Would bi-fold, side-opening garage doors be a good idea?
August 17, 2016 11:39 AM   Subscribe

I want to replace my single panel, up & over garage door with doors that open to the side. It looks like it will be some trouble to get the kind of doors I want, so will it be worth it?

My house has a single panel garage door that swings up & over. It has always been difficult for my wife to open and close, so we’ve planned on replacing it some day. One of the springs recently broke, so that the door is now rather dangerous to open and close. I’m sure I could hire someone to repair the spring, but it seems like fate is telling us to just replace the door now.

The door is 8 ft wide by 7 ft tall. The garage tucks under the house, which means that the driveway slopes down from the street to the garage entrance, and the garage is at the basement level. We will never put a car in this garage—it is for storing bicycles, tools, and whatnot. FWIW, the garage is not insulated. Rather, the house is insulated from the garage. Also, I live in Portland, Oregon, where snow is basically not an issue.

Wife & I agree that we want some kind of door that opens horizontally. This would mean it no longer takes brawn and height to open the door. It would also allow us to reclaim wasted ceiling space where there should be lights and hanging canoes. It seems like the only way to fit horizontally opening doors is with a bi-fold design. Since the door is 8 ft wide, I’m picturing four 2-ft-wide sections that open from the center. Because of the sloping driveway, the panels would have to fold inward. The picture on this page of doors that “open to the side” is exactly what I’m thinking of.

My research thus far says that there aren’t many manufacturers of horizontally folding garage doors, and if I want to go with the flow, I should get a lift-up sectional door that has an electric opener. However, an electric opener does not appeal to me. It seems wasteful, fragile, and insecure.

So would I be foolish to pursue this dream? I see the folding, horizontally opening door as a simple and elegant solution, but maybe you can tell me that it’s an expensive approach that is filled with problems I’m not yet aware of?
posted by polecat to Home & Garden (21 answers total)
Hire a carpenter to build them for you.
posted by mareli at 11:42 AM on August 17, 2016 [2 favorites]

Why not an electric garage door opener? If the problem is physical difficulty opening and closing, that's the easily available, standard answer. It just takes a bit of money, probably less money than a custom solution.
posted by Michele in California at 11:50 AM on August 17, 2016 [6 favorites]

It seems to me like those bifold, side-opening doors would waste wall storage space rather than ceiling storage space. Perhaps you prioritize a hanging canoe (I have a canoe and two kayaks hanging in my garage) over wall storage, I dunno. There would also be an issue opening them if there were anything at all in their way, like a box that someone had plopped down behind it.

A properly tensioned garage door should take almost no effort to open. Electric openers don't use all that much electricity and, at least in my experience, are very reliable. There is a way to manually open them in the event of a power outage.

If you'll never put a car in there, why not just wall it off and put a nice wide regular door and call it a storage room? That would be a trivial job for any handyperson to accomplish, as long as they can make it match the rest of the siding.
posted by bondcliff at 11:53 AM on August 17, 2016 [3 favorites]

However, an electric opener does not appeal to me. It seems wasteful, fragile, and insecure.

Although my experiences with the exterior keypads have been that they are, indeed, fragile (an installer told me that they frequently go kaput during NY winters), the actual door opener + key is not fragile at all--the one at my first house has been going strong for fifteen years and the one at my current abode for something close to a decade.
posted by thomas j wise at 11:56 AM on August 17, 2016 [4 favorites]

A couple of things to think about:

It seems like with the bi-fold door option, you'd be trading off the increased ceiling space for the floor space inside that you'd need to keep clear for the bi-fold doors to open.

I don't know how long you plan to stay in the house, but a non-standard garage door setup might be a turn-off for future buyers.

We've had our house with garage for about 10 years, and have had to have it serviced 2 or 3 times over that span--it's never broken, just typical maintenance type stuff. Seems pretty typical for a house component, so your assessment of an electronic door being "fragile" isn't consistent with my experience.
posted by msbubbaclees at 11:56 AM on August 17, 2016

I would definitely consider framing in the garage door opening and installing a wide regular door or even a set of double doors. This will be so much less hassle to take a bike through than any kind of folding garage door or anything else you can dream up. A nice 6' wide french door would give you nearly the opening width you had before with much less hassle.
posted by ssg at 12:01 PM on August 17, 2016

Agree that a good garage door shouldn't be any trouble to open. What about one of those garage doors with a regular door in it, so that you don't *have* to open the door very often but you can if you want to? (I've only seem these in, like, professional/industrial applications, but googling around I do see photos that look residential.)
posted by mskyle at 12:03 PM on August 17, 2016

Since you won't be driving a pair of cars in to the extreme left and right of the garage this may not be an issue, but I have bifold closet doors and they do obstruct about 15% of the width of the opening on each side. Your doors may fold up better.
posted by puddledork at 12:04 PM on August 17, 2016

You're essentially asking whether it would be better to front-load a really intensive, difficult, and complicated task (commissioning an unusual type of garage door) that would be useful and convenient in the end, or whether it would be better to do the done thing, even if it's not the platonic ideal of the perfect garage door in your opinion.

Only you can really answer this question. For me, I would 100% just call up my friendly neighborhood electronic garage door vendor and have one installed ASAP. Then I would move on. Especially if I mostly used it as a storage room and would be rarely opening the garage door, anyway.

But maybe you prefer to undertake the work of a custom garage door. Who am I to say?
posted by Sara C. at 12:14 PM on August 17, 2016 [2 favorites]

Bondcliff's answer upthread covers this pretty comprehensively. Your best options are really to either repair your current door such that your wife can lift it more easily, or have it replaced with a sectional electric-opening door.

I disagree with your objections to the electric-opening door. Over the course of a monthly billing cycle they use less energy than a lightbulb, they last for many years, and they have no impact on security one way or the other that I can think of.

Advantages to an electric opener is that you get keyless entry to your house in the event that you forget or lose your house key, and you can open the garage remotely rather than having to park, get out of your car, open the door, and then get back in the car.

But if you really don't want one for whatever reason, just get your manual overhead door replaced or repaired. If yours is hard to open then there's something wrong with it. The weight should be offset by the springs and the tracks should run smoothly with little resistance. Opening it should be, as bondcliff says above, nearly effortless.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 12:48 PM on August 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

If you ever want to sell your house, I would anticipate most buyers are going to expect a "normal" (read: automated, overhead) door...
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 12:58 PM on August 17, 2016 [4 favorites]

Do you have space to the left or right for a sliding door? I've got an 10x8 manual sliding door on my shop that I love. Simple and doesn't steal overhead room. Mine is super insulated and 60% double pane window so fairly heavy but a simple uninsulated panel is light and easy to open.

BTW there is no need to replace the door itself if you decide to go electric; openers work fine with single slab doors.
posted by Mitheral at 1:23 PM on August 17, 2016

Springs are a maintenance item. All a broken spring is telling you is that it is time to get a new spring. The repair guy that fixes the spring can also install the garage door opener. I'd guess $150 to fix the spring, parts included. And probably $300 for the opener, installed. You can probably get a discount by doing both at the same time. I'm not particularly handy and my brother and myself installed two Genie garage door openers in a 2 door garage, and they worked fine for the 7 odd years I owned that house.

Some kind of weird door that might inhibit use by cars, and preclude garage door openers, is something any competent real estate agent will want you to fix before selling the house at some future date. So keep that expense in mind too.
posted by COD at 1:52 PM on August 17, 2016

I actually have a doors similar to what you describe. It is a single door on the right which swings into the garage and a bi-fold on the left which also swings into the garage. I think my doors cover a 9ft width. They meet in the middle and have a padlock. There is a track on the inside that is connected to the furthest right corner of the bi-folding doors. They are about 9ft tall and have windows. I have a garage that has 3 sets of these doors.

Wasteful: My doors do waste space in the swing area. Also, if I abuse this wasted space and put things there, then the area needs to be cleared out to open the door.

Insecure: My doors are not secure. Since they meet in the middle there is nothing much for them to secure against. Any prying tool would rip the padlock hasp off. Also the hinges could be easily unscrewed.

Fragile: My doors have been damaged by the weather and impact. They are wood with traditional joinery and probably over 60 years old. They need to be repaired. I'm guessing a overhead door would only last this long too.

They will never hold in heat and I live in the northeast.

Like others have mentioned this isn't going to be cost effective, easy or provide a good return on investment. These issues may not be of concern to you.

They work as well as anything. While I'd love to have a remote opener and insulation, I don't plan to replace mine with overhead doors. The existing doors define a visual rhythm which is important to integrity of the property.
posted by bdc34 at 2:00 PM on August 17, 2016 [2 favorites]

Here's something I've learned: doors are one of those things that isn't entirely on the internet yet. By which I mean, just because you haven't found the door of your dreams on a manufacturer's website doesn't mean they don't make it. You need to consult some door experts. In Seattle, that would be Frank Lumber. From the looks of it in Portland, that might be these guys or these guys.

Take in pictures of your situation and talk to someone in person. They'll be able to lay out the best options for you and how much it'll cost etc.

(Also it seems like replacing the spring and tuning it up for easier opening probably isn't that big of a deal.)
posted by purple_bird at 2:02 PM on August 17, 2016 [3 favorites]

I'm going to add to the defense of replacing the door as-is and adding a garage door opener.

First, this is a decision point, yes, but this is not fate telling you to make a change. You could also fix what's wrong with the old one being hard to open, namely with better springs and/or a garage door opener.

Your opener will also be a lighting platform in the middle of the garage. You can buy a garage door opener with a more sophisticated remote coding system than the classic dip-switch of 8 switches. When closed, an opener will resist manual opening attempts even if the garage is not locked with a key. Garage doors are not insecure as long as the codes aren't weak. Keep the fob on your keychain rather than in your car for additional security, because cars usually have paperwork that points to the house.

Your classic door, whether one panel or 4 panels, will not expose any vulnerable hinges the way your bi-fold is likely to do. If properly spring, it should be a breeze to open manually, and you can add handles to the door in some place above the usually 2" off the ground, which will give you and your wife better leverage and nobody has to bend over to the ground.

It's a piece of cake to pull on the rope and disengage the door from the opener which you can do for added security, manual use during power failures, or any other reason.
posted by Sunburnt at 2:53 PM on August 17, 2016

I have a large bifold door on my living room - about the size of what you'd need for a garage. It is a PITA to open and close. I think it's about seven years old now (that's when the last owners of the house renovated) and the hinges have become stiff, and the door has maybe sagged a bit? and there might have been some expansion at times when wet. So it takes strength to open and shut, and for reconditioning it, I've been quoted $500-800. I can't imagine the hassle of having one of these on a garage that has to be opened and shut multiple times a day.

Also, if I were thinking about buying a house and saw it had some weird garage door set-up, that would give me pause. I love having automatic doors on the garage, and I'd want to be able to put those in one day, and it would be a pain to have to replace the whole door to do so. I think many single women, and elderly people feel the same way, because of the safety advantages of being able to drive straight into the garage at night without getting out of the car to open the door, and so I think this plan could really hurt your resale value.

My experience with automatic garage doors, which I have always had all my life until this current house, is that they have never needed any maintenance at all, just replacement of the remotes occasionally (every 5-10 years) and when the power has gone out so they don't function, there's usually a very simple over-ride lever that lets you lift the door manually just as you used to before it was automated.
posted by lollusc at 5:14 PM on August 17, 2016

I replaced the broken spring on my garage for $35 and 20 minutes on a ladder- I'd at least start there, while you figure out what to do and schedule remodeling if needed. Spring replacement is not very hard.
posted by jenkinsEar at 6:09 PM on August 17, 2016

If you're not putting cars in there, another horizontal solution would be barn doors where they slide horizontally on a rail. You open by sliding one door in front of or behind the other. This means the opening is always half covered, but it also means you don't lose wall or floor space inside the garage. Also I dissect the barn door mechanism is going to be less finicky than the bifold.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 7:56 PM on August 17, 2016

Response by poster: Thanks to everyone for the advice. A compelling case has been made and we're pretty well convinced that a lift-up sectional door, possibly with electric opener, would best suit our needs. I like the idea of just fixing & adjusting the existing single panel door and fitting it with an opener, but that door is probably 60 years old and every thing about the wood and the hardware deserves to be replaced. Furthermore, the fact that it swings outward as it lifts has always been a source of inconvenience and some danger.

A few people suggested a simpler "barn door" or "French door" side opening design. For the sake of any future readers, I'd like to point out that this was the idea that we had started with, but we were focusing on a folding design because the doors would have to open inward (sloping driveway prevents opening outward). If there was a folding door on each side, it would require 2 ft of floor space be kept clear inside of the door. A non-folding door would require a clear space with a 4 ft radius on each side, which seemed totally infeasible.
posted by polecat at 10:53 PM on August 17, 2016

Polecat, I'm glad you found what suits your needs, but I just want to clarify that the barn doors I was suggesting would not open inside (or outside). I did read the bit about the sloping driveway and the need to open in (or at least not open out). I was suggesting something like this. These are non-folding, but don't render any of the ceiling, floor, or wall-space inside the garage unusable and don't open outward, so the sloping driveway is a non-issue.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 8:04 AM on August 18, 2016

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