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.
Next, remove the screen door.
We started by cutting the caulking around the exterior trim with a utility knife. This project required no changes to the lap siding, so we did not want to damage it. Failure to cut the caulking will damage the siding when the trim is removed.
We removed the active side of the door by lifting and swinging the bottom out of the track and moving it away from the project.
Carefully remove the exterior trim.
We then removed the base board that returned into the patio door frame.
Use a scrap of wood, such as this cedar shim, to protect materials from crow bars and hammers when prying.
You may need to cut some more caulking in the process to avoid damage to the siding.
Don’t forget to remove the latch mechanism from the door frame. Properly installed, the long screws go through to the framing, which means they must be removed to release the frame.
Using a chisel to cut the vinyl flange around nail heads can be a good way to release the flange.
If it was caulked when installed, then you may need to drive a bar under the bottom of the frame and do a little prying to loosen the frame.
With the interior and exterior trim removed and the flanges free of nails, pull the frame out at the top.
We used a straight-edge and utility knife to cut the carpet.
Not until you get the frame out can you see what the true opening size is. We measured the rough opening and checked it against the combined door and window components we had on site.
A bar under the corner bead allows you to pry it away. Be careful of the sharp edges on the metal.
This patio door had a drywall surround. Hitting the metal corner bead with a hammer removes joint compound and raises the edges of the metal for removal.
Mark the location of the cross framing member first.
We use a shortened handsaw to trim the extra drywall from around the opening.
Next, toe-nail the board into place.
We put a couple of nails just below the layout lines to give the horizontal board something to rest on while it was being nailed into place.
Before hanging the doors, we put the transom in place. The key here is to see how the trim boards will line up on both the interior and exterior.
We moved the door jamb into place and used a screw through the hinge plate to hold it in position.
We found that we wanted to shift the transom window over, so we took the window back down and trimmed the sheeting back to make a little more room.
A nail just above the flange kept the window from tipping out while we checked out the alignment with the doors.
We used a level to transfer reveal marks from the door jamb to get the right header height position for the sidelite window.
With the transom in place, we next tested the sidelite window for left to right position. Making sure this location lined up with the transom would be a key to having all of the trim boards work out properly.
This required adding a piece of furring on the underside of the horizontal framing board to properly back the window flange.
Note how the flange now has backing when the window is in position.
Having established the elevation of the top sidelite window, we laid out the framing under the window and framed it in as well.
We added a vertical framing piece that extended from the floor to the horizontal frame. Note that we doubled a 2-by-6 and added spacer boards.
Remember, we had the doors temporarily in place to determine the window locations. We pulled the door jamb out and caulked under the threshold in preparation for hanging the doors.
The side window went in so it lined up with the transom left to right and with the door jamb up and down.
We hung the doors using cedar shingles as shims to make the minor adjustments to get them operating correctly.
With the jamb in position but loose, we put the doors on the hinges.
We left the flashing in tact above the opening and tucked the header trim board right up underneath.
We sealed the window flanges and the door jamb to the exterior of the house with Blueskin Weather Barrier.
We continued to fit the trim boards between the siding and window frames while watching the reveals to the door jamb. We put the top horizontal piece all the way across, supported by the outside verticals. Next came the horizontal board under the transom window, followed by the vertical mullion between the doors and sidelite.
Caulk applied behind the trim boards seals where they meet the window, door jamb and siding.
Blueskin that extended beyond the trim was cut off. The cross section of the weather barrier is easily covered by the bead of caulk that seals the trim to the door jamb.
We cut all of the parts for the surrounds before nailing them together.
The interior trim starts with measuring the windows for window surrounds. Surrounds are four-sided boxes that transition from the windows out to the wall surface.
The surrounds were nailed together in the driveway and brought into the house in one piece.
We always make our surrounds so the horizontal boards pass by the vertical boards.
We made the left to right alignment of the transom by matching it to the door jamb.
We moved the surrounds into the window openings and left them loose so we could adjust them for alignment.
With the two window surrounds in place, we installed the header casing and the two outside pieces of casing.
Each window surround was anchored by first shimming and nailing near the corners and then using a straight edge to align the boards from corner to corner.
Lastly, we installed a vertical mullion to bridge between the sidelite and door jamb and then filled in the area below the sidelite window with a MDF panel.
Next came the horizontal mullion piece under the transom window. To get the right reveal thickness to match the casing, we cut rabbets along the vertical edges. We then fit the newly-milled horizontal mullion between the vertical casings.
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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