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Picking Apart Pocket Doors

March 6, 2024

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Today I wanted to go through some of the considerations you should have before installing pocket doors. We are firmly in the pocket door fan club (they make such a great element of surprise)! But I’ve heard from some of you that you’d like know if pocket doors will work in your space. Since we’ve put in several over the years, I thought I’d run through some questions you should ask yourself — or find out — before you take the dive in your home.

Chris Loves Julia | Picking Apart Pocket Doors

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What’s your wall clearance?

Do you have enough wall space that your door can slide all the way in and be out of the way? If it’s a 30″ door and you only have two feet of wall space, unfortunately, you’re going to have to find a different solution.

Is the wall load-bearing?

Chris Loves Julia | Picking Apart Pocket Doors (Before)

Another thing to consider is whether it’s a load-bearing wall or not. A pocket door frame is not rated to hold load. If you’re going to add a pocket door into the a load-bearing wall, you will have to frame a header into the entire door section that is sufficient to hold the weight above it. Since that is dealing with structural engineering, you would need to consult with a contractor or structural engineer so they can tell you what size header to install.

What’s inside of the wall?

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Next, you’ll want to know what’s inside of the wall you plan to use for the pocket door. Do you have a central vacuum system? What about plumbing lines from a floor up above? If you’re going to turn that area into a pocket door, you will have to be able to reroute it. With plumbing that’s not always an easy solution, so just know that the costs may go up.

Is there a light switch there?

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A common consideration for pocket doors is whether there are light switches by the current door or opening. But not to fear! There are narrow boxes for light switches that are only 1.5″ deep. So long as there’s not a lot of wiring going through the box, you can use those on the wall. Otherwise an electrician can often reroute the wires and put it onto a different wall.

That’s actually what we decided to do. Instead of having the light switch inside of the wall, we just moved it to the other side wall. Our electrical is all very accessible from the crawl space, so that was easy to do. In homes where that’s not the case, using one of those thinner boxes can be a good option.

How do you want the door to function?

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The function of the door is another good thing to consider. Does it need to be locked? If it’s just a passageway, you can save yourself a lot of headache by not worrying about locks. That way you can just have handles for opening and closing. Make sure you look at the clearance required for different pieces of hardware. If it sticks out too far from the door, it will catch as you’re closing the door. You don’t want that to happen.

Do you care about how loud the door will be?

Chris Loves Julia | Picking Apart Pocket Doors Close Kit

There are wonderful soft open and soft close kits you can get for various doors that help make it so that the door doesn’t slam. We loved ours. Soft open kits often have to be installed with the door frame. So you’ll want to have those in place before you add sheet rock and close up the wall around it.

A lot of times the soft close kits can be added after the fact. Whether or not you can do both will depend on the width of your door. Anything 24″ and under can only have soft open OR soft close. Doors that are 30″ and above can usually do both. But that will depend on the manufacturer of the pocket door kit that you get — the actual frame — and the brand of the hardware kit for the gliding track.

How much effort do you want to put into it?

Chris Loves Julia | Picking Apart Pocket Doors - In Process

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The main factor to consider is how much work you want to put into installing pocket doors.

There are pocket door kits that come all put together — they have the frame, all you have to do is frame out your two-by-fours wide enough for the entire kit. Then it gets put in place. And then you sheet rock around the pocket door kit and it makes it really easy. Those tend to be somewhat flimsy and more noisy. So if you tap or bang on the wall, it’s very shaky and kind of feels weak. They do just fine, we have used those most of the time. Most people aren’t banging on their walls frequently.

In other instances where we needed a thicker wall, we have built out a wall with two-by-fours. We’ve even taken two-by-fours and put them on the flat side to create an 1.5″ wall where we needed more structure. That is one way we got around the load-bearing issue. Instead of having to build an extra header, we built the wall out of two-by-fours. Then we turned them and left a gap for the pocket doors track system in between the two. That gives you a much more stable wall if you have the space for it. And it cuts down on noise.

Typically for most internal doors, you’re just dealing with a 4-4.5″ wall, and the full kit makes the most sense.

Chris Loves Julia | Picking Apart Pocket Doors

How do you want the doors to open?

Most brands are the same. However there is a luxury brand that we installed in our cabin. It’s called Sugatsune. They had a system called a unified double pocket door system. That’s where both of the pocket doors would close and open at the same time. So you’d pull one and the other would open as well. It was really great, BUT the downside is that all of the components are behind the sheet rock. So if there’s ever a problem with the door and it needs to be repaired, you’re opening up sheet rock to do it.

Actually one of our daughters climbed on one of those pocket doors and was hanging on it, and popped it off of the rail. This was probably a month after we had it installed. So we had to open up the sheet rock and have it put back in place, and then put the sheet rock back in place. But then the cabin burned down two weeks later and all was lost anyway. (I’m not over it.)

Anyway, back to pocket doors. I hope you “pocketed” a lot of good information to help you consider whether a pocket door makes sense for your space. They really have a lot of benefits, and we’ve loved all the ones we’ve installed over the years — from our former closet to the new study.

Chris Loves Julia | Picking Apart Pocket Doors

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What do you think?

  1. Charles Noble says:

    Good info. Gives you a lot to consider about what unit to install. Thank you!

  2. Alisa L says:

    Do you have a solution for the issue of buying a home with pocket doors that you’d like to paint a different color? Is there a way to do it without tearing up the wall?

    • Chris Loves Julia says:

      I’d just paint over them and use a thin brush to reach in to the pocket as far as possible. The nice part is that if you can’t see the other paint, no one else will see it either!

  3. Lots of good advice. Thanks!

  4. Eli says:

    Off topic, my living room has a similar layout to yours but with crown moulding plantation blinds and a large window above the fireplace. I love the Pigeon color you chose but am not sure if I should paint it all pigeon bc the shutters won’t match the windows and walls. Also, there are archways connecting to the kitchen/dining area but no casing. Should I paint it all one color?

  5. Dawn says:

    We installed locking pocket doors in our bathroom – one for the entrance and one for the WC. If I were building I’d want all the rooms to have pocket doors – they save so much space. I’m guessing there’s a fire safety code that prevents them for bedroom entrances since I’ve never seen that.

    • Dusan says:

      You can absolutely use pocket doors for bedrooms. However, consider your requirements for soundproofing the room — pocket doors are not as soundproof as swing doors, even if you use acoustic doors. You’ll find clever engineering solutions for acoustic pocket doors that create a good seal around the perimeter of the door panel. However, the actual pocket door assembly forms a cavity that you can’t fill with sound-dampening insulation like a regular wall (but you can mitigate the sound issue with acoustical soundproofing panels for example). This dilemma typically leads architects and homeowners toward swing doors for bedrooms – it’s a simpler solution.

  6. Peggy says:

    I’ve installed several pocket doors in our past few houses ( all by myself!). With some basic skills it’s not too difficult! I’m planning to install one in our present home and plan to use the soft open and close type.

  7. Brenda says:

    Thanks for all of the valuable information!

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