Design on track

All images courtesy Dorma Americas
All images courtesy Dorma Americas

By Jim Beaulieu
Increasing applications for interior manual and automated sliding doors that traditionally would be swing doors are being specified and installed. On the other side of the Atlantic, sliding doors have always been popular for interior and exterior installations, but even in Europe there have been recent substantial increases both in sheer numbers and in the scope of use for such doors. That trend is quickly catching on here as the North American taste for more creative and personal designs align with European flair.

In residential applications, European designers commonly feature sliding interior doors in such locations as bedroom and bath entries. In the Canadian commercial sphere, however, the use of sliding doors appears to be growing—they are being specified in office row arrangements, where individual enclosed offices are arrayed side-by-side facing the communicating hallway to maximize space utilization. In Japan, where available space has been at a premium deep into the nation’s history, the sliding door remains a predominant selection for the widest possible range of uses.

In part, the specification and installation of sliding doors is accounted for by familiar advantages of space conservation and esthetic appeal. Nevertheless, there is reason to suppose recent popularity growth worldwide also reflects solid improvements in door and hardware technology. Such developments have made doors of this kind—both manual and automatic—more useful and versatile than ever in many applications.

Interior automated sliding doors have advanced dramatically in the last few years. Now, rather than clunky, oversized belt-driven versions of the recent past, there are practical and robust solutions for exterior high-traffic applications. Technologies, such as linear magnetic-driven panels that literally float on magnets like a monorail train, provide a sleek minimized profile and are extraordinarily quiet.

All automated sliding doors work under the same principles—some form of actuator triggers the door panel to open or close. This could be a motion sensor that automatically causes the door panel to open as soon as movement is monitored in the sensor range or a simple push-button. At its basics, this is just an on/off switch, but, budget-willing, there are numerous additional features for security, safety, fire alarm, and privacy purposes. A matter of switches communicating to the system what function it should perform, such add-ons have become very cost-competitive, with software advances creating many new features at lower prices.

Sliding doors can help eliminate the feeling of being enclosed in a box. Minimizing materials and maximizing space are accomplished by concealing sliding panel hardware in overhead tracks that remove passage and view obstructions.
Sliding doors can help eliminate the feeling of being enclosed in a box. Minimizing materials and maximizing space are accomplished by concealing sliding panel hardware in overhead tracks that remove passage and view obstructions.

Constraints on specifying sliding doors
Minor constraints have historically been involved in using sliding doors for certain applications. Many such issues have fallen away as the quality and technology of sliders continued to improve. In terms of esthetics versus privacy, ‘bulking up’ the door panel or trim to maximize privacy may lessen the desired affect intended for the application using a sleek sliding panel.

In the past, there have been sound transfer issues with sliding doors as compared to equivalent hinged models. In these cases, choice of materials for sliding panels and the surrounding opening become key considerations for the end user, and can often minimize or eliminate any problems.

Hinged doors may perform better than sliders at limiting the heat transfer from one space to another. In interior applications, this is often a minor issue. The temperature differential between rooms is normally less than between building interiors and exteriors. As such, heat transfer may be of minimal concern.

In most cases, interior sliding systems (whether manual or automatic) are unsuitable for fire separations due to their limitations as a smoke/fire barrier. Further, they typically do not swing out, impeding quick exit in an emergency situation such as a panicked crowd. The heavy-duty automated operators common to the front of a retail store offer these features, but this article is directed towards smaller sliding systems more suitable to a residential or light commercial application.

Some sliding door designs can be easier to compromise than hinged models. As is true with HVAC concerns, this is commonly less significant in all-interior installations. For most buildings, the most critical security requirements are at the perimeter.

While sliding doors have traditionally cost more at installation than their hinged counterparts, this is rapidly changing as many new designs are smaller and lighter, requiring less reinforcement and fewer fasteners. Some installations that required two people can easily be managed by one and in less time. (This is strictly concerning interior low-traffic applications and is in no terms is referring to a commercial heavy-duty application.)

The old adage still holds true that in most cases you get what you pay for. This means while prices may be falling, there is still a cost level for quality whether it is in the material or the labour going into installing it. This will also affect the longevity and maintenance aspect of the sliding door. Sliding doors generally require more adjusting than swing doors, but from a maintenance and longevity view, the lifespan should be similar if handled properly and adjusted on a regular basis if something should change in performance.

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