In­stalling pocket door is a chal­lenge, so prep, proper ma­te­ri­als are key

The Palm Beach Post - Residences - - Residences Central - Tim Carter

Ques­tion: My wife wants me to in­stall a pocket door. I have to ad­mit that I’m pretty in­tim­i­dated by this. I don’t want to make a mis­take and in­stall a door that rubs. What’s more, I’m scared of what’s be­hind the wall. Are there any tricks to in­stalling a pocket door that will en­sure that it op­er­ates trou­ble-free for years?

An­swer: I’ve been where you are now. It’s easy to get in­tim­i­dated about a pro­ject that you’ve never done. The best way to pro­ceed is to do as much re­search as pos­si­ble and to plan for any and all prob­lems that might arise.

The good news is that once it’s time to in­stall the ac­tual pocket-door hard­ware, you’re long past the hard part. In new con­struc­tion, this job is as straight­for­ward as chew­ing gum.

But in a re­mod­el­ing sit­u­a­tion, you have to deal with walls that might be out of plumb, hid­den util­i­ties in the wall, and struc­tural is­sues. All of these can be over­come — pos­si­bly with a lit­tle help from a pro­fes­sional, if you find your­self out of your com­fort zone.

Let’s talk about rub­bing pocket doors. I had that prob­lem years ago when I bought what I thought was a fine pocket-door frame. It was made from lum­ber, and I just had to nail the en­tire con­trap­tion in place.

All went well for about nine months. Then I got a call fromthe cus­tomer. Sure enough, the door was rub­bing and scratch­ing the paint. I traced the prob­lemto a hor­i­zon­tal brace in the frame that had warped in­ward, pinch­ing the door. I had to tear into the wall and re­place that pesky piece of lum­ber.

An­other prob­lem arose months later. The door kept jump­ing off the track. I was re­ally up­set at that door hard­ware.

I soon dis­cov­ered that pock­et­door frames were avail­able with warp-free metal studs and a track that made it im­pos­si­ble for the door to de­rail. I im­me­di­ately switched to that hard­ware and have never had a prob­lemin the past 25 years.

You shouldn’t be scared about what’s be­hind the wall where your pocket-door frame will nest. Vir­tu­ally ev­ery­thing that might be a prob­lem can be dealt with. It may not be easy to move elec­tri­cal wiring, plumb­ing pipes, air-con­di­tion­ing vents, or even a struc­tural col­umn that you un­cover. But it can be done. It’s all a mat­ter of money and time.

If you’re lucky enough to have your orig­i­nal house plans and they are de­tailed, you can get a han­dle on any struc­tural is­sues. If nearby bath­rooms are un­der, next to, or above the lo­ca­tion where your wife wants this new door, you could find a drain stack or a vent pipe in your way.

It’s easy to patch plas­ter or dry­wall, so cut some in­spec­tion holes to see what’s in the wall cav­ity where the frame needs to be. That should help you to plan be­fore you re­ally get started. If you do move ahead with this pro­ject, you’ll be re­mov­ing the en­tire plas­ter or dry­wall sur­face in this area, so it makes no dif­fer­ence if you cre­ate small holes.

To have a flaw­lessly fin­ished pocket door, you need the best hard­ware and frame. I’ve al­ready de­scribed that. Be sure that the kit you pick has trol­leys that have three wheels. These are the ones that can’t jump the track.

It’s also re­ally im­por­tant that the frame for the door be in­stalled in the same plane. This means that the wall can be out of plumb (not rec­om­mended), but it can’t be twisted much. A wall that’s twisted cre­ates a se­ri­ous prob­lem when you try to in­sert a non-twisted item like a large, flat door.

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Sur­prise, sur­prise! When you go to in­stall a pocket door in an ex­ist­ing home, you’re of­ten met with chal­lenges like these cable TV wires.

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