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A Guide to Buying External French Doors

If you’re looking for a way to introduce a little extra light into the interior of your home, as well that all-important impression of space, then a set of French patio doors might be just what’s in order.  French doors come in outward-opening pairs and come equipped with large glass panels which offer an unrestricted view of the outside world.  They’re thus a popular choice as a patio or garden door.

Let’s examine this technology in greater detail, and see what they might offer to your home.

How Did French Doors Get Their Name?

It will surprise very few people that French doors originate in France. During the 16th and 17th centuries, France spent a lot of her time at war with near-neighbour, Italy.  And this period saw French architects draw a great deal of inspiration from the Italian artists of the Renaissance, and from Roman architecture.  Balconies began to spring up in wealthy estates across France, beginning with the palaces of the ruling monarchy.

It wasn't long after this period that plate glass came to be popularised. This led rapidly to the new technology being incorporated into door designs - and these doors often opened onto balconies.  During this time, lighting a stately home was considerably difficult - and so doors were frequently left open. It was quickly supposed that a door composed almost entirely from glass would be a much better solution, and so such doors quickly became commonplace.

Are French Doors the Same as Patio Doors?

French doors by vidalia_11, on Flickr
"French doors" (CC BY 2.0) by vidalia_11

As time went on, French doors came to be employed at ground level, as an easy way of bridging a home and a garden.  And it's for this use that they're most popular today.  But they're not the only means we have of bridging the exterior and interior of a home - other forms of patio doors are available.

These include sliding patio doors, which rather than opening outward, slide along a fixed plane of motion, tethered to either the floor or ceiling (or both).  A folding door takes this concept a stage further, incorporating a procession of panels, each joined to the next via a hinge so that the entire thing opens out in a concertina.  Each panel is in turn fixed to a rail in much the same way as those of a sliding door - except, since the panels of a folding door can fold, the door is capable of collapsing far more than a sliding door, which provides more space when the door is open.

While these alternatives come with their own advantages, they've yet to displace the classic French design, which remains popular even today.  French doors require less space than other forms of patio door - but they're also simpler to use, and boast a classic aesthetic that more modern designs have yet to replicate.  If you're looking for a set of doors that will look the part, then French doors make the obvious choice.

What Sizes do French Doors Come In?

French doors come in a range of different sizes, to suit a range of different home layouts.  Like almost all doors, the outer rim comes with a lipping of solid wood, which can be adjusted if the door doesn't quite fit in the frame.  Here at express doors, we sell French doors to fit the following sizes:

  • 1200mm (4ft)
  • 1500mm (5ft)
  • 1800mm (6ft)

If you find that your doorway is too large for the set of doors you have in mind, then you might consider a set of French doors with sidelights attached.  These are small, narrow windows which sit on either side of the doors themselves, effectively allowing more light to enter the interior. 

When you're measuring your gap for your doors, the easiest way to proceed is to measure the existing doors.  Of course, this isn't always possible - you might be installing new doors, or your old doors may have warped to beyond their usual dimensions.  In such cases, you'll need to measure the gap.  Do so from three separate points for both the width and height of the doorway - measuring from the top, bottom and middle, as well as the far right, the far left, and the centre.  You can use the average of each three measurements to inform your purchase.

What Materials Can I Buy French Doors In?

French doors come in several different materials.  There are those made from solid wood, there are those made from engineered wood, and then there are uPVC and aluminium French doors

When it comes to French doors, solid wood is generally avoided because of the warping effect.  This occurs when the wood absorbs moisture and changes temperature, which over time causes it to change shape.  This effect can cause gaps to appear around the edges of the door, which in turn can cause draughts.  Engineered wood, by contrast, is built from many different planks of wood surrounded by a veneer which gives the appearance of a solid wooden door.  This allows us to use the most attractive sorts of wood on the outer shell while using cheaper sorts on the interior.  But more than that, it means that the with engineered wood French doors warping effect will be much reduced, as many different pieces of wood will each warp in different directions, thus cancelling the effect out.

Naturally, timber requires maintenance if it's to last.  You'll find doors available from our site in both unfinished and finished form.  If you'd prefer to paint your doors a different colour to match your taste (and the existing colours of your property), then it might make sense to opt for an unfinished French patio door, and apply the finish yourself.  When you come to re-apply your finish, be sure to wipe clean and thoroughly dry the wood before applying a layer of finish.

uPVC doors are a popular choice for the exterior of a home since they're able to stand up to even the toughest weather conditions, require very little maintenance, and can be purchased inexpensively.  On the other hand, uPVC isn't as strong as the other materials available, and so will need to be made thicker to accommodate the same amount of glass.

Aluminium is an increasingly popular material for French Doors to be made from. Aluminium French Doors are often stronger than their rivals and are therefore can be made with thinner frames. A thinner frame means more glass; allowing more light to filter into your home and a greater view. 

What are the Glazing Options for French Doors?

Of course, since French doors come with large amounts of glass, we should also consider the merits of the different glazing options available.  Double-glazing is the accepted norm when it comes to external French doors, offering substantial energy savings over single-glazing.  It works by sandwiching a layer of air between two sheets of glass, which helps to contain both sound and heat.

Not all double-glazing is the same, however; by making the sheets of glass and the space between them thicker, it's possible to achieve even greater efficiencies. Similarly, triple glazing will be more effective than double-glazing.  However, this advantage will come at a cost: triple-glazed doors and windows are far costlier than their double-glazed counterparts and will allow a significantly reduced amount of light through, thus darkening your interior.  This might be precisely the opposite effect to the one you're looking for in a French window.

Are French Doors Hard to Install?

Lounge window and French doors by soltenviva, on Flickr
"Lounge window and French doors" (CC BY 2.0) by soltenviva

Like most doors, the difficulty of installing a set of French doors will vary according to how much work is required.  If you're starting from scratch, trying to create a new aperture in an existing solid wall, then you'll likely encounter a few difficulties as you get on with the task.  You'll have to consider whether the wall is load bearing, install wooden crutches and a header, and seek planning permission before proceeding.  Naturally, if you don't know what you're doing, there's a risk that the ceiling will collapse - or, more likely, that you'll do a poor job and end up spending more money in the long run to correct it. It's better in such cases to hire a professional.

If you're just replacing a set of old French doors, the opportunity for misstep is smaller.  Simply measure the old doors and the frame that once housed them, and shop for the new ones accordingly.  If you're shopping for wooden doors, you'll be able to perform slight adjustments in order to match the door perfectly to the gap.


French doors are a great way to introduce a little more light and space into your property, and break down the gap between the interior of your home and the exterior.  Match your door with the surrounding building, and your personal taste, and you're sure to add considerably to both the value of your property and your enjoyment of it! If you're after french doors, buy direct from us online and we'll deliver to your door.  

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