As the cost of buying, building, and remodeling houses continues to skyrocket, architects, home builders, and homeowners are seeking strategies to get more from less space. In the world of home building, space is money. Building a new home or adding onto an existing one costs from $70 to $130 per square foot. Add the costs of heating, cooling, and maintaining that space and it’s easy to see that every inch counts.
One home product that can help maximize space is the pocket door. Rather than swinging like a hinged door, a pocket door slides into a hollow cavity, or “pocket,” in the wall. It is actually a conventional door mounted on rollers that glide along an overhead track. When this type of door is used, the space normally required for the door’s swing, which can total 10 square feet or more, can be eliminated.
A pocket door doesn’t just save space—it can also solve problems, particularly in tight spots. For example, a pocket door might be used in a small half-bath that simply doesn’t have enough space for an in-swinging door and where an out-swinging door would be awkward. There, use of a pocket door could circumvent building an unnecessarily large bathroom or stealing space from an adjacent closet or similar area.
Another typical spot for a pocket door is where there is space for a regular door to swing but where it would be in the way when open. This situation is common in bathrooms, closets, and laundry rooms. Almost anywhere an open door would become an obstacle, a pocket door makes sense.
For a large, double-wide doorway between two rooms—a dining room and living room, for example—a pair of pocket doors can be a very elegant, practical addition. (Pocket doors have been used in this type of application since the turn of the century.) When open, as such doors usually are, pocket doors don’t clutter or obstruct the area around the doorway.
Today’s pocket door hardware is far more advanced than that used on older doors. While those ride on steel rollers and are noisy, balky, or jump the tracks, today’s systems have smooth, quiet, axle-mounted nylon or ball-bearing rollers and metal tracks designed for smooth, trouble-free operation.
Nearly any type of door—flush, panel, louvered, glazed—may be mounted on pocket door hardware as long as the hardware is rated to handle its size and weight. Most hardware is designed for 1 3/8- inch-thick hollow-core doors weighing up to about 75 pounds, but you can buy heavy-duty hardware that will support 1 3/4-inch-thick solid-hardwood doors weighing up to 175 pounds.
A single manufacturer may offer several options; for example, Cox Hardware makes different roller/track combinations for a variety of door sizes and weights.
Pocket door systems are offered either as kits or as pre-assembled units. The pre-assembled types, sold through lumberyards and home improvement centers, include a jamb, hanger track, and pre-made cage that, when finished, becomes the pocket.
The cage is framed with lightweight lumber, yielding a weaker wall than a conventional 2-by-4-framed wall. The installer just fits the unit into a pre-framed rough opening, fastens it in place, applies the wall surface, finishes the opening with casing trim, and then hangs the from the track.
The kit type is only slightly more involved to install, but most are stronger because they utilize steel-reinforced split studs. Also, because kits are knocked down into flat packages, they’re easier than pre-assembled types to transport and handle.
One of the larger manufacturers, Johnson Hardware, makes a cut-to-length universal frame header, fully steel-reinforced split jamb and stud uprights, and removable track hardware. The kit is designed for very fast installation into a pre-framed rough opening. Complete instructions make this a manageable job for do-it-yourselfers. Standard sizes are for doors up to 3 feet wide and 6 feet, 8 inches tall, but other systems for larger doors may be special-ordered.
Pocket doors can be noisy to open and close, but Johnson Hardware offers “Soft-Close Hardware” that works like a cabinet door closer to open and close doors softly and quietly and prevents pinched fingers. Designed for both new and existing pocket doors, it can be installed easily in less than an hour as shown in the following video.
Because a pocket door is installed inside a wall, you should make every effort to avoid problems that could occur some time down the line.
Buy quality hardware that matches the weight and size requirements of the door. Rollers should be the type that won’t jump the track; the type that can be released from the door with a flip of a small lever are worth considering. Also look for a track that can be removed without having to tear out the walls.
Hire a qualified installer or, if you do the work yourself, be sure the header is level and side jambs are plumb. Allow a 3/16-inch clearance between jambs and door so that, if the door warps slightly over time, it won’t bind in the jambs.
And last but not least, take care in painting both the door and jambs to avoid paint buildup that could cause the door to stick.