Smooth Operators

Installation tips for doors
Jim Snyder
May 9, 2016
COLUMN : From the Field | Methods & Techniques
Does your installed product operate smoothly? (Image courtesy of the author.)

Doors are generally more challenging to install than windows. While many basics are similar, such as wall interface, true alignment, and the fact that both either swing or slide, some factors are very different. Doors are commonly larger and heavier and have to stand up to much more frequent operation and demanding use, such as being slammed shut (intentionally or not) and tolerating thru-traffic.

A door that doesn’t operate smoothly is very obvious to any user and a gnawing nuisance to a homeowner. For so many reasons, door installation demands precision and durability. Any compromise is detectable.

Aligning and securing the frame comprises about 98 percent of a door’s operation and installation endurance. If done correctly, the panel(s) should fall in place.

Let’s explore some important installation perimeter details for typical swinging and sliding doors.

Threshold

The threshold (and sill) is the foundation in many ways. It spaces the side jambs accurately apart, yet ties them together. It also sheds (or weeps out) rainwater. In the case of a sliding door, the threshold must also manage the extreme weight of the door panels, all while enduring harsh foot traffic. Lastly, once located and secured, the threshold establishes the beginning of the frame alignment.

Since so much is expected of the threshold, it deserves a lot of installation attention. Most of this attention goes into preparing the slab or base underneath. In addition to including a sill pan, the base should be level, flat and provide continuous rigid support for the entire sill, including any and all projection to the exterior. Using “rubber-like” curing sealants alone to span wide voids in the base will result in a spongy threshold—or “hills and valleys” the doorssliding door must roll over—which are easily detected by any user.

Jambs

Side jambs are structurally quite different between swinging and sliding doors. Setting aside the conventional air, water and structural requirements for my point here, side jambs are the workhorses for swinging doors. All of the door panel weight is suspended through hinges on one side jamb.

Alignment, to a large degree, is managed by controlling the pull on the top hinge and the push against the bottom hinge. This floats the panel within the doorframe, which should just graze over the threshold when closed. The center hinge has a fairly neutral job, but it also helps vertically support the panel weight. That said, to achieve and maintain long-term alignment, it is critical to have shimming and proper anchoring at, and usually through, the hinges. Even nail fin doors require supplemented support behind the side jamb at the hinges, at the very least.

The striker side jamb (for single panel doors) has an equally important job. It absorbs the impact of closing and provides solid reinforcement of the latch striker(s) to help prevent forced entry. To both points, the striker side jamb needs to become one with the rough opening framing, which is usually achieved through sufficient shimming and very long screws. Using low expansion foam or pre-compressed polyurethane foam tape behind the jambs also helps absorb the impact.

The head jamb has the easiest job but still has an important role. Like the threshold, it spaces yet ties together the side jambs. The threshold positioning predetermines whether the head jamb is level end-to-end. Yet, the overall span may not be flat without additional shimming and anchoring. For multi-panel doors with a longer span, it is especially important to secure the head jamb to the header. This is also true for swinging doors that rely on a head striker for the T-astragal. In this case, the head striker needs to be rock solid.

The finished result for a swinger should be a reasonable closing effort and a consistent reveal on the sides and top between the jambs and door panel. Adjustable hinges and/or adjustable thresholds can be used for fine-tune reveal adjustments in some cases, yet these should not be used as substitute for a square frame.

Sliders usually offer adjustable rollers on the door panel, again, not to compensate for an out-of-square frame, but to align the panel to an already-squared frame. The panel should roll easily with consistent effort and meet the latch jamb equally throughout the vertical length.

A properly installed door literally feels and sounds right when closing. After attending to so many details, installers can get a true feeling of accomplishment when it’s done right. Invest the time and effort and charge accordingly.

Jim Snyder is an AAMA-certified FenestrationMaster and InstallationMaster who shares his years of installation field experience as an industry writer, speaker, trainer and project/product consultant for dealers and manufacturers. A member of various industry organizations, Snyder also is involved in instructional document creation and revision. Contact him at jim@windowjim.com.