Patio Door Market Opening Up Wider

Popularity of bi-fold and lift-and-slide type systems in high-end homes may trickle down
Ryan Self
August 15, 2008
FEATURE ARTICLE | Aesthetics & Style

Luxury homeowners have embraced the way folding doors allow interior and exterior spaces to become one.

Multi-million dollar homes increasingly feature multi-panel fold and sliding systems that create big wide openings. But what about million dollar homes, or even half million dollar homes? Is the popularity of these higher-end products—and willingness to spend more—going to impact demand for patio door products in general?

Those involved in the high-end market see plenty of growth for folding and lift-and-slide doors to create large open spaces in luxury homes. And some manufacturers that generally don’t specialize in the ultra-high-end market indicate that they might look into capitalizing on the trend. “In the last four or five years, you saw a huge amount of high-end homes with lift and slide systems, which are incredibly expensive and only available in the high-end custom market,” says Matthew O’Shea, marketing manager with Neuma Doors. “Then you started to see the bi-fold door, which was still a more expensive product but not as much as the lift and slide. People have started to realize that you can actually do a wall of glass fairly cheaply, that’s still energy-efficient.”

“Big, wide open spaces are hot,” says Mark DeSimone, West Coast product manager with Simonton Windows. “You can’t go tall enough, you can’t go wide enough. And you will see these bi-fold doors in stock construction, absolutely it can be done.” Not all manufacturers serving this market are convinced there will be a trickle-down effect.

“The trend is a very narrow niche, toward the very high-end market,” says Ebrahim Nana with NanaWall Systems. “We’re catering to the million-dollar home.” “In general, they are quite expensive,” reports Cathy Leonard, who handles marketing communications with Windsor Windows & Doors. “We’re talking about $1,000-$1,200 per linear foot.” She sees more detailed architectural elements such as radius-topped doors as the more typical way to bring luxury into the mid-priced home market. She adds, however, that’s adding luxury is a must in a time when sellers are doing whatever they can to move homes and buyers have far greater selection. “Some of these things that used to be in $2 million homes are now being seen in $500,000 homes.”

“This started out as strictly a high-end product, but we’re starting to see it trickle down,” says Paul Cornish, president of Centor North America Inc., which supplies hardware for wide-opening door systems. “But it’s a slow process–we haven’t seen it reach the low-end market.” He points to customers such as La Cantina Doors USA, Lanai Doors and Door Innovations as door fabricators that have entered the bi-fold door market as both a high-end luxury providers and marketers targeting the not-so-high end with mid-range products. Shelly Johnston, president and owner of Lanai, says the trend reflects more of a willingness among homeowners to invest in a high-end door than a lowering of bi-fold door prices. “It’s definitely something that has gone from the ultra-high-end to a lower price,” Johnston says. “But it’s still not an inexpensive door, by itself. People are still putting a sizeable amount of their budget towards one large opening; as houses and yards get smaller it’s a way to at least create a larger open space.”

Nana points to multi-family projects as an application where these types of systems, while not low in cost, are proving to be a cost-effective solution. “We are seeing the elimination of the balcony, with a large folding wall in its stead,” he says. “The balcony is very inefficient to an overall building envelope; we’re seeing builders instead put in a railing [and folding wall] to give the feel of a balcony without an actual balcony.” Neuma’s O’Shea says it’s inevitable for these systems to make their way into lower priced homes. “We’re already seeing a poor man’s bi-fold system, where two double sets of French doors are hinged to create a 12-foot open space without the need for extra studs between units,” he says. “I think you’re going to see a lot more companies with bi-folds. We’re not there yet, but I could see something in the next year or two–there are going to be more and more requests for this, and companies have to keep pace.” “For a long time, the trend was only in high-end products, DeSimone notes.

“The middle of the range has been a tough place to be. With current economic conditions, people see it as another place to differentiate themselves.” Cornish not only sees these door systems going into more houses, demand is still growing from a regional market perspective also. “The larger openings trend started out purely as a Sun Belt product, but with screening options now available, it’s no longer specific to any market,” Cornish adds. “It’s everywhere from Canada to South America.”

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Reach Ryan Self, managing editor, at rself@glass.org.