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Which External Bifold Doors Are Best For You?

External bifold doors, as their name might suggest, fold twice (or perhaps even more).  Their concertina-style mechanism allows them to cover large distances without swinging outward into the adjacent spaces.  They can be small, providing a covering for an airing cupboard or similar space-sensitive storage area, or they can be enormous, serving as temporary room dividers.  

What’s the difference, and what suits your requirements?

Folding doors, in the main, tend to be made from one of three different materials: wood, aluminium and uPVC.  Let’s consider them.

Wood

Wooden doors of any sort have a distinctive look that makes them beloved of many homeowners.  They can be sanded and planed to suit your needs, fitted with new locks, and taken off the hinges entirely for modification – allowing you to tailor yours to match your personal tastes, and the aesthetic demands of the rest of your interior.

One downside of wood is its tendency to warp over time, as the fibres change shape in response to the local temperature and humidity levels.  Most folding doors overcome this apparent disadvantage by using an ‘engineered’ core, made up of many different pieces of wood, each of which counteracts the warping of its neighbours.

Aluminium

Aluminium tends to be more popular for external bifold doors.  It’s stronger than either timber or uPVC, which means that it’s able to support more glazing with thinner frames.  This means that the amount of light and the sensation of space on the inside of the building will be maximized.  Aluminium doors will also retain their shape a great deal more effectively than their counterparts, making them suitable for exterior doors which will be exposed to direct sunlight in the morning.

uPVC

In terms of strength, uPVC doors tend to be the weakest of the three.  Consequently, their frames have to be made much thicker – so thick, in fact, that multiple folds quickly become impracticable.  For this reason they’re not a popular option for folding doors.

So which bifold door material is best?

You’ll want to select a material for your bi-fold doors based on your priorities.  Let’s take a look at some of the criteria that you might consider important.

Cost

uPVC doors might appear to represent the best value at first – as they require the smallest initial outlay.  Moreover, they don’t require any cleaning or maintenance materials, and the locks come built into the door itself.  However, they’re often the more expensive option in the long-term, as they’ll contribute little to the value of the property, and they’ll likely need to be replaced far before their wooden or aluminium counterparts – particularly if they’re exposed to frequent sunlight.  At the other end of the spectrum are aluminium doors.  These might carry a heftier price tag, but they also come bundled with an extensive guarantee that’ll see them used for many decades.

Appearance

If you ask most people, they’ll tell you that oak doors look the best due to their natural material and unique grain.  Metal doors will only suit a certain sort of interior, with modern flats being the most popular settings.  

Energy Efficiency

Aluminium is an excellent conductor of heat.  However, most quality aluminium doors will come equipped with a ‘thermal break’, a layer of non-conductive material which helps to interrupt the flow of heat from one side of the door to the other.  Since they’re stronger, they’re also able to hold thicker panes of glass.

Timber is naturally less conductive than aluminium, and its efficiency can be improved in much the same way.  In order for this performance to be retained, however, it’s vital that timber doors are properly cared for – since warping can cause gaps and draughts to appear.

uPVC is by far the weakest material in terms of thermal efficiency.  It will bleed heat far more readily than the other materials, and its performance will steadily worsen as it ages.

Weather resistance

Aluminium will be able to withstand a torrent of abuse before it needs repainting, and it’ll last for years without discoloration or warping.  uPVC, on the other hand, can be easily discoloured by sunlight.  Timber, provided that it’s covered in an appropriate coat of protective oil or paint, will be able to put up with water damage – provided that it isn’t exposed to standing water for any significant length of time.

Durability

uPVC is undoubtedly the weakest of the three when it comes to durability.  It’s easily scratched, discoloured and warped, which will lead to a decline in its looks and functionality.  Aluminium, on the other hand, will last for years.  Provided that they’re granted the right care and attention, timber doors will sit somewhere in the middle.  As a rule, it’s safest to judge the longevity of a door by the length of guarantee the manufacturer is prepared to offer.

Strength

The stronger a door is, the more glass it will be able to house – and thus the brighter the interior will be.  In this respect, aluminium is a clear winner.  Timber varies considerably when it comes to strength – so-called ‘engineered timber’ doors, built from many different pieces of wood, metal and plastic, will tend to last far longer than their solid-wood counterparts. uPVC doors are the weakest of all; they must be made significantly thicker to compensate, which means less glazing, and less light for the interior.

Maintenance

Aluminium and uPVC require very little maintenance.  Give them an occasional once-over with a soapy sponge, and you’ll find that they last for quite some time.  Timber bi-fold doors, on the other hand, need to be re-finished every few years if they’re to look and function their best.  If they’re exposed to extreme weather conditions, this maintenance will need to be more pro-active.

In conclusion

Folding doors make a great addition to the exterior of a household, and they look great on the inside, too.  When considering which sort you’d like to add to your home, be sure to consider all of the criteria we’ve discussed here – but be aware that your personal preference will inform the decision, too.  If you’re unsure about something specific, or you’d just like to chat about the available options, then don’t hesitate to get in touch – we’ll happily address any doubts that might still be nagging!