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Sliding glass doors vs. bi-folding doors: How to decide between them

Wondering which one is right for your patio? We’ll walk you through five questions meant to help you figure it out.
A dog lays on the deck outside an open bi-folding door built into the back of a ranch home.

Both sliding glass doors and bi-folding doors can act as shortcuts to an indoor/outdoor lifestyle and all that implies — natural light, fresh air, and dreamy hangout spaces. But which one is right for your patio or deck? To help you answer this question, we’re giving you a decision-making checklist.

Sliding vs. bi-folding doors: Your decision-making checklist

Bi-folding doors (aka Folding Outswing door) are larger than sliding glass doors (aka gliding patio door), and they provide an unobstructed opening. These are the main differences between these two types of doors. To understand how these differences might affect your decision, let’s dig into your needs and preferences by working through the questions below. Along the way, we’ll also explain what these doors have in common.

1. How big of an opening are you looking for? 

Although both bi-folding doors and sliding glass doors are designed for flexible sizing, a bi-folding door, like our Folding Outswing door can stretch up to 48-feet wide by 10-feet tall and works well in large spaces.

But don’t discount the sliding glass door either. Our E-Series four-panel gliding patio door can be up to 16-feet wide by 8-feet tall. Depending on the door chosen, there are all sorts of ways to customize its size — add a third panel, fourth panel, or a sidelight (a floor-to-ceiling window next to the door). *

In short, either door might meet your needs, which is why you’ll want to keep working through this checklist.

Tip: Even if you go for an expansive size, a sliding glass door will still save space, because it opens flush with the wall. This will leave you more room for furnishings, décor, and more.

A woman lounges next to an open sliding glass door with a lake view.
This four-panel gliding patio door lets the homeowners enjoy a full wall of lake views, while its sleek sliding opening leaves lots of space for large, comfy furnishings both inside and out — check out those porch swing beds!

2. Do you want an unobstructed opening?

Bi-folding doors provide an unobstructed opening, which is one of the most direct routes to creating an indoor/outdoor lifestyle — the ability to move seamlessly between spaces, enjoy sunlight, fresh breezes, and clear views. (Don’t let concerns about bugs sway you, insect screens are available!) A bi-folding door can also be a functional choice if you want to unite your indoor and outdoor living areas to create one space that maximizes your square footage — no addition necessary!

Tip: Remember that you need to have enough room to stack doors to one side of your opening if you choose a bi-folding door.

A man pushes open a bi-folding door connecting a family room to a deck outside.
An unobstructed opening was the perfect solution for maximizing the living space in this modestly sized home. When the bi-folding door (Folding Outswing door) is open, the family room doubles, and the raised deck makes for easy access to the pool outside. The perfectly placed couch even provides an out-of-the-way spot for the doors to stack.

3. What is your project?

Of course, anything is possible in a new build. In addition, either option will work if you’re remodeling, or even just replacing. A remodel is the ideal time to make a big change like this, because your walls may be opened up anyway. Even if you’re just replacing, your contractor could enlarge the opening in your wall to accommodate either type of door.

Tip: A bi-folding door is ideal in a remodel because it doesn’t require the extra-thick walls that some Big doors do, and it runs along a single track.

A before photo shows a dark living room with a standard door and sliding window and an after photo shows a bright and airy room with open bi-folding doors and window replacing the door.
It’s almost hard to believe this is the same space, but that’s the magic of a bi-folding door! It turned this formerly dark room into a bright and airy one that’s completely open to the outdoors. So yes, you can take a window and a whole lot of blank wall and replace it all with a beautiful view!

4. What style is your home?

Either door will work with any style of home, as both sliding and bi-folding doors can be ordered with either contemporary- or traditional-style panels.

Here’s the difference:

  • Traditional panels have wider frames and a high bottom rail (the part of the frame that’s below the glass).
  • Contemporary panels have thin frames of the same width all the way around the glass.

Tip: Sliding glass doors are often considered more contemporary or modern in style, but you can make hardware and other selections that'll give your door a more traditional feel or modern classic look. For pointers, check out Patio doors: French vs. sliding doors.

Two under-construction homes featuring sliding glass doors.
Both of these under-construction homes have sliding glass doors with transoms above, but the panel styles are different. The home on the left has a four-panel sliding glass door with traditional panels (wider frames and a high bottom rail), while the home on the right has a three-panel sliding glass door with contemporary panels (thin frames of an even width all the way around).

5. What else do you need from your door?

No matter your needs for security, energy efficiency and other factors, you’ll find both sliding glass doors and bi-folding doors come with the flexibility to meet your priorities. Here’s what we mean:

  • They can open from either direction. Both sliding glass doors and bi-folding doors can be configured to open from either the left or the right. Our Folding Outswing Door (bi-folding door) can also open from the center.
    Tip: Just remember, you need to decide how your door will open before ordering.

  • They offer enhanced security. Both types of doors come with locking systems that keep them tightly closed for enhanced security and a weathertight seal. In addition, bi-folding doors have built-in bolts that lock from the top and the bottom.
    Tip: If you want extra peace of mind, upgrades like footlocks are available on various gliding patio doors. Impact-resistant glass can help protect against forced entry and is available on A-Series gliding patio doors and Folding Outswing doors.

  • They’re energy efficient. Both doors come standard with dual-pane glass and the option to upgrade to various climate-specific glass types that improve performance.
    Tip: If energy efficiency is your top priority, consider upgrading to triple-pane glass plus a Low-E4® glass that’s appropriate to your climate. These options are available on both our Folding Outswing door and our best-performing A-Series gliding patio door.

  • They’re made of durable materials that will last. Like all our products, both gliding patio doors and Folding Outswing doors are made of high-quality materials that make them weather resistant and virtually maintenance free over the long term.
A couple and their baby relax on a patio in front of a sliding glass door.
This four-panel gliding door from our 400 Series product line is called a biparting door, which means it opens from the center.

Hopefully, you’ve got a better idea about what type of door suits your home. Ready to continue exploring ways to create your ideal indoor/outdoor lifestyle?

5 takes on indoor/outdoor living Michelle Adams’ indoor/outdoor home