Building Construction, Renovation, Maintenance & Advice

French Door Problems

"Thank God It's Friday"

Where do architects and builders live? I think they live in caves. It certainly couldn't be in the houses they design and build now could it? Dear me they must have more sense than that. Let's face it that if they did they would very quickly realise all the common mistakes that are made and, now here's a long shot, they might even modify their ways of doing things based on their unfortunate experiences.

But no, once again I hear the steady beat of porcine wings, it is far too much to expect from such august professions.

Many years ago a survey was carried out in England. Spotty faced students went into car factories, clipboards in hand, and asked the people working on the lines "would you buy one of our company's products?"

They were shocked (though rather pleased) to find that invariably the workers came up with an emphatic "No fear, I'd rather be peed on by a leprous elephant".

The fact that the very people making the products wouldn't want to buy them caused shock, horror, throughout the manufacturing world. Shock? well at the public level it did but quietly no one was really surprised.

Why were the researchers pleased? Because, of course, their research results provided headline news and a welcome change from the "whose doing what to whom", "conservative MP caught in bra and panties spanking choir boy" or the endless "pervert seen in park" stories that usually fill those highly intellectual publications - the British tabloids. The researchers had, surprise surprise, discovered something everyone knew anyway but no one ever bothered to ask.

This totally boring revelation lead to all sorts of further fascinating facts including the understanding that if you buy a car that was made on a Friday it is highly likely that the brakes won't work or the engine wall fall out.

Have you ever noticed that new cars always have an overbearing odour of plastic? That is, in fact, done on purpose to hide the smell of a rotting, half eaten prawn sandwich should one get inadvertently left under the dashboard.

Of course bored factory workers not keeping to established quality standards is one thing but recently we have heard of all sorts of cases where the design itself was in question. We hear of car manufacturers around the world recalling zillions of cars for such minor problems as accelerating when you put the brakes on or suffering the odd rather inconvenient bout of spontaneous combustion.

Is this what we get for endowing our high technology chariots with artificial intelligence? "You want to stop? Sod you, I'm going faster!" Or are these design flaws that result from car engineers who designed the accelerator pedals or brakes on a Friday or while distracted by that secretary from the 3rd floor who insists on reaching the top shelf with a very short skirt on.

Here in Bali, everyday is Friday so perhaps we can forgive our house construction experts for the odd mental aberration and a tendency to get certain things wrong.

Which brings us to my point and the second of my architectural "blind spots".

Perhaps it is all too hard or maybe it isn't considered important but it is surprising how often window and door design and construction just doesn't seem to work very well these days.

Strange isn't it? Let's face it all over the world windows and doors have been made for generations now. Over time people learned through bitter experiences such as finding ducks swimming around in the living room or trying to watch the telly under a snow drift. Shear necessity meant that eventually they got things right.

But for some reason the construction experts of today either think they know better or don't even realise there is a problem. The pursuit of minimalist design may also have something to do with it, "I don't want that weatherstrip spoiling the clean flowing lines of my beautiful design thank you very much".

Whatever the reason it appears that there has been a widespread tendency to eliminate the design features or vital components that historically have been used to make doors and windows work properly.

By far the majority of new houses and apartments in Bali have French doors and windows. Most have wooden frames with one or more glass panes. It is surprising just how many of doors and windows are not designed or made properly and cause endless problems for their proud new owners.

Design problems with french doors

Here are my examples, perhaps you can find some of your own.

1. Doors and sliding windows that are not weatherproof along the bottom.

Rain driven by wind blows under french doors. A very common problem and not easy to solve. As a corrective measure some people use weather strips along the bottom of the doors (the rubber weather strips are better than the bristle ones). This may result in marks on the floor, doors being harder to open and the ends of the doors cannot be sealed. This is only a stopgap measure for a problem which is the result of poor design. Good design may include a step between the inside and outside floor levels, a threshold (wooden strip across the floor) or bottom tracks which incorporate some sort of sealing and draining capability in their design (I sense a cringe from our designers). Good design cleverly hides the sealing method in the underside of the door.

2. Doors and windows that are not weatherproof along the vertical edges.

Very similar, easy to solve but often avoided. The established method is to either have a step in the leading edge of the door or a vertical weather strip fastened on the outer surface of the leading edge of one door so that when the doors close the weatherstrip covers the gap. There are some very well designed doors that have a groove in one door and a vertical strip of wood set into the leading edge of the other. The strip seats into the groove creating a "labyrinth" seal.

3. Glass panes that cannot be replaced if they get broken.

Ever wondered how the glass will be replaced if it gets broken? Many builders make doors with the glass built in - you can't replace it without taking the door or window apart. In some countries glass is fixed into frames using linseed oil putty or, more often these days, wooden "beading". If a pane gets broken the putty or beading can be removed to replace the glass.

4. Horizontal surfaces in the wooden frame under glass window panes.

The edge of the wooden frame immediately below glass panes is very often made horizontal these days. When rain hits the glass and runs down the window or door, it lies on the wood against the pane and can seep through between the glass and the frame. This is particularly bad when there is no sealant around the glass and especially when a wind is blowing. This is a very common problem but stupidly simple to avoid by a) slightly bevelling the lower surface of the wood so the water drains off outwards and b) making sure the sealant is in place.

5. Glass panes that are not sealed into the wooden frames

Very many builders either use too little sealant or no sealant at all when installing glass into door and window frames. You can tell if there is little or no sealant by tapping the glass - it will rattle. Get the builder to do it properly before it rains. In the past linseed oil putty would have been used, it is still the best material but unfortunately is not available in Indonesia. Instead silicone sealant is used these days. Acid free silicone is best for this job.

6. Use of bingkirai wood that expands and contracts with moisture.

For many builders bingkirai is the timber of choice for doors and window frames these days. Bingkirai is a good wood however it has a fundamental problem in that it expands when wet and contracts when it dries out. This can cause a number of problems when used for doors and windows, concrete walls can be seriously cracked by door and window frames that have expanded in the wall.

7. Hangings that are not strong enough or look like they came from an industrial building.

Folding french doors need particular care when designing how they will hang. The problem is due to the weight of the doors hanging on hinges. To take the weight of the doors tracks are often placed both above and below the doors. There are some excellent tracks available but these tend to be expensive. Increasingly low cost fittings are being used, you can spot these easily - they look like something off a first world war battleship. They may look bad enough when they are new but wait until they start to rust……

8. Locks that don't lock properly.

French doors are notorious for locks that are difficult to lock. Problems arise from the doors not lining up properly (a particular problem if the doors are warped), the locks and faceplates being inaccurately positioned or use of poorly selected lock types. The locks that tend to work best

9. Warped doors and windows

Warping of doors and windows is usually the result of using wood that is not fully seasoned (dried out). These days there is such a demand for timber that it is often cut, sold and used far too quickly. As it dries out the wood tends to shrink, crack and twist often following the grain in the wood. You will find warped doors will need to be pulled flat to get them to latch.

Traditional practice is to cut wood then stack it so that air can circulate around it and leave it for many months before use. Guitar manufacturers may keep their precious timber for many years before use.

If wood has to be used quickly it can be kiln dried to speed up the seasoning process.

French doors do tend to have a number of other problems such as handles that hit frames and track stops that are not properly set. I saw one expensive house where you could close and lock the french doors and an intruder could simply push the doors from the outside which, without guides at the bottom, swung inwards on the top track. You might as well leave them open.

I was recently visiting some good friends who are completing a rather stunning house. Early into the project they found that their supposedly well respected architect was delivering a standard half hearted design using standard half hearted materials and finishes. They sacked him and took the project over themselves but then managed to find a very capable creative architect who suggested some imaginative changes. The result has been outstanding. There are some geniuses out there, the trick is to find them. They are the ones not living in caves.

Copyright © Phil Wilson 2009
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17 July 2017 Copyright © Mr Fixit,
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