of Bi Fold Doors

Bifolding doors do come with drawbacks. They are quite expensive, and they don’t work for every type of property.  If you live in a traditional house, consider whether a bifolding door is really in keeping with the overall house style. There are systems available that replicate timber doors available with woodgrain colours, deep bottom rails and period hardware.

A bifolding door will also need consideration given to shade and privacy.  Integral blinds are horizontal blinds housed between the panes of glass.  These are quite popular and allow you to have all the aesthetic appeal of a bifold with privacy.  With an integral blind, there is no need to obscure your contemporary bifolds with curtains or blinds.

A bifolding door will need precision installation, and you will need to ensure the track remains clean at all times so that the carriage wheels at the bottom do not jam or stiffen. The other consideration with bifolding doors is whether the British weather makes them worthwhile given their cost.

Disadvantages of Bi Folding Doors

The British climate means that your bifolding doors will be closed most of the year.  The more door panels you have the more visible vertical aluminium you see.  Bifolding door mullions vary from under 100mm to over 150mm depending on the system.  The thicker the door mullions, the smaller the glass.  Therefore you may wish to do your research and check out who makes the slimmest bifolding doors.

While bifolding doors are available in panel sizes of up to 1200mm wide typically, if you are looking to create big vision panels, sliding doors are probably the better option. If you do decide to go for a maximum width door panel these will take up quite a lot of space inside or out when folded fully back.  The more door panels you have the greater the stack.

A bifolding door may not be ideal if it is the only door at the back of your home.  Think about how often you use your existing back door to go out into your garden or whether you actually use your back door more than your front door. A bifold consisting of all the panels sliding in one direction won’t be that convenient.  Remember also that some bifolding doors only lock and work from the inside so can’t be unlocked and opened like a regular back door.

Bifolding doors will usually be more expensive than French doors and sliding doors.

Tips for choosing Bifolding Doors.

  • Choose a professional company – installation is key to their reliability
  • Bifolding doors vary greatly in aesthetics. Choose the door that’s right for your home
  • PVCu bifolds are cheapest but are thicker, less attractive and not ideal in South facing locations
  • Bifolding doors give you more visible aluminium than French Doors or sliding patio doors
  • Consider privacy and shade.  Will you need blinds, curtains or integral glass blinds