If you're replacing a patio door this summer, think "wood combination" not vinyl. A wood and vinyl combination frame is strong, durable and therefore extremely energy efficient. Their good looks hold up too, season after season, year after year.
Many people still get tempted by vinyl frame sliding doors because they think it's still a reasonable option. That's simply not true these days. Ask any expert. They recommend that homeowners avoid buying and installing vinyl sliding doors because vinyl doesn't have the structural integrity of the wood-vinyl combination doors. A vinyl door is simply a temporary solution, that will need to be replaced, again… and again.
Vinyl expands and contracts four to five times more than other materials, including wood and metal. That makes a vinyl sliding door less energy efficient for one thing and it creates a cascading effect of other issues that end up affecting the performance of the entire door. Let me explain.
A vinyl sliding door will send your energy bills skyrocketing. Why? Regardless of the season, there's going to be substantial energy loss through a vinyl door.
Have you ever experienced a sticky, difficult to open and close wooden door in the summer? That's because of expansion. Materials expand when heated. Now we know that vinyl expands four to five times more than wood. So a vinyl sliding door becomes much harder to operate when it's hot, and when it heats up. Such expansion and contraction can cause bowing and warping as well. You can very quickly get a 1/16th-inch crack around your door just from a vinyl frame expanding and bowing.
If you think that fraction is negligible, think again. The Department of Energy informs us that a 1/16th-inch crack around an average-sized window opening is equivalent to a hole the size of one brick missing from a home!
Now in winter, when it gets cold, a vinyl door will contract. When the door contracts, it's going to be pulling away from glass unit and the silicone that seals the glass to the frame starts to shift ever so slightly day after day, season after season. Eventually allowing air to enter and escape from around the glass.
Thermal Expansion is the term used to describe how a material expands in hot temperatures and shrinks in cold temperatures. Vinyl has a very high "coefficient of thermal expansion," and that's not a desirable quality in your patio door.
Bowing and Warping
The bowing and warping caused by vinyl's thermal expansion may be the first visible sign that something's wrong with your door, but the bowing and the warping are causing other damage too. Expansion is going to put pressure on the track and the gliding wheels at the bottom of the door. And when those long rails start to buckle and bow, the door panel's operation will be affected as well.
Even if it doesn't pop the door off the tracks, it bows it enough so that it won't latch properly anymore. Once your door's latching ability is impacted, that affects your security. If someone's going to break into a house, they're not going to break in through a window. They're probably going to jimmy the patio door. Old patio doors have the kind of weaknesses that are an enticing incentive for burglars on the prowl.
In summary, handle operation, locking mechanism, the rails, the glass panels-everything eventually starts to break down and fall apart on a vinyl framed patio door. The result is a rather annoying door that won't close properly, won't glide properly, and ends up costing you more money than you bargained for because it's driving up your energy bill.
Bottom line? If you're in the market for a sliding door, you need to consider (1) the structural capability of the product (2) the energy efficiency of the product, and (3) the ease of operation. You want a solid door that is going to stand the test of time and give you peace of mind.
Vinyl simply fails these tests on all counts.