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Remodeling University: The Pros & Cons of Pocket Doors

The Pros & Cons of Pocket Doors… and what to do when you have to have them:

Note: I originally wrote this article for networx.com – a general interest remodeling blog, at netwrox.com’s invitation and request. The subject therefore, is a little different from what we typically cover in our Remodeling University blog. It is, nonetheless, a subject many remodeling homeowners would need to deal with, so the information is of use and merit to our readers as well;

There are homeowners that ask for pocket doors simply because they like them. Many homeowners, though, find themselves in a position where they have to decide about including pocket doors in their homes during the design process of a remodeling project, weather they would like to or not.

Pocket doors present particular challenges and solve particular problems. You should be mindful and informed about the pros and cons of choosing or agreeing to have a pocket door included in your project. If a decision was made to include a pocket door, your contractor and you should also be aware of the potential and common pitfalls associated with pocket doors and how to avoid them.

Why should you consider pocket doors:
1. Space: In tight quarters, like a small Jack and Jill bathroom, multiple swinging doors can ‘eat’ into the space available. The door might also be swinging into each other. Pocket doors solve that condition.
2. Space: swinging doors ‘occupy’ a wall space (when swung open) equal to the door’s opening. In small rooms, where wall space might be at a premium, pocket doors solve that dilemma.
3. Space: when two separate rooms are designed so that, when needed or desired, the rooms could be joined, a door system is often used. For example: the formal dining room has a wide opening towards an adjacent space. This can enable larger dinner parties to fit in, while it still allows for more intimate settings, when the door system is kept closed. There is a difference in the ‘flavor’ of a French door system (for example) and the ‘flavor’ of a pocket-door system that slides out of sight into the walls.
4. Aesthetics: as noted above, some folks simply prefer the look and feel of pocket doors and opt to use them for that reason.

Why should you avoid choosing pocket doors:
1. Sound: pocket doors do not ‘sit’ as tightly, as by design they merely slide into position rather than fit into it. As a result, pocket doors are not nearly as effective as standard doors in preventing sound from propagating from one room to the next.
2. Smells, light: for the same reason noted above, pocket doors are poor performers with respect to sealing off a room’s smell (think kitchens or bathrooms). Similarly, more light escapes from one space to the other, though this is rarely a big deal.
3. Wall’s sturdiness: for every pocket door, a wall opening, double its size is needed. While that opening is later covered up with the wall finish material (e.g. drywall), because there are no studs in that space (so as to allow for the pocket door to ‘disappear’ into it) – that wall section is flimsy and tends to wobble and sound hollow when tapped (which it is).
4. Function: pocket doors are notorious for function issues. They fall off tracks, they are difficult to roll, they are problematic to lock, they screech when rolled, etc.
5. Difficult to operate: pocket doors are not very friendly to anyone with difficulty grabbing or to anyone with diminished dexterity in their hands (e.g. arthritis sufferers). More dexterity is needed to grab and pull a pocket door out of its pocket than to grab a well designed and user-friendly (regular) door hardware.

So, if you have no choice but to choose a pocket door for your project (or, if you simply prefer it), here is what you and your contractor can do to be successful with it:
1. If possible use pocket doors in 2”x6” walls, rather than in 2”x4” walls.
2. Always spec and order heavy duty hardware. Note that pocket doors typically come with cheap hardware. Go for heavy duty ball-bearing nylon rollers.
3. Order (true) solid doors. Although these are heavier and thus more challenging to the hardware, the hardware would tend to pull out of the hollow core or composite doors with time.
4. Take special care to avoid any wall fasteners’ penetrations into the pocket space. These are often inadvertently and unknowingly project into the door’s travel path, creating a need to open the wall to fix the problem. It also means re painting the door. In cases where the projection into the door’s path within the pocket is not actually locking the door in place, such interference would forever undermine the door’s travel and will leave an inescapable scratch on the door’s face. Be especially careful if the wall is being tilled (with lathing used).
5. Print out the door’s installation instructions (online, at the manufacturer’s site and/or at many other online locations) and post them for your installer. While it is certainly possible that your contractor is an accomplished pocket-door installer, odds are against it.
6. Pay attention to your door’s hardware selection. I’m referring here to the door’s pull, not hangers/rollers.

The bottom line?
When and if you can – avoid pocket doors.
If you find yourself having to have a pocket door installed, educate yourself and your contractor and follow the advice above.
With care, attention (and a little competence wouldn’t hurt either) you’ll do just fine.

Happy remodeling!

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