We’ve put together the key features and benefits of both options to help you compare.
What’s the difference?
Sliding patio doors are large panes of glass which move from side to side on a track. They tend to be made up of 2-3 panels, one of which stays in place as the other(s) slide away behind it.
Bifold doors are made up of several panes of glass that fold sideways like a concertina and stack to the side.
Firstly, you’ll need to find out if both types are compatible with your home and the size of the aperture you’re looking to fill. The reason for this is that sliding doors tend to include large panes of glass that aren’t suitable for small sites.
Bifolds, on the other hand, are much more flexible in their configuration as they are comprised of several small panes which can be adapted to suit even small spaces or can replace entire walls.
In terms of the time it will take to complete the installation, this will depend largely on the individual installer. However, it’s worth noting that bifold installations are often bespoke designs and as such the process can take longer.
A key difference between sliding and bifold doors is the quality of the view through to the outside. Bifold doors are made up of several panes of glass each of which is framed. This means that when the doors are closed the view is broken up at regular intervals so you don’t get a full panoramic experience. Sliding panes are typically 2-3 large panes of glass with minimal framing, so provide a much more complete view when closed.
However, when we are talking about open doors the tables are turned. As bifold doors fold back into a concertina they can reveal up to 90% of the aperture. No other type of patio door can compete with this almost complete opening between the inside and outside. The structure of sliding doors means that at least 1 panel of glass will usually be closed, so in a 3 panel set-up there will be a maximum of opening of 66% (⅔). In some instances it may be possible to add ‘pockets’ to the walls on either side so that the doors can slide away into a cavity leaving a much wider space, but this can be costly.
We all know the British weather is a bit of a lottery, so the reality is that your doors will not always be flung open. When that’s the case, how easy is it to use the doors as a simple entrance / exit? This is an area where bifolds have the edge as they can be fitted with a traffic door in one of the panels. This means that you can easily move back and forth without having to fold back several panes. Sliders don’t have this advantage and be less convenient to open and close regularly.
When the doors are open, however, there is the matter of the track / threshold to consider. Sliders, especially those on triple runners, have wide tracks that can create a significant threshold across the opening. This may present a trip hazard and break up the natural flow between the inside and outside space. In contrast bifolds can be fitted almost completely flush to the floor leaving very little threshold behind them.
So, in terms of day to day functionality bifolds do appear to have the edge. However, one final point to make is that bifolds that stack away into the home can be intrusive if your space is limited. Sliding doors will not protrude either outside or inside. Also, the lack of a bifold threshold can mean there’s a risk of rain pooling in front of the doors and seeping in if not installed correctly.
The final ‘look’ of the doors is important and you’ll want to make sure that they are in-keeping with the overall style of your home. The good news is that both bifolds and sliding doors are available in a range of materials, finishes and colours to suit both contemporary and traditional homes. Frames can be classic timber or sleek aluminium or even a combination of both. Make your doors your own with unique handles, metallic, wood stained and powder coating in a variety of colours.
The security and safety features of your patio doors is a top priority. Both sliding and bifold doors can be fitted with strong locking bolts at both the top and bottom of the frames. In the case of bifolds this is usually present at multiple points in the structure, often in every folding leaf. Any tracks and cylinders should be enclosed so that they cannot be interfered with.
The strongest material you can choose for your frame is aluminium but if you have set on timber as your frame of choice, don’t despair. It’s possible to include an aluminium core within the timber to strengthen it so you get the best of both worlds.
You will also have a choice when it comes to the glass in your doors, which is another aspect of security to consider. Toughened safety glass is an absolute must but for even higher security you can install laminated glass which remains in place even when broken.
When it comes to budgeting for your doors, you will usually find that sliding doors are the cheaper option. This is largely because bifolds tend to involve a bespoke design process, a more complex installation and more framing. The cheapest material to use is UPVC but this isn’t recommended for either sliding or bifolds as it lacks strength and can warp in hot weather. The quality of the glass you choose and finish of the material will also be a factor to consider when budgeting.
Costs will vary from supplier to supplier, but as a rough starting point you would be looking at a minimum cost of £1,000 for bifolds and £500 for sliding doors. On top of this there will be installation costs which will increase if any structural changes need to be made to your home to fit the doors.
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