Open to debate

Jay Patel of aїr aluminium looks at the merits of bi-fold doors versus lift and slide options, and which may be better suited to your self-build.

Wide-span glazing has become a critical part of any self-build project, with bi-folding and lift and slide doors being the popular choice for homeowners looking for modern, open living spaces that seamlessly connect to the garden. Given the advances in glass and door frame technology, much wider openings can now be achieved to bring in more and more natural light, creating beautiful airy spaces without compromising a home’s energy efficiency. But how do you know what’s best for your space?

Should I speak to a professional first?

My first piece of advice is to speak to a glazing expert when you’re in the planning stages. They can often come up with creative ways to introduce more natural light into your home, perhaps with multiple bi-folding doors, cornerless sliding doors, or by using a system with a super-slim sightline. Often, they’ll have ideas that your architect or builder might not, so you can make a real feature of your home’s glazing. Make the most of companies who offer this level of service as they will help you make the best decisions for your home.

Do I need to see products in person?

Another essential when you’re choosing glazing is to go and see it, whether it’s in a showroom, or installed in another property. Door samples and even amazing photography often don’t do wide-span door systems justice. Get a feel for the paint finish on frames, a proper look at the sightlines, and see which handles will fit best with your interior design plans before you make a decision.

I don’t want to spoil the view with curtains – how can i ensure privacy and prevent overheating?

Glazed doors are fantastic for all property types and often homeowners are challenged when they come to thinking about curtains or blinds, to keep out glaring sunlight or nosey neighbours, as they don’t want to take away the focus of the view. If that’s the case for you, talk to your glazing supplier about screening options. They’re great for shading and privacy, as well as keeping out those insects that are increasingly abundant during summer. There are some stunning discreet options that won’t distract from the beauty of your doors.

Should I choose bi-folding or sliding doors?

When it comes to the difference between bi-folding and sliding doors, both have benefits, but the choice really does depend on how you are going to use your space – and that should always be the question you ask yourself with any part of a self-build or large scale renovation.

What are the benefits of bi-folding doors?

Bi-folding doors, that fold away in a concertina style, are a great way to remove any barriers to the outdoors. They give impressive, wide openings and with low threshold options they provide a real opportunity to seamlessly merge your living or kitchen area with the outside decking or patio – perfect for BBQs and garden parties. Look for bi-fold doors with the slimmest sightlines you can find – with multiple panels, there are more frames across the door when it’s closed, so the slimmer the frame, the better the views into your garden. This is one of the many reasons why lots of self-builders are opting for aluminium doors over PVCu. Another is the overall size of glazing you can fit. Architects often design in taller glazing. This is because they know the advantages of the extra light coming into the property. Aluminium frames offer taller and wider individual panels, which means more glass and less frame. Achieving low U-values on large expanses of glass is very important. Large expanses of glazing doesn’t have to affect the energy efficiency of the property. Impressive engineering has made it possible to deliver aluminium bi-fold doors with U-values as low as, or sometimes lower than their PVCu counterparts. It’s an important point, as glazing doesn’t offer the same low Uvales as walls. It’s worth discussing the direction of the doors to look at whether solar control glass would maintain a more even temperature, even on south facing windows, or whether to look at triple glazing where doors face north. Check on what weather-testing your bifolds have gone through, especially if your property is in a coastal area. Look for Teflon-coated seals to prevent any cold spots. aïr doors, for example, are tested for windloads up to 120 mph, so doors up to 12 metres wide can be super wind-proof.

What about the benefits of sliding doors?

If you’ve got a beautiful view from your home and want minimal disruptions, a sliding or lift and slide door could be for you. They have wider glazed areas to drink in plenty of natural light and make a real feature of your garden. Lift and slide doors use a clever opening mechanism, so that when you open the door, the weight of the door panel is lifted up onto rollers so that they can easily be opened and closed. This means that door panels – that can weigh up to 300 kg – can be moved with just two fingers. Look for really wide panels for maximum impact – the higher and wider the better. If you have a very wide opening that needs multiple panels, ask your supplier about triple track lift and slide door options – this gives you more flexibility with your opening, as the door panels can move in either direction. Again, low threshold options merge your living spaces and they’re a great option for large glazed extensions to bring as much light as possible into the home. If you’re just starting out in your selfbuild venture, it’s worth thinking about a cornerless lift and slide door. It means you can slide back an entire corner of the room, without any corner post, and enjoy truly panoramic views from the comfort of your home. Again, aluminium is an excellent choice for sliding or lift and slide doors. They offer slim sightlines, for less frame and more glass, and their strength means you can have larger panels and heavier glass units, with triple glazing options often available for added energy efficiency.

Is there anything else I need to consider?

Though frames are slim, colour is still important for your wide-span glazed doors. The darker the frame, the less obtrusive they are. Using black or dark greys can almost make the frames ‘disappear’. If you’re by the coast, ask about marine-grade paint finishes or dirt-proof textured options like aïrcoat. Take a look at the guarantees you’re offered on your doors too – products are usually guaranteed by the manufacturer for 10 years. If you’re looking for an installer, check out the manufacturer’s recommended fitters or specialised network of accredited retailers – and check that they’re a member of FENSA or Certass for an insurance-backed guarantee on the installation.

Jay Patel is brand ambassador for aїr aluminium