You don't have to blow out the walls to make a room feel bigger and brighter. Installing larger windows, for example, provides the same effect at a fraction of the cost. A more dramatic way to enhance the appearance and versatility of a room without breaking the bank is to replace an existing window with French doors.
Double-wide wood French doors were the architectural ne plus ultra long before aluminum sliding patio doors appeared. Today, they're commonly used in both exterior and interior walls. French doors offer two main advantages over sliding doors. They operate more smoothly because they swing on hinges. And both doors can be opened at the same time for total access and unobstructed viewing.
One drawback to both traditional and modern French doors is that they swing into the room, rendering the space inside the doorway unusable. In most cases, more than 30 square feet of floor space must be left clear for the doors to open fully. We solved that problem in a first-floor master bedroom by installing Andersen's Frenchwood hinged doors. Because these doors swing out of the room, they don't sacrifice interior floor space. In this case, they also allow access to a backyard deck. The doors, which come with an unfinished-pine interior, have a low-maintenance vinyl-clad exterior. Double-wide units come in nine sizes ranging from 5 feet wide by 6 feet 8 inches tall ($1,500 to $2,000) to 6 feet wide by 8 feet tall ($1,900 to $2,400). Single- and triple-door units are also available.
The bedroom window we replaced was actually two windows mulled together. At about 6 feet wide by 5 feet tall, it was just the right width for installing the 6-foot-wide by 6-foot 11-inch-tall door we chose (Model 60611, $1,600 to $2,100). That meant we didn't have to enlarge the opening or replace the existing header. If you need to cut a wider hole for the door, be sure to install a new, longer header above the opening. Installation, including painting and staining, takes about two days. You'll need two people to help you because the door weighs 270 lbs. Remodeler Mark Marcley of Constructive Solutions in Wilmington, North Carolina, helped with this one.
Start by prying off the casings, or moldings, from around the inside of the window. Use a reciprocating saw fitted with a metal-cutting blade to cut any nails driven through the window jambs and into the trimmer studs (photo 1). Then remove the window sash and pry the window frame out of the opening.
Mark the wall section below the window that must be removed, then cut through the siding and plywood sheathing with a circular saw (photo 2). If the wall section contains any wiring, be sure to reroute it before starting to cut. Pull out the severed wall section carefully (photo 3) so it doesn't drop onto your toes. If the wall sole plate remains, cut it out, too. The bottom of the opening should be flush with the interior plywood subfloor.
Be sure the bottom of the opening is level and flat; use wood shims to level it if necessary. Lay two thick beads of adhesive caulk across the threshold, then lift the door and set it into the opening (photo 4). Have two people hold the door assembly in place from outside while a third person secures it from inside with screws driven through the side jambs and into the trimmer studs (photo 5). Also drive screws up through the head jamb and into the header.
Test the doors to be certain they swing open and closed fully without binding or catching. The Frenchwood unit features adjustment screws at each hinge for precise vertical and horizontal alignment. Once the doors are properly adjusted, install the brass lever handles and keyed lock cylinder provided.
Next, install the pine stop molding that comes with the unit along the inside of the doors; be sure to nail it tight against the inside surfaces of the doors. Pack fiberglass insulation into the spaces around the door frame (photo 6) and install new casings. Then apply a continuous bead of adhesive caulk around the outside of the door frame (photo 7).
You can finish the bare pine interior of the doors and trim with paint or with stain and varnish, or just use a clear varnish topcoat. Use an exterior-grade finish that can stand up to sunlight and wet weather.
Where to Find It:
Box 12, Dept. TH798
Bayport, MN 55003
800-426-4261, ext. 2829
Mark Marcley, Constructive Solutions
4212 Edward Hyde Pl., Dept. TH798
Wilmington, NC 28405