Here's How: Install a Space-Saving Pocket Door Yourself
Dear James: When I was in college, our old dorm had pocket doors to save space, but they were hard to open and close. I would like to install pocket doors in my current house. Are the new ones any better? -- Melody D.
Dear Melody: Pocket doors are gaining popularity again after hitting their heyday about a century ago. The newer ones' quality is much better than the old ones'. The advent of low-friction and smooth-running plastic materials has made the major difference.
The key advantage of installing pocket doors is the space saved. With the tremendously high per-square-foot construction costs, any space savings results in many dollars saved. A typical swinging door requires about 10 square feet of free floor area to swing open and closed.
Another advantage of pocket doors is none of the wall is covered when the door is open. This provides more room for wall hangings and decoration around the door opening. They also are more convenient for those who are elderly or in a wheelchair, as they're easier to open and pass through. A swinging door requires that a person first back up and swing the door toward them.
Installing a pocket door is not a difficult do-it-yourself project. Unless you are an experienced carpenter, I would recommend using a pocket door kit instead of trying to do it from scratch. As you found in your old dorm, a pocket door can be difficult to open and close if something is slightly out of line, warped, etc.
You should be able to order pocket door hardware kits at your local home center. To compare the various kits available, check for the following features: large nylon or the plastic wheels (1-inch or larger); a roller track that's removable and jump-proof; adjustments that can be easily accessed without removing the casing; self-leveling hangers with three wheels; and side-split jambs, which the door slides through, wrapped in steel for strength.
If you have trouble finding good-quality pocket door hardware kits, check with these manufacturers for the names of local retail dealers: Cox USA, 800-456-5656; L.E. Johnson, 800-837-5664; Knape & Vogt, 800-253-1561; and National Hardware, 800-346-9445.
First, read the kit instructions for the recommended size and weight of the door. Heavier doors require stronger hardware kits. After you select the door, if it is made of wood, seal all the door edges with urethane. Fiberglass doors are not susceptible to moisture, so sealing is not required.
Make sure the rough door opening, where the pocket door will be placed, is plumb. If it's not, you'll likely have alignment problems. If the floor isn't level under the door opening, always measure from the highest point. Stretching strings from corner to corner will indicate whether the opening is plumb (distances should be equal).
Once the opening is prepared, the next step is installing the track that supports the pocket door. Each hardware kit manufacturer has specific instructions, so study them carefully. Next, install the split jambs to create the actual pocket that the door will slide into inside the wall.
Mount the pocket door hardware, rollers, etc. to the door and hang it in place. Install the finishing side jamb and top jamb. Use finish screws that can be easily removed for future access to the hardware.
Send your questions to Here's How, 6906 Royalgreen Dr., Cincinnati, OH 45244 or visit www.dulley.com. To find out more about James Dulley and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.
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