French doors: practical or just for show?
March 8, 2005 5:37 PM   Subscribe

I'm starting work on a new deck and ideally when the project is finished, I'd like to swap out the standard sliding glass door that leads out from the kitchen with out-swinging double french doors (something like these). But can they also be practical?

I would love to have the dramatic ability to open 8ft of the house out into the world with french doors, but we do use the existing sliding glass door screen in the summer to let cool breezes blow through, especially after dark when the air cools down.

My big worry is with two outward swinging (due to a cramped eating area, there's no room to swing inwards) doors, do I lose the ability to run a screen for breezes? Oregon isn't that buggy, but I would like to have a kitchen free of flies buzzing about.

Would one of those new hidden retractable screens do the job if affixed inside the door frame? Would I need to lash the door handles from the outside to make sure winds don't shut them?

Or do french doors pretty much negate practical screen use? I don't know, because I've never lived anywhere that had them, but I think they look fantastic and would like to have a set, even though I know they'll cost a fortune (quotes currently hover around $2k for the doors). But I do hope they are just as practical as sliding doors.
posted by mathowie to Home & Garden (14 answers total)
The house I used to live in had French doors opening to the deck and they were wonderful for letting cool summer breezes in. We used to sleep on the floor by them to stay cool in the summer. Thinking about them makes me miss it now.

However, they opened inward, and the matching screen doors opened outward. Aside from the possibility of retractable screens, the other option I'd see is having two screen doors on the inside that open outside like the French doors themselves. It wouldn't work as well though, and it might look ugly.

Actually, now that I look at those retractable screens you linked to, I think they'd do the job nicely and unobstrusively. And as long as the French doors opened far enough, the wind would pin them against the house, assuming it's usually coming from a perpendicular direction. If it doesn't, then heavy but decorative doorstops would work fine and look nice (we have some dark green, metal frogs for a similar purpose).

French doors rock, especially for the situation you're describing; I would definitely try hard to get them to work.
posted by thebabelfish at 6:22 PM on March 8, 2005

What a coincidence... my wife and I were just at our gen. contractors house talking about Anderson french doors for her new studio/ gallery. She has her heart set on a three door unit, where only the center door opens. One of the drawbacks he noted, was that you cannot get screens for these doors, and mosquitos can be a real problem here in Maine. I don't know if he knew about those retractable screens, and I will mention them to him. At first blush, they look like they might not be very heavy duty, but I could be wrong about that. They also might confuse a guest ( especially after a couple of drinks) who could accidently tear it. As far as locking the doors open...Highly Recommended, there are a number of ways to do it ranging from tying them back, to magnetic stops.

Have you considered a screened in area outside the door? I know, you don't need me spending your money, but hey, the door my wife wants is $3200
posted by lobstah at 6:29 PM on March 8, 2005

I took out a greenhouse window and put in outward swinging French doors (or Freedom doors as my roommate calls them) in the fall. I did not previously have a back door, so the window conversion was necessary to access the deck that I built. I looked at the retractable screens, but opted not to buy them at the time. Once the mosquitos kick up again I may wish that I had them and I'll add them. Other than retractable screens, I saw this system that looks a little cheaper.

Personally, I'd like to have two removable sliding screens that I could put up in the summer. They could be kept to the side for normal use and then both could be opened when you wanted to open both screen doors.
posted by Frank Grimes at 6:32 PM on March 8, 2005

We had a 4 door French door set. Two opened, the other two were fake. They opened inwards. The old sliding screen door from our original glass sliding door remained intact and operational. So it is definitely possible to do what you want.
posted by xyzzy at 6:35 PM on March 8, 2005

When we built our deck, I refused to get a sliding door. We got French doors instead. Ours open inward with sliding screens on the outside, but I don't see why the retractable screen wouldn't work.

A friend has a system like the one Frank posted, and she found that the Velcro got a little less grabby after a couple of years (and this was indoor use, to keep her canaries in the garden room and out of the rest of the house). She's had the system for 6 years or so, and has replaced the velcro a couple of times.

If you're only going to be opening one door for passage, you can just get a standard sliding screen door pair, which is what we have. Both doors can be opened to catch the breezes, but only one can actually be used for passage, as there's a fixed screen on the other side.

As far as the doors blowing shut in the wind, it would depend on which wall the doors are on, and which way the prevailing wind is from. [I wouldn't have put outward opening doors on our deck, but that's because the main door would open into the prevailing wind, and it would get blown shut nearly every time the wind blew (and around here, that's nearly every day in the summer).]

I'd get some heavy decorative doorstops, just in case.
posted by jlkr at 7:08 PM on March 8, 2005

When I lived in California I had French doors in both the kitchen and the bedroom. The doors themselves did not have screens, but on either side of the doors were floor to ceiling windows about 2 feet wide-- these had screens. So no bugs-- doors fully open. Bugs--doors closed but windows open. You still had the sunshine and airiness that French doors give.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 8:19 PM on March 8, 2005

I would think that French doors would be bad for cracking the door for ventilation purposes (cooking, odor, whatever). How do you get the door to stay cracked without closing from the wind?

I've always felt that French doors look nice, but aren't all that practical (you need a lot of open space for them to open, then the whole screen thing, which kind of negates the beauty of the doors, and the functionality of cracking). Am I wrong?

And Secret Life of Gravy - do you have a picture? I can't picture what you're saying at all. Sounds promising, though (and would alleviate most of my concerns).
posted by evening at 4:52 AM on March 9, 2005

Have you considered a screened in area outside the door?

I would second that motion,with or without the French doors. I have a covered front porch that had no screens, and for about 15 years Every night at dusk we'd be driven off the porch by bugs. Last spring I screened it in. It looks great, and we live out there all summer; it's cool and breezy and a great place to be until late at night.
posted by beagle at 7:26 AM on March 9, 2005

My cousin sells doors to contractors and brings up a great point. Be careful when you have the hinges accessible on the outside of the house. This is a very easy way for thieves to get inside. They just unhinge the doors and move them aside. Many outward swinging doors will have their hinges on the outside.
posted by eggerspretty at 7:43 AM on March 9, 2005

I don't have any personal experience with this, but years ago on a This Old House episode they put in a series of out-swinging French doors and had these screens inside to keep the bugs out. They are essentially two rolled up screens (think of old-fashioned, roll-up blinds on their sides) that met in the middle and were held together by magnets. Like I said, I don't know much about these, but Norm seemed pretty impressed.
posted by HiddenInput at 8:53 AM on March 9, 2005

I put in a new sliding glass door in last year. One thing you may want to take into consideration is the arrival of children. I have 2 boys, one is four the other is a year old. They love doors. Opening and closing them ten times a day ( at least). This is pretty common in young kids I think. Screens? They love those too. Leaning up against them with all their weight. Opening them by putting their hand on the screen, not the door frame. I replace my screen three time a year. ( Do it yourself, its cheap and easy)

I love the look of french doors. But the wear and tear on them from my boys (and their friends) would have been too much. And the retractable screen doors? They would eat those for lunch.
posted by onekat at 9:09 AM on March 9, 2005

Be careful when you have the hinges accessible on the outside of the house. This is a very easy way for thieves to get inside. They just unhinge the doors and move them aside.

This is true, but most French doors that are outswing will have a different kind of hinge than the standard inswing version, typically with some kind of locking screw. It's a concern, but manufacturers have addressed it.

Another option for the French doors is to use "summer doors", which are basically French doors with a screened window inside them. So you can either open the whole door, or just open the window (the glass part of the door) for screened ventilation. Doing this will significantly drive up the cost of the doors however, since you'd probably have to order them custom. I don't know of any companies that make them like that in a standard model. I think I've also heard them referred to as "Jefferson doors", but that may be hooey, or my memory's on the fritz.
posted by LionIndex at 9:09 AM on March 9, 2005

Another option, popular up here in the great white north because they have much better energy characteristics, are garden doors. Basically french doors with an immovable centre divider. Makes the roll type screen easy to manage. And you can elect to have either two doors or one door and one big honking casement window. The advantage is you can adjust the window side to be full open or just cracked open or anywhere in between. And they are a lot harder to jimmy with a crowbar.

Don't sweat the hinge thing, It's both taken care of and not that big of a risk. Anyone with that level of determination is just going to heave a brick thru the glass.
posted by Mitheral at 12:24 PM on March 9, 2005

Onekat, French doors are actually better with kids than sliding glass doors. I've got two kids, who were 6 and 1 when we put the french doors in (they're now 13 and 7). We also have a dog, who goes in and out the French doors by preference. That door gets opened at least 15 times a day.

The neighbors, who paid more for sliding glass doors the same summer we put in the french doors, will be replacing their sliding doors with french doors this summer. They're easier to open (and close) than sliding doors.
posted by jlkr at 4:35 PM on March 9, 2005

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