In the 1980s, replacing aluminum with other materials such as PVC (vinyl) and fiberglass was the wave of the immediate future. It seemed to be obvious that aluminum doors were products of the past. After all, vinyl and fiberglass were warmer and less conductive of heat, making them easier to use to achieve great thermal results.
As we move farther into the 21st century, the obvious has proved to be wrong! Aluminum doors of all types have made a strong return and have become the clear choice for many homeowners. So, the question that has to be answered is, what has changed in the last 40 years?
Energy efficiency has historically been a major weakness for aluminum products. In fact, non-thermally broken aluminum doors do not even meet many building codes. Modern aluminum products have high tech thermal breaks that have often been designed using new computer-based simulation tools that are also used to test thermal efficiency. They can meet the most stringent building codes, such as the Ontario SB-12 energy requirements for residential homes.
Unlike many other materials used to make bi-fold, lift and slide or regular patio doors, aluminum is naturally structural and requires no reinforcements. Aluminum profiles can be much narrower, offering improved sight lines that don’t look bulky. The elimination of the bulky look is probably the number one reason homeowners are turning to these new, efficient aluminum products. Concerns resulting from increased awareness of high velocity winds occurring more frequently and in locations where winds had not previously been a problem, is a second reason often cited by homeowners. Given that these products have a very high percentage of exposed glass surface, use of modern and extremely efficient glass packages makes them very attractive in regard to heat retention or keeping heat out in summer.
Of course, the paint processes used for colour on aluminum are extremely durable and effective. They have great resistance to cracking, chipping and peeling as well as reducing solar degradation and fading.
Superior structure means that the product sizes of Bi-fold, Lift and slide and regular sliding doors can be larger and still safer. Homeowners are excited about the potential to literally have an exterior wall to a patio openable.
Many years ago, our government did a survey regarding how different materials used to manufacture windows and doors handled weathering and use. It was done using physical laboratory techniques to simulate usage over time. Aluminum proved to be the material that showed no degradation! You can be confident that, over time, your aluminum door products will stay functional.
What about cost? As a material, aluminum is one of the more expensive per pound, but given that the size of the products is large, the doors are mostly glass. Savings on reinforcement and design also compensate, bringing the higher quality aluminum products within the range of the PVC, wood and fiberglass products.
When do you choose a Bi-fold? You have a large exterior wall to a patio or yard where you want to maximize the opening. You can fold all the panels of the bi-fold to one side. Keep in mind that they will stack and project either in or out. Will you want a pleated hidden screen? It will have to be on the side where the panels are not stacking! If the opening is large enough, you may require two screens that meet in the center.
When do you choose a Lift and Slide? Answer this question! What door when closed gives you the best glass to framing material ratio, for the best view in a large size? Both the folding and stacking doors have multiple panels. The Lift and Slide is two panels (or four in an end vent version). While it doesn’t have the same degree of clear opening, when closed it creates the best view in a larger size.
When do you choose a two-panel sliding door? A two-panel sliding door cannot achieve the larger sizes that can be done with a Lift and Slide, but in smaller sizes it shares the same great glass to framing material ratio as the Lift and Slide. In smaller sizes, where the hardware of the Lift and Slide is less of a benefit, a two-panel sliding door is likely to be the most economical choice.
This leaves a Stacking Door option to consider! Like a folding door, a Stacking Door is made up of a series of panels, each on its own track. (If it is an extra wide door, two panels could be on each track and stack at opposite ends.) The advantages that Stacking Doors have on bi-fold doors are twofold. First, all panels stay in their track when open, so there is no concern for having a place either inside or outside for the panels to store. Second, bi-folds have high end hardware that the stacking door doesn’t require, making the Stacking Door a lower cost alternative.
As you can see, each door has its benefits! Now it is up to you to decide what is best for your home!