Key Installation Considerations for Multi-panel Door Systems

Katy Devlin
August 22, 2013

From stadiums to storefronts, retail to restaurants, and hotels to homes, demand for large, multi-panel door systems is on the rise due to their ability to provide more daylight, better views and indoor/outdoor flexibility.

The recently opened Beatrix restaurant in Chicago features bi-fold doors from LaCantina Doors. Photo by LaCantina Doors.

“The demand for folding doors will continue to grow in both residential and commercial markets,” says Lee Maughan, general manager for LaCantina Doors. “Folding doors provide innovative design, expand interiors, completely transform space and enhance lifestyle. They offer greater value and flexibility than traditional sliding, French or patio doors.”

“Large openings attract people. They create a return on investment for restaurant owners [and] hotel owners. They allow businesses to maximize their space,” adds Matt Thomas, marketing manager for NanaWall Systems.

However, these large-span door systems present some challenges for installers. The following article provides a general introductory guide to the installation of multi-panel door systems. Most manufacturers offer detailed installation instructions for their specific systems.

Key Considerations

Know that larger openings mean tighter tolerances.

“When you have a long, massive opening, you need to be sure that the tolerances are correct,” Thomas says.

Study the project and installation requirements before you begin the install.

“Understand the net frame size and required rough opening size from the manufacturer,” Maughan says. “Read the installation instructions from the manufacturer, and know the specifications of the product you will be installing ahead of time.”

Get on site early.

“It’s all about preparation. Don’t just show up on the job site. When the rough-end stage is happening, we will be out there. That way, when decisions are being made, we can be involved,” Thomas says.

Plan ahead.

“Understand the product and threshold condition, so the opening is ready for installation,” Maughan advises.

Doublecheck the rough opening.

For a successful installation, “the rough-end opening needs to be done properly, or the door panels won’t function correctly,” Thomas says.

Ensure the frame is square and level in the opening.

“The better the frame is installed, the better the system will work,” Maughan says. Systems need to be “square, plumb and level. These are specialty systems, and more attention to detail is required, especially as the system gets wider and taller. Use laser levels and pay plenty of attention to detail when installing the frame.”

Check the header.

“Make sure the header is sufficient to carry the load of the door product. Any sagging will result in reduced adjustment and tolerances,” Maughan says. The header’s vertical structural deflection is crucial to ensuring it will meet the load demands of even very large spans, Thomas adds. For NanaWall Systems, an L/720 header beam deflection is required. “Deflection has to be properly prepared,” Thomas says.

Ensure adequate weatherproofing.

“As with any door or window product, weatherproofing is most important. Determine whether a block installation is required, or integration of the mounting fin can be incorporated into a weather
barrier system,” Maughan says.

Plan for drainage with ADA thresholds.

If Americans with Disabilities Act thresholds are required, ensure that sufficient weeping is provided. “Because of the flush transition with ADA sills, exposure to weather and [ensuring] required drainage can be more challenging,” Maughan says. “Think ahead so that tubes and other drainage systems, such as lineal French drains, can be installed in exposed areas.”

NanaWall Systems doors at the University of Hawaii Cancer Center. Photo by Lawrence Anderson Photography.


The rise in popularity for multi-panel door systems will likely mean a rise in questions from building owners and architects about the products available on the market. Below are answers to three common questions glaziers might encounter, provided by LaCantina Doors’ Maughan.

What material types are available?

Whether it’s a commercial or high-end residential project, the architectural style dictates the material choices. Bi-fold doors are typically available in aluminum, thermally controlled or thermally broken aluminum, aluminum wood, wood clad and all wood.

Can bi-fold doors be used for commercial applications?

Yes, bi-fold doors can be used for all types of commercial applications including restaurants, retail storefronts, resorts and hospitality, education and libraries, offices and interior dividers. The follow-up to that question is: Do your bi-fold door commercial options include an ADA threshold, panic hardware, self-closers, swing doors that meet egress requirements, etc.

What wood and color options are available, and is it possible to match the project or window package?

For commercial and high-end residential projects, bi-fold doors are usually just one component of a larger project. So, the ability to color match is important. Check with the manufacturer. LaCantina Doors, for example, offers a complete range of in-stock, optional and custom color options to virtually match any exterior color or wood species.

Katy Devlin is editor for Glass Magazine. E-mail Katy at