Tom Shafer

Patio doors, part 2: from fiberglass and vinyl to today's trends

December 01, 2016

Patio doors, part 1 covered how patio doors changed over time from wood to aluminum and steel doors.

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Materials and designs, too, have changed in recent years. Vinyl and fiberglass were introduced, and doors now not only slide but also swing and fold.

Sliding vinyl patio doors

Around 1984, the window and door industry introduced vinyl frames, but these original vinyl sliding doors suffered from an issue known as deglazing: the insulated glass units became separated from the thin vinyl door panel frames. Eventually, they resolved this problem by stabilizing the vinyl lineals with aluminum and steel inserts in the chambers of the frames.

Like many previous patio doors, vinyl doors did not open fully to the width of the door frame. Most consisted of one stationary and one moving panel. Triple-door designs were available, but typically only one panel moved, with the exception of 12-foot wide doors, for which both of the center panels moved to either side. This design allowed a six-foot wide exit and entrance. Unfortunately, vinyl patio doors only came in white for many years.

Fiberglass patio doors

The same door manufacturers that sold steel doors began producing fiberglass patio doors, and they soon became the new norm. These were swinging, hinged doors, not sliding doors. Some were hinged in the middle yielding only a three-foot opening, but most were hinged on the edges and opened to a full six feet wide.

Fiberglass door frames consist of an embossed, wood-grain skin about one-eighth inch thick over a wooden frame. You can paint or stain them like real wood. You can also make the interior and exterior door frames different finishes or colors.

New trends in patio doors

Practical, functional window treatments for patio doors have always been a challenge, but now you can get patio doors manufactured with blinds inserted into the insulating space in the glass lites. These blinds operate quietly, can raise and lower and move laterally as most external blinds do.

Big doors -- really big doors -- have become the newest design trend in patio doors. They dwarf the traditional five-foot, six-foot, and eight-foot wide doors. Gone are the 6'8"- and 8'-high doors. Now doors can be 20- or even 30-feet wide. Heights of 15 or 16 feet are not uncommon. These gigantic doors form a glass wall when closed.

Most are sliding doors, but some disappear fully into the wall when open. Some are hung like bi-fold doors that pivot in the middle, resulting in a door that folds into itself, stores in an accordion position outside the wall, and offers a wide and high, unobstructed opening.

Patio doors have evolved over time and with new materials being developed, their evolution promises to continue.

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