So you’re sitting on the couch, admiring the beautiful view of your backyard through those sliding glass doors that you’ve had for years. Then it happens – one of your kids’ rogue soccer balls comes flying through the air and shatters the glass! Or maybe the doors are just sticking and becoming harder and harder to open. Regardless of the reason, it seems your sliding glass doors have seen better days.
As handy as you may be, the thought of totally replacing those doors seems daunting. But here’s some good news: you likely don’t need to replace the entire door and frame. If the frame itself is still in decent shape, you can swap out just the sliding glass doors for new ones to refresh things up! In this article, we’ll walk through everything you need to know about replacing your sliding glass doors without replacing the frame.
When To Consider Replacing Those Old Sliding Glass Doors
Like any fixture in your home, sliding glass doors don’t last forever. Signs that your doors may need replacing include:
- Visible damage: Cracks, scratches, fogginess, and chips in the glass all indicate wear and tear. A broken seal can allow moisture between panes and ruin visibility.
- Functionality issues: Do your doors no longer glide smoothly when you open them? Does the locking mechanism stick? Are the doors warped or misaligned? If operation feels off, it’s probably time for new doors.
- Draftiness: Gaps around the edges of the doors or failing weatherstripping let in outside air. This causes temperature fluctuations and higher energy bills.
- Security concerns: Old sliding doors often lack modern locking mechanisms. Replacing them can make your home safer.
- Curb appeal: New sliding glass doors can update the look of your home’s exterior and give your home a boost when it comes time to sell.
When You Should Also Replace the Door Frame
Replacing just the glass doors while reusing the existing frame is definitely an option – if the frame is in good shape. Here are some signs that you need to replace the entire sliding door unit, frame and all:
- Rust: Check metallic frame parts like the track and rollers. Rust indicates corrosion and weak structural integrity.
- Major dents: Small dents are normal but large ones in the track can impact function and structural stability.
- Rotting or decay: Wood frames can warp, split or show other signs of rot over time. These need replacing.
- Missing weatherstripping: Lack of weatherstripping around the frame leads to energy loss and moisture issues.
- General instability: If the frame feels loose, wobbly, or unlevel, replacement is likely your best bet.
Inspecting Your Existing Frame
Before installing new sliding doors in your existing frame, it’s important to thoroughly examine the frame for any issues that could impact proper door function. Here are some things to check:
- Smooth track operation: Slide the rollers across the entire track to feel for any sticky or uneven spots.
- Roller condition: Examine the wheel housings and rollers for signs of wear, rust, or damage.
- Header alignment: Use a level to confirm the header at the top of the frame is straight.
- Frame structure: Look for any cracks, rot, or splits in the frame itself. Tap areas to check for hollow or damaged spots.
- Weatherstripping: Run your hand along all edges to ensure weatherstripping is intact. Make sure there are no gaps where outside air could penetrate.
- Levelness: Use a level on all sides and the base of the frame to assess overall plumbness and stability.
If everything checks out, you can move forward with swapping in new door panels!
Installing New Doors in an Existing Frame
Installing replacement sliding doors while keeping the current frame is definitely doable. Here are some tips to make the process go smoothly:
- Carefully remove the old door panels from the frame. This may require prying off trim strips or weatherstripping to fully release them.
- Thoroughly clean the frame’s door track once the old doors are removed. Vacuum out debris and use a degreaser to remove built-up dirt.
- Take extremely precise measurements of the height and width of the door opening. New doors must fit like a glove into the existing opening.
- If your frame has non-standard dimensions, you may need custom-made doors fabricated specifically for your opening size.
- Apply fresh weatherstripping around the edges prior to installing the new doors to prevent air leaks. Choose high quality materials that compress snugly.
- Make sure the new doors include the proper hardware like locksets, handles, and rollers to operate smoothly. Upgrade these parts as needed.
- Carefully slide the new panels into place one by one, using shims and adjusting the rollers until each operates cleanly.
- Seal any gaps between the panels and frame with acrylic caulk to prevent air infiltration and moisture issues.
- Test operation of the doors fully and make final tweaks to alignment for optimal performance.
Hire a Pro or DIY?
You may be wondering whether it’s best to tackle replacing sliding glass doors yourself or hire a professional. There are pros and cons to each approach:
Hiring a contractor
- Less physical labor for you
- Contractors have experience with the intricacies of door installation
- Right tools and materials for the job
- Often a warranty on workmanship
- Added cost for installation services
- Coordinating contractor’s schedule
Doing it yourself
- Significant cost savings on labor
- Choose materials you want
- Satisfaction of completing the project yourself
- Door installation expertise required
- Risk of injury from glass doors
- Sourcing materials takes time and effort
- No warranty or accountability for mistakes
Whether to take the DIY route depends on your skill level, budget, and time availability. The contractor option alleviates hassle but costs more. DIY is cheaper but riskier if you lack the necessary know-how.
DIY Sliding Door Replacement – Where to Start
If you do decide to tackle replacing your sliding glass doors as a DIY project, make sure you understand the process fully before diving in. Here are some tips:
- Review door installation videos online to familiarize yourself with the procedure. Knowing what to expect will make the job less intimidating.
- Follow all safety precautions when handling large panes of glass. Wear thick gloves and get help moving heavy door panels.
- Assemble the necessary tools – pry bars, screwdrivers, caulk gun, shims, level, drills, and more. Having the right tools is critical.
- Meticulously measure the existing door opening as well as the replacement doors. Even small measurement errors can prevent proper installation.
- Work slowly and carefully when removing old doors and installing new panels. Rushing increases the likelihood of damaging the glass or frame.
- Adjust shims and rollers methodically to make sure the doors operate smoothly and seal tightly in the closed position. Test frequently.
- If issues like sticking or misalignment persist, recheck measurements and frame integrity before taking more drastic corrective measures. Patience pays off.
- Research weatherstripping materials to understand options and make the best selection for durability and energy efficiency. Proper weatherstripping is key.
- Don’t be afraid to call in a handyman friend for an extra set of hands if needed – installing glass doors is definitely a two person job.
Do You Really Need to Replace the Whole Shebang?
The decision of whether you can get away with replacing only your sliding glass doors rather than the full frame and doors comes down to the integrity of your existing frame.
If inspection reveals no major issues with the structural soundness or operation of the frame itself, a new set of glass door panels may be all you need to restore the functionality and aesthetic appeal of this classic home feature. Sliding glass doors last roughly 20-25 years, but their frames can often last significantly longer with proper maintenance and upkeep.
On the other hand, if your frame is clearly past its prime with rot, rust, or stability concerns, replacement of the entire sliding door unit is likely the wiser investment. Getting a few more years out of an iffy frame probably isn’t worth the hassle or risk down the road.
Either way, once your shiny new sliding glass doors are installed, you’ll be glad to have a clear portal to comfortably enjoy views of your outdoor space for years to come! Properly maintained, new doors in a reuseable frame should serve you well for decades.