How big will opening glass walls get?

John G. Swanson
February 10, 2009
THE TALK... | Aesthetics & Style

Survey Results for 02/11/2009:

Wide-opening door systems will be:

Limited to upscale homes.




Limited to ultra-high end custom homes.




Common on even mid-range homes.




Adapted and made affordable for most homes.





The interest in big doors is big in our industry. This Talk generated more comments than the weeks I ventured into discussions of Presidential politics. A quick look at our poll results suggest few of you out expect the back door of a double-wide to be equipped with an opening glass wall, but most foresee these products trickling down market somewhat. Less than one in five see these products limited to the ultra-high-end home.

The majority of our respondents foresee these types of products limited to more “upscale” homes, a term, I admit, that’s open to a broad range of interpretations. One respondent with a company offering these products reports they commonly go into homes in the $300,000 range in Arizona. That may not be low-end, but it doesn’t sound like “ultra” to me.

The comments that came in were varied. Some see real limits on the potential use of these products—related to expense and regional needs—while others suggest there’s significant opportunity for these products to penetrate new markets. Just about everyone agrees these products are enjoying increased appeal.

“I have been selling wood clad windows direct to high end builders in the Phoenix, Ariz., market for the past five years and have been in the industry for 19 years,” writes Tim Walker of ABS Windows. “These door systems are common in homes in the $1.5M+ price range. Their expense will most likely keep them from being used in lesser priced homes. Most systems run $750/lineal foot or more before adding for automation. It's not uncommon to see two or three of these types of doors on large (8,000 square feet or larger) homes and it's rare not to see at least one door on each set of plans. I have sold packages that the pocket/bi-fold doors have cost more than the other windows and patio doors combined.

“Over the past five years, this segment of the market has grown significantly and local automation companies are really adding to the value. I have worked with a Scottsdale-based company, Doors In Motion, for five years. They provide automation for pocket door systems across the country. They even take blank door panels from all major manufacturers and local door shops and convert them into pocket door systems locally. Even with the downturn in the economy, we are still seeing most high-end homes specifying pocket or bi-fold door systems.”

“My company, Redstone Custom Door, specializes in manufacturing what is often referred to as ‘luxury’ patio doors,” writes Patrick Davis, VP of sales and marketing. “Pocketing doors, multi-slide doors, folding doors and pass-thru windows. This is all we do. I’m an ardent believer that this type of product is here to stay and is not forever limited to the high end custom home. It is inevitable that production efficiencies and consumer demand will bring the price down to the point where you will soon see ‘poor man’s versions’ of these doors. Analysis of our customers reveals that our doors go into homes valued at $1.5 million and up. I expect that will be cut in half within five years.
“We have moved in that direction ourselves as a company by introducing the Redstone ‘Select’ series folding door which sells for about 20 percent less than our Redstone ‘Custom’ series. This is accomplished by standardizing the sizes and color options and using 1¾–inch production door panels rather than our 2¼–inch custom panels.

“To fill a 12’ X 8’ opening with a French door with sidelights or an OXXO standard patio slider can be little as one fourth the cost of one of our doors. If we can get that gap narrowed to the point where our doors are only around 50 percent more, we can reasonably persuade customers to upgrade. That’s my two cents.”

On the more skeptical side, a comment from a door maker came in noting that while certain products and product features may attract a lot of attention and may truly be desirable to many in the market, there is often resistance. "I noticed the abundance of sliding patio walls at IBS as well," writes Dave Murphy, director of sales in the Northeast for Masonite Corp. "I'm not sure it's an overall industry demand trend, but certainly the latest technology for many window and door companies."

He frequently gets asked the same question regarding pre-finished doors, he notes. Will they filter down and penetrate a broader market? "Manufacturers seem to be addressing this real need, but it will be a long time before it becomes a measurable volume of sales for most dealers/distributors," he predicts.

I heard from two people from Northern climates who see the appeal of these products, but question their practicality—at least in their part of the country.

“Here in Minnesota and maybe the Great Lakes states generally, I just can't imagine these gaining anything more than a niche market,” writes Eric. “Here are my reasons:

  • It is too cold in the winter for that much glass.
  • Weather and rural dust would make them a cleaning burden.
  • There are too many insect pests in the summer for unscreened windows let alone wide-opening doors.
  • There are usually less than 10 days annually when anyone here would seriously even consider opening them up.
  • I suspect seasonal humidity levels differences would severely affect their structural systems.

“Having said that, I must tell you my seventh grade son just did a house design in school. His house used wide-opening 'whole wall' door systems in two separate areas.”

“The wide opening patio doors in Minnesota and Wisconsin must open to a screened porch or sunroom,” suggests a dealer from the region. “We have tons of mosquitoes, not to mention flies and other nasty insects we try to keep out of our homes. Because we have short summers, I can see these in use, and become as popular as screened rooms and three-season rooms.
“Adding these 'rooms' would be the best of both worlds, and incorporating the 'wide opening doors' to these rooms would be more economical than traveling, or buying that coveted lake home (and paying taxes/maintenance/time on both properties).”


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