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