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November 7, 2017 > The ins and outs of pocket doors

The ins and outs of pocket doors

By David R. Newman

Pocket doors have been used in homes for more than a century, dividing large rooms or simply acting as a practical alternative when space is tight. By sliding into a hollow cavity, or Òpocket,Ó in the wall, these doors eliminate the need for a clear area (10 square feet or more) within the arc of a doorÕs swing. As Bay Area housing prices continue to climb and homeowners look for ways to maximize their space, itÕs no wonder that pocket doors are just as popular today as they were back in the late 1800s.

Originally sliding on tracks in the floor, modern pocket doors are mounted on rollers that glide along an overhead track. Apart from the grand, often elegant pocket doors that are used to divide large spaces, a pocket door is simply a conventional door that is mounted differently. Instead of hinges, there are overhead tracks and rollers. This means that the skyÕs the limit when it comes to styles, as long as the hardware is rated to handle its size and weight.

When problems arise with pocket doors, it is most often due to the track system. G. Barry Wagner is an architect and general contractor and has been repairing and replacing antique and modern pocket doors since 1995. He says, ÒOn some systems, the track is the weak link. On others, the rollers are the weak part. And on others, it is the connection between the door and the rollers that is the weak part.Ó

For an average fee of $400, homeowners with faulty pocket doors can send Wagner photos of their track system. From those photos, Wagner can identify the company that made the system and attempt to locate or fabricate replacement parts, which he will then install. The challenge lies in matching parts that are often obsolete. ÒMany of these old systems were patented by very small companies and sometimes just used for a few years. So, it is often impossible to know how they work, how theyÕre adjusted, how you take them apart, and how you fix them.Ó

Wagner also advises that many systems built from 1960 Ð 1980 are of poor quality and may be the reason why your pocket door keeps jumping the track. If there is severe damage, the right parts cannot be found, or you decide you want a new style of door, then replacing your old pocket door system with a brand new one may be your only option. Which is a good thing, as modern systems are highly efficient and durable.

Louis Floyd has been repairing pocket doors for almost 30 years. His company, A-1 On Track Sliding Doors, can replace your old track system with a brand new one for $640, and they guarantee it for life. Says Floyd, ÒA pocket door can be a wonderful feature of your home, as long as you use quality tracks and roller systems.Ó

Most pocket door systems operate with one J-track, with rollers that connect to the door on the top (Òtop hungÓ) or on the side (Òside hungÓ). FloydÕs company uses a trolley track system, which consists of two J-tracks that face each other, making it virtually impossible for the door to come off the track. They also use rollers with ball bearings that are of much better quality than the plastic wheels and pins typically found in cheaper systems. And Floyd warns against using oil or grease to try and improve a pocket doorÕs movement, as that just makes it worse. ÒIf the rollers are shot, theyÕre shot.Ó

Installing a pocket door from scratch, whether itÕs new construction or part of a remodel, can be a somewhat tricky affair, often best left to a skilled carpenter or general contractor. However, for those brave DIYers, pocket door systems can be purchased from most home improvement stores, either as kits or as pre-assembled units.

Since pocket doors are often hidden, itÕs easy to forget theyÕre even there. If you have a pocket door in your home, Floyd offers the following advice: be wary of adding too much weight to the outside wall of a pocket, as this can close the gap and make it difficult to move the door. Common culprits are kitchen cabinets and bathroom tile. Also, be careful where you hang pictures. Driving a nail through the wall into a pocket is not good. This applies to baseboard as well, as these smaller nails can cut into the door as it slides, creating a groove. And last but not least, when installing new flooring, make sure your pocket door still has enough clearance to slide out.

If done right, pocket doors can be a fantastic feature of your home, adding elegance and efficiency. Consider including one in your next remodeling project, or, if you already have one, maybe itÕs time for an upgrade. Just be to sure to include any Òout-of-pocketÓ expenses.

For more information, contact G. Barry Wagner, Pocket Door Specialist at (510) 841-4040 or www.pocketdoorspecialist.com, and A-1 On Track Sliding Doors at (408) 866-0267 or www.theslidingdoorstore.com.

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