Everything You Need to Know About Pivot Doors

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Almost 20 years ago I designed a pivot door that was 8 feet x 8 feet.  It was painted bright red and was installed on a small interesting house designed with all corrugated paneling on the exterior.  This all glass door with very thin frame was the only color.  At the time, people thought I was crazy, but the door was loved by everyone involved with the project.

The great thing about pivot doors is that the pivot can be located nearer the center of the door, left and right.  When a door gets over 42” wide with traditional hinges, it can become a sail that the wind catches and is hard to control.  The closer the pivot gets to the center, the better pressure equalization occurs when opening or closing and its resistance or tendency to be controlled by the wind diminishes to almost zero.  This is what allows very, very wide doors to exist . . . and the only way for them to exist safely.

All this love for pivot doors comes with some challenges, compromises, and downsides.  First, there is the issue of air and water tightness.  You will find that most knowledgeable architects use large pivot doors as entrances that are set well back from the building faces under an overhang to help with the water part of the problem.  The inherent problem with leakage is that part of the door swings out and part swings in.  This discontinuity means that the weatherstripping and weapage of the door need to be both in and out at the same time and that is a problem.  This problem comes to a head at the pivot area where in the best of circumstances the protection changes from inside to outside and a void is created roughly equal to the thickness of the door.  There are several ways of approaching this design problem, but none are foolproof.

The worst solution is usually replacing more reliable compression gaskets with wiper gaskets at the head.  The large size of the of the door and close tolerances of fit make it difficult to maintain a consistent gap between the sash and frame.  If the gap is too small there is a rub or resistance to movement.  If the gap is too large, the weatherstrip might not even touch.  At the sill, there is not much choice other than wiper type gaskets.  Compression gaskets at the sill would create a considerable step over hazard and still have the discontinuity problem at the pivot area.

Locking is another issue.  With all pivot doors, there is one side of the door that carries the locking device and handles like any other door.  This handle usually just engages a strike about 40” off the floor and sometimes engages top and bottom bolts or other multi-point locks along the active jamb.  What almost no pivot door does is lock or hold tight the other (non-active) jamb of the door.  The can be a secondary lock on this jamb, but it cannot be engaged if it is inside only operated because you would never be able to get in with a key at the active jamb only.  Given that huge doors and frames are difficult to keep flat during their entire lives, the inability to latch or hold tight the non-active jamb of the door can become a big problem.

Not all doors are created equal.  Pivot doors can be great so long as special consideration is paid to the design, location, and use of the door.  An alternative to pivot doors can be french or bi-folding doors that allow for a large opening, are easier to operate, and fully seal with compression gaskets without any discontinuity.  2Fold® makes both french and folding doors, but I’m also inspired to design a pivot door that eliminates their shortcomings.  Stay tuned, maybe next year . . . or the one after that . . . or the one after that.


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