Archinet UK

Doors Resource: Door Operation

There is a wide variety of ways in which a door can operate. Doors can fold, swing, pivot, slide, roll, hang, or revolve. They can even be made of air. The main types of door operation are described and illustrated, in alphabetical order, below. The types are: Accordion Doors, Air Doors, Folding Doors, Hinged Doors, Jib Doors, Pet Doors, Pivot Doors, Pocket Doors, Revolving Doors, Roller Doors, Secret Doors, Sectional Doors, Sliding Doors, Strip Doors, Swinging Doors, Tambour Doors, Trap Doors, and Up and Over Doors. Please see our separate sections for an explanation of the various types of
Door Construction and Door Fittings.


Accordion doors are so called because they have a pleated structure, similar to that of the bellows part of the accordion musical instrument which was invented in Berlin in 1822 by Christian Buschmann.

Accordion doors are formed from rigid vertical slats, which are linked together to form the pleated structure, and are then suspended from a sliding track fixed to the top of the door opening. The vertical slats may be covered in a continuous flexible vinyl material, formed into pleats. Alternatively they may be rigid vertical slats made of wood or aluminium, which are hinged together. The main advantage of accordion doors is that they take up very little space when opened, and do not need room for a door swing. However they require more effort to open or close, when compared with a conventional hinged door. They also provide rather poor sound insulation and draught protection.

An example of an accordion door with wood-effect vinyl covered vertical slats, used as a door to a fitted wardrobe, is shown above.


Air doors, also known as air curtains, are designed to retain heat or cool within a building by blasting a vertical curtain of heated or cooled air down the face of the doorway. Air doors are used in shops, restaurants, hotels, and other public doorways which are not closed with physical doors. For wider openings, sets of air door units can be flush mounted next to each other. The commercial attraction is that the doorway remains completely open, encouraging entry. The drawback of air doors is that they are costly to operate and are much less energy efficient when compared to physical doors.  


Folding doors, sometimes known as bifold doors or sliding folding doors, are made up of vertical rigid panels, which are hinged together in concertina fashion. They are hung at alternate joints from a top track mounted in the top of the door opening, and have pins at the bottom of each joint running in a bottom track. Their two most common uses are as solid panel wardrobe doors, and as glazed patio doors providing access from living areas to patio or garden. Glazed folding doors are available with wooden or aluminium frames, and with double glazing.

The main advantage of folding doors is that they enable the whole of a wide opening to be opened up. Thus folding patio doors can create open space which is around 90% of the width of the opening, whereas sliding doors create open space which is typically less than 50% of the opening. The same advantage applies to folding wardrobe doors. Their swing (which may be inward or outward) can also be limited to a modest size, compared to large conventional hinged doors.


The hinged door is far and away the most common type of door. It is supported on two or three side hinges, and may be used as an interior door, an exterior door, a cupboard door, or a cabinet door. Hinged doors have been in use since ancient Greek and Roman times. They were originally only affordable by the very wealthy, and their use was confined to palaces and temples. Ordinary people had no hinges on their doors, or had no doors at all. During the middle ages hinges began to be hand forged by the local blacksmith, and became generally affordable. There is a wide variety of modern hinges, the main types of which are described in our Door Fittings section.


Jib doors are internal doors which are disguised to appear as part of the structure of the wall. They were used in grand 18th and 19th century houses, often for service doors leading to kitchens and servants' areas. They typically have a flat surface, completely flush with and decorated to match the adjoining wall. If the room has a dado rail, wainscot, or panelling, this is typically carried across the jib door. Jib doors are distinct from secret doors, which are designed to be hidden and completely invisible. A jib door is visible, but discreet. In the image above the jib door under construction has been built to match the mouldings in the panelled wall; it will be painted to match the wall. 


Pet doors are small doors, set within an external door or wall, which allow pet cats and dogs to come and go. The simplest form of pet door is a top-hinged metal or plastic flap, which can swing inwards or outwards. Pet doors of this kind use magnetic catches to prevent the flap blowing open in the wind. They are available in a range of sizes to suit the size of the pet.

More sophisticated pet doors provide exclusive entry for the owner's pets, excluding strange pets. To achieve this, the owner's pet wears an electronic tag, powered by a small battery, on a collar. The tag is recognised electronically by a sensor in the pet door, which will open only when approached by a recognised pet.  


A pivot door swings on two vertical pivots, which are recessed into holes at the top and bottom of the door frame. The pivots may be placed close to the edge of the door, or may be somewhat inset, or may in the case of a wide pivot door be placed at the centre of the door, providing passage to left and right. Pivot doors are structurally more satisfactory than hinged doors, particularly if the door is large and heavy. This is because the whole weight of the door can be taken vertically on the bottom pivot, without any twisting force being applied to the door frame. A pivot door with central pivot is even more satisfactory structurally, because the weight of the door is evenly balanced on each side of the pivot, so there is no lateral force at all. The pivot door is in fact the most ancient type of door, pre-dating side-hinged doors. Heavy timber pivot doors are found, for example, in the ancient Egyptian tombs; at that time the technology did not exist to hang heavy doors on side hinges.

In modern times pivot doors are mainly used as an architectural feature. They are particularly suited to heavy glass doors. Also if the pivots are somewhat inset they have the architectural effect of producing a completely clear opening.


Pocket doors are interior sliding doors which slide into a concealed slot in the thickness of the wall. Like other sliding doors, they have the advantage of needing no space for a door swing. Unlike normal sliding doors, they leave both sides of the wall completely clear, giving freedom on the placement of pictures and furniture. They are also very discreet, in that they slide away invisibly when opened. Pocket doors may be flush or with moulded profile, and may be finished in natural wood or painted.

It extremely difficult to insert pocket doors into existing walls; it is very much more practical to incorporate pocket doors into new-build projects. Sliding door gear manufacturers supply special sliding door gear for pocket doors.


Revolving doors are widely used in commercial and institutional buildings as a means of saving energy and avoiding draughts. Because they provide an airlock they minimise heating and air conditioning losses. The first patent for a revolving door was a granted to H.Bockhacker of Berlin in 1881 for his 'Door without draft of air'. In 1888 a US patent for a 'Storm Door Structure' was granted to Theophilus van Kannel, of Philadelphia. His patent described a three-partition revolving door having 'three radiating and equidistant wings .. with weatherstrips or equivalent means to insure a snug fit'. The patent claimed numerous advantages of a revolving door compared to a hinged door, including the fact that it cannot be blown open by the wind, that it excludes street noise, and that it allows persons to pass both in and out at the same time without risk of collision.


The main domestic use of roller doors is as garage doors. Roller doors are also widely used in commercial and industrial applications, for example to close lorry loading bays. Domestic roller doors are most commonly made from horizontal aluminium laths, which are power coated. For better heat and sound insulation, the slats can be in double-skin aluminium, with a filling of polyurethane foam. Roller doors for garages are also available with vertical laths, which roll away horizontally. An advantage of this arrangement is that doors can be partially opened to allow passenger access. Domestic garage roller doors may be manual or electrically powered. Electrically powered roller doors can have remote control.

Roller doors for industrial and commercial applications are usually made from steel rather than aluminium; this provides a more robust and durable door able to withstand industrial wear and tear.

An example of a wood-effect domestic roller door for a garage is shown above. A wide range of other colours and wood-effect finishes is available.


Secret doors, also known as hidden doors, are internal room doors which are completely concealed, usually behind a hinged book case or set of shelves. They may be used to conceal a safe, a panic room, or more prosaically a store room.

Secret doors and secret passages have a long history. They were used by the ancient Egyptians to protect burial chambers from tomb robbers. The 6,000 sq.ft. penthouse suite at the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco, which costs $10,000 per night, has a marble foyer, a Tiffany skylight, a twenty four hour butler and chef, a two-storey circular library, a tiled billiards room, and four fireplaces. Those who want to receive a guest discreetly can push aside one of the book cases, and usher the guest in via the suite's secret door and passage.


Sectional doors are used for domestic garages and similar to a roller door, except that they are made up of substantial horizontal sections, rather than narrow horizontal slats. When opened, the sections slide along runners so that the door lies in a horizontal position under the ceiling of the garage. They require less vertical clearance than a roller door, and also give a less industrial appearance when closed. Sectional doors may be manual or electrically powered, and when powered they can be provided with a remote control operable from within the car. The panels of a sectional door can be made of aluminium (which may be double-skin with insulating foam) or of timber. Sectional garage doors are also available with vertical rather than horizontal panels; these are hung from vertical tracks and slide around alongside one of the side walls of the garage.

Sectional doors are also used for industrial applications, such as the doors of fire stations. In some cases they may have transparent rather than solid panels, allowing daylight into the space even when the sectional door is closed.


Sliding doors are of three main types: sliding cupboard or wardrobe doors, sliding internal doors, and sliding patio doors. The sliding door panels may be hung from a top track, with locator pegs running in a bottom track. Alternatively the sliding door panels may have their weight supported by the bottom track, with locator pegs in the top track. Sliding internal doors are mainly used in restricted spaces, where there is not room for a full door swing as required by a conventional hinged door. Sliding patio doors are normally double glazed; the frames may be made of aluminium, UPVC, or timber. Of these materials, aluminium is the most practical, being more durable than UPVC and without the risk of twisting or shrinkage of a wooden door. Aluminium sliding doors can be powder coated in a very wide range of colours. The cheapest material is UPVC. The simplest type of sliding patio door has two leaves, meaning that just under 50% of the opening can be open to the air. Wider sliding patio doors may have three or four panels, allowing a higher proportion of the opening to be open to the air.


Strip doors, also known as strip curtains, consist of overlapping vertical plastic strips hung from a rail fixed along the top of the door opening. Users walk through the strips, pushing them aside. Larger versions for warehouses allow vehicles to drive through the strips. Strip doors provide environmental separation, for example keeping heat in, without the inconvenience and delay involved in opening and closing a hinged, sliding or roller door. In warehouse and factory use strip doors restrict movement of air pollutants, admit light for a safer environment, provide bird and flying insect control, and isolate noisy machinery. The vertical plastic strips forming the strip door are normally transparent, allowing the user forward vision, and allowing light to enter the space. Strip doors do not provide  any security, and separate doors are required for that purpose.


Swinging doors, also known as swing doors, are self-closing hinged doors which can swing in both directions. Swinging doors use a special type of bi-directional hinge, incorporating a self-closing spring. Swinging doors can either take the form of a single hinged door, or a pair of hinged doors.

Swinging doors are widely used in restaurants to separate the kitchen area from the dining area. This provides privacy, assists in temperature control, and reduces noise transmission. The lower part of the door will often have a metal sheathing to avoid damage when the door is pushed open with the foot. The great advantage of a swinging door is that it can be pushed through from either side without using a hand to open the door. This means it can be opened from either side by someone carrying plates in both hands.

A historic type of swinging door is the saloon door. Saloon doors are pairs of lightweight swinging doors, especially associated with pubic bars in the American west. Those that extend only between knee and chest height are known as batwing doors.


Tambour doors are made up from narrow horizontal or vertical slats which are linked together and slide on tracks either above or to one side of the opening. The slats may be of wood, plastic, or aluminium. Tambour doors with either horizontal or vertical timber or aluminium slats are available as garage doors. Horizontally sliding tambour garage doors are known as 'round the corner' doors.

Tambour doors are also used in furniture, and have traditionally been so used since the 19th century. The traditional 'roll top' on a Victorian desk was a tambour system. Tambour doors are widely used in office storage units. They provide security equivalent to hinged doors, but compared to hinged doors they have the advantage that no space is taken up with door swings. Their advantage over sliding doors is that they open the whole area rather than just half of it. Tambour doors are also used in kitchen cabinets.


A trap door is a hinged horizontal door set flush into a floor or ceiling. The most common modern use of trap doors is for access to lofts. Trap doors may be hinged so that they drop down, or may swing up into the loft. In some cases downward swinging trap doors for lofts will have an extending ladder fitted to the top of the trap door to provide access. Trap doors, sometimes known as hatches, are also used for providing access to flat roofs. An early use of trap doors was in wind and water mills, to allow sacks of grain and flour to be passed up and down through the floors of the mill. 


The up and over door is a type of garage door which consists of a single rigid panel. This can be swung up, using a counterweight system, so that it lies immediately below the ceiling of the garage. Simple up and over doors leave a substantial part of the door sticking out of the garage when it is lifted; other versions retract more fully into the garage. Up and over doors may be manually operated, or may be electrically powered. Electrically powered up and over garage doors can be provided with a remote control enabling the door to to be opened and closed from within the car. Up and over doors are most commonly made of aluminium, which may be double-skin with insulating foam infill. Up and over garage doors may also be made of wood, or of glass reinforced polyester (GRP). GRP up and over doors are available in a wide variety of coloured and wood-effect finishes. They may also have a variety of indented patterns.


Publisher: Archinet UK is published by Extonet Ltd, which also publishes the Britain's Best Architects, Beesker, Reviews Index UK, and Wikigiving websites. It is financed only by Google advertising; no payment is received from websites included in our product guides.


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