I have a couple of pocket of doors planned for my new house and when I was talking to a contractor about them, he said “I hate pocket doors.” That's not an uncommon statement. Some people love pocket doors because they’re sometimes the only small space door solution available, but pocket doors also have some problems. So let’s talk about the pros and cons of pocket doors and let’s briefly discuss some pocket door quick tips.
Most of you already probably know this, but for those who don’t, pocket doors are interior doors that “disappear” into a shallow slot inside a wall. They generally slide along a track mounted on the ceiling, but occasionally they slide along a recessed track in the floor.
Pocket doors are can be the perfect solution for tight spaces. Some spaces just don’t have enough room for a swinging, conventional door. In tight spaces, a swinging door might slam into nearby furniture or fixtures, making it difficult to open the door fully. And in some closets, the swing of a conventional door can mean fewer shelves and less hanging space inside.
Pocket doors were popular in the late 1800s, especially in Victorian houses. They had a resurgence of popularity in the 1950s. But because pocket doors from the past ran along raised tracks on the floor, the tracks were a tripping hazard, so builders and homeowners avoided pocket doors when possible. But today’s pocket doors use ceiling tracks or recessed floor tracks, so homeowners and builders are again using them when appropriate.
Pros of Pocket Doors
1. As I just implied, in tight spaces, standard swinging doors will eat up limited clearance space within a room and along the floor. That space might be needed for furniture and fixtures. Pocket doors need no clearance space.
2. When open, a swinging door occupies wall space equal to its width (usually 32-36” for a standard interior door). In small rooms where wall space is needed for furniture placement, storage, or hanging art, pocket doors can free up needed space along the wall.
3. Sliding pocket doors are useful in designing two separate rooms so that they can be joined together whenever you like. For example: A formal dining room might have a wide opening going into the kitchen or living room. You can add pocket doors to the opening between the rooms and keep those doors open for large dinner parties, but close the doors for more intimate dinners.
4. Pocket doors have a minimalist, streamlined look that appeals to many homeowners.
Cons of Pocket Doors
1. Pocket doors don’t close as tightly as conventional doors and there is often more space under a pocket door. As a result, pocket doors are not as effective in preventing noise, smells and light from traveling from one room to the next. A conventional door can be opened or closed pretty quietly. A pocket door, however, no matter how carefully you roll it, will make some noise as it moves along the tracks. Aluminum tracks with nylon rollers minimize the noise, but don’t eliminate it. If you’re a light sleeper, think twice before installing a pocket door anywhere near your bedroom.
2. The wall opening for a pocket door must be free of structural wall studs, plumbing, duct work, some electrical wiring or anything that will obstruct the opening for the pocketing door. Because of this, pocket door walls are less stable and less flexible as it regards the layout of pipes, wiring and shelves that might be needed the room. Remember most shelves and cabinetry need to be attached to wall studs.
3. Pocket doors are notorious for problems with functionality. They can fall off their tracks, slide with difficulty, and have problems locking.
4. Sliding pocket doors are hard to manage for anyone with limited use of their hands, such as people with arthritis. You need more dexterity to use the flush or recessed pulls that are needed to open and shut a pocket door. It’s much easier to grasp standard swinging door hardware, especially door levers, when you have pain or weakness in your hands.
Ok, now that you know the advantages and disadvantages of pocket doors, let me give you some quick tips.
Quick Tips for Pocket Doors
1. Order solid doors. Almost all types of doors may be hung as pocket doors, rather than installed as swinging doors. Solid doors are heavier, block noise better and hold on to pocket door hardware better than hollow-core composite doors.
2. Use pocket doors in 2 x 6" walls, rather than in 2 x 4" walls, if possible. Because pocket doors have to slide inside a wall, that wall can’t have be built with wall studs because the studs would block the pocket door. So building a thicker 2x6 wall will give the pocket door wall more strength and stability than the typical 2x4 wall.
3. Always specify high quality hardware. Request heavy-duty door pulls and ball-bearing nylon rollers, for example, rather than the cheap hardware that often comes standard with pocket doors. This is extra important when you want larger-than-usual pocket doors, which weigh more.
4. Make sure that the wall fasteners don’t protrude into the pocket space. Wall fasteners often inadvertently project into the door's path, meaning you’ll need to open up the wall to fix problems and then repaint the wall and possibly the door. Be especially careful if the wall is being tiled.
5. Have a carpenter or some other professional experienced with pocket door installation put your pocket doors in. And make sure the doors are level and plumb to decrease chances of rough movement and malfunctions.
6. Have fun with the color and design of pocket doors. Because they can be opened and out of sight most of the time, pocket doors are a good place add whimsy and the element of surprise with bold colors and design elements.
7. Install a pocket door between the your mudroom and kitchen. That way you can have the spaces open to each other most of the time, but close off the mudroom when you have visitors.
8. Clean and lubricate your pocket doors regularly to reduce the risk of problems. Unlike conventional swinging doors, which will work flawlessly for decades without much maintenance, pocket doors need a little extra care.
9. Limit pocket doors to spaces where they are truly necessary because of space limitations. Even pocket doors that are installed and maintained properly have a greater risk of problems than conventional swinging doors. Think about sliding barn doors, instead of a pocket doors, when wall space and style allow. Barn doors are also great for tight spaces. And although barn doors have some of the same problems with transference of light, noise and odors that pocket doors have, sliding barn doors typically have sturdier hardware and fewer problems with functionality when compared to pocket doors.
10. Consider designing “adjoining” bedrooms for your children by installing pocket doors or barn doors between their 2 bedrooms. These adjoining bedrooms would work well for siblings want to sleep and play together in one space while they’re young, but who will want to be in separate rooms when they get older. The adjoining bedrooms separated by pocket or sliding barn doors can also work well for your adult children and their small children when they visit, especially if your grandchildren have trouble sleeping by themselves when they are away from home.
After talking with the contractor, I decided to switch one of my pocket doors to a conventional swinging door. And I decided to keep one pocket door since it ‘s located in a water closet, also known as a toilet room. That water closet opens into the rest of the bathroom, so any noise or odors that escape because of the pocket door will only escape into the adjacent bathroom. The main bathroom door is a conventional swinging door.
So to answer this episode’s title question… pocket doors can be both awesome or awful. Quality pocket doors can be awesome for tight spaces when you’re willing to accept some transference of noise, light and odors and when they are installed and maintained properly. But pocket doors can be awful when doors and hardware are poor quality and when the doors are used in spaces that need to be protected from noise, light and odors.
Please remember that the purpose of this podcast is simply to educate and inform. It is not a substitute for professional advice. The information that you hear is based the only on the opinions, research and experiences of my guests and myself. That information might be incomplete and it’s subject to change, so it may not apply to your project. In addition, building codes and requirements vary from region to region, so always consult a professional about specific recommendations for your home.
Thanks for stopping by. I hope you learned as much as I did.