Build a custom door unit with transom and sidelite windows.
When Chris Williford first talked to me about her patio doors, her primary concern was that the large, sliding glass door was hard to operate. It’s really not much wonder that this overgrown vinyl window was a brute to open or close. For starters, it was an 8-by-8-foot unit, which means the active half was two 4-by-8 sheets of tempered glass … In other words, heavy.
Sliding glass doors are often made by window manufacturers who apply the same design features to their patio doors that they use on their windows, and there are some advantages including price and weather-tightness.
The disadvantages, however, are functions of size and weight. While the vinyl frames can be made a little sturdier than those used in most windows, it usually doesn’t make up for flex in the door edges and the sheer weight, which contributes to difficult operation.
Home improvement solutions often require a fresh look. In this case, we asked the question, “What do you have if you take out the slider?” Answer: An 8 foot by 8 foot rough opening. Now the question becomes, “With what can we fill that hole? Does it have to be a slider? Can we put in double doors or a single swinging door? What can we use to cover the surrounding area?”
A set of French doors was Chris’ first thought. But a pair of 8-by-8-footFrench doors alone would be large, expensive and out of place. So we started sketching possible combinations of doors and windows. We considered a smaller slider, which would address both the weight and weather-resistance issues. But Chris had her heart set on swinging French doors.
After a few combinations, we came up with a pair of 5–by-6-foot-8-inchFrench doors with a sidelite window along the inactive side, and a transom along the top. This maintained the large window areas the Willifords were used to, it provided the desired French doors, and it allowed for a screened window opening for cross ventilation in the room.
The cool thing about a window/door combination like this is that you can combine a number of elements, often using off-the-shelf components, and build a very attractive wall section or doors and windows that when trimmed look like a single unit.
The same concept can be applied to a single entry door with a sidelite window or a living room wall with windows that can be grouped together and trimmed as a unit.
Here’s how we replaced an unwieldy vinyl patio door with a French door, transom and sidelite combination.
Side Note 1
Changing Rough Opening Size
Changing the size of a rough opening is possible of course, but it’s really the subject of a future article. Making a smaller opening requires filling in the area not taken up with a window or door. The challenge here is matching the existing wall surfaces, both interior and exterior.
Making a rough opening larger is also possible, but the obstacles are different. To expand the width you’ll need to address the header that spans the opening and carries the load above it.
Making the opening larger can also involve wiring and plumbing. So before you get out the reciprocating saw, you better have a plan for load bearing and utility routing.
Side Note 2
Closing the Surround Gap
Getting the surround boards to fit up against the window frames can be a challenge. Drive a long screw through the drywall and into the framing near the spot you want to shim and nail the surround.
Use a claw hammer as though you were going to pull the screw like a nail, using the edge of the surround as the fulcrum point. Rather than pulling the screw, it will force the surround board against the window where you can nail through the board and through the shim into the framing.
Side Note 3
Spot On Astragal Holes
Double doors often have a bolt latch that secures the least used of the two doors. This allows one door to act as a door jamb, so the other can be used as a single swinging door. To secure the seldom-used door, latch bolts at top and bottom are installed in the astragal, which is attached to the edge of the door.
Sometimes the installer must drill a hole in the jamb header and the threshold to secure the door. We mark the location of this bolt latch by loading the end with a sharpie, closing the door to the proper location and extending the bolt until it touches the head jamb and leaves a mark where the hole should be drilled.
Side Note 4
One of the early sketches I made proposed sidelite windows on both sides. In the end the homeowners opted to shift the doors to one side for traffic flow, which provided a larger window as the one sidelite.
A simple drawing like this helps everyone visualize the finished product and can be used to get bids on the doors, windows and trim needed to complete the project.
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