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Planning a French Door Installation

One of this years biggest plans was to convert the old frosted window in the shower room (soon to be part of the kitchen) into a French door. The existing frosted window was so poorly fitted with a visible gap around the whole window, it's draughty, lets no light in and is all round just completely unsuitable for our new kitchen. I knew I wanted French doors over a like-for-like window, partly because it would let way more light in and partly because I wanted to be able to enter the garden straight from the kitchen without having to use the conservatory as a walkway.

Our funds however are limited, so we sadly aren't extending the opening further in width or height, although I really do wish we could have! Keeping everything the same but just removing the brickwork below was the cheapest and simplest way to do this job, although it was a small compromise. We began planning this project back in January, looking at different options and prices, trying to get the most out of our money - So I thought I would share some info/tips if you're planning something similar. (Here's a sneak peak at the finished product - I'll share a installation post very soon!)

Planning a French Door Installation

Choosing a Material

There's so many different options out there for French doors; Aluminium is great for thinner frames and wider windows, but is also one of the most expensive. Wood is ideal for period properties, but requires more maintenance, is the least secure and you have to make sure they're made from a quality wood that will stand the test of time, which can also be expensive. Then there's uPVC, it's thicker frame means much smaller windows, but it's cheap and very secure. We knew we wanted uPVC (although I dream of having wood!) for its cheapness, the fact it would match the rest of our uPVC windows and that it would also provide the best security and insulating properties, which this room desperately needed being just single-skin.

Off-the-Shelf or Made-to-Measure?

Off-the-Shelf doors are great for standard sized windows or doors, but they're not ideal for non-standard measurements. Of course you can build a frame within an existing opening to reduce the size down to a standard measurement - but it's not really ideal, particularly for large differences in measurements. That being said, off-the-shelf is mass produced and much cheaper to buy, so definitely worth considering if the measurements match up.
Made to measure doors obviously fit more snugly, are more secure and should have no problems with draughts whatsoever, if installed correctly. They are however pricier and you'll have to wait some few weeks for them to be produced. We've opted for made-to-measure.

Doing the Job Yourself

You can absolutely do this job yourself, however you will need to bare in mind that you will need to have your work signed off by local building control. In our area the cost of this was a touch under £300 although it varies through different county's. You may also need to hire professional tools to cut out the brickwork and you may need to install a new lintel if you don't already have one (as many old houses don't) so all these costs will add up and it may not be as cheap as you first expect. If you don't get the job signed off, you may have problems when selling your house and it may also affect your insurance too.

Using a Local Builder

You can choose to use a builder to do all the work, but if they're not FENSA registered or part of another appropriate association, their work will also need to be signed off by building control, which you will have to pay for separately. So do make sure you know whether or not they can sign off their own work first! FENSA is the most common association of approved window/door fitters, but there are others too - you can find out more info here. Having a builder (or yourself) install doors also means there will most likely be no guarantees on the actual installation of the door, which is also worth bearing in mind.

Using a Window/Door Company

This probably isn't going to be your cheapest option, but window companies do offer many other benefits that a builder or yourself doing the work cannot. For one, you may be able to get finance options, you'll also be covered by guarantees for the installation of the door as well as the manufacture of the door, so you can rest assured that should anything go wrong, you wont have to pay for someone to put things right (this does vary through companies, so make sure to check!). Window and door companies obviously specialise in this area, so you would also expect their installation, door quality and customer service all to be of a higher standard as well.

Getting Quotes

We decided to price up all three options above - using a builder, doing the job ourselves and also using a window/door company. Whilst doing the job ourselves was cheapest, the savings weren't actually as great as we would have hoped and unless you already have a builder working on your home on other jobs, you may find a quote from them for this job surprisingly higher than expected too. Whilst window companies are the most expensive, their finance options are very tempting and they do offer the best guarantees for peace of mind.

A few things to consider...

  • If you're converting a window into a door (as we are) bear in mind that window/door companies will charge you extra for the building work on-top of their regular pricing, any online quotes wont include this. This work is also sub-contracted out to builders and not usually carried out by the window fitters.
  • I also recommend making sure you know whether or not the quote includes a lintel, should you require one. I did read reviews of certain companies (*cough Safestyle *cough*) adding on extra costs for this after the final survey. Try to negotiate a lintel if you think you require one in the initial price.
  • Always negotiate and never take the first price. Certain companies (*cough* Safestyle *cough*) play a very strange price game, dishing out extortionate prices and then reducing them minutes later, several times over. Don't be pressurised into any decision, even if you're told it's a "one time only, here and now" offer... they'll call back later and probably offer you a better deal.

We're no strangers to DIY and we'll take on most jobs with little/no previous experience, however very surprisingly for us, we decided not to tackle this job ourselves. The savings for doing the job ourselves weren't as great as we would have liked (although a saving is a saving!) and the leading factor in this decision was the option that we would be able to take out a finance plan with a company. Whilst I'm not keen on financing things, it seemed necessary for us to actually have enough cash to buy the kitchen we so desperately needed. I really didn't want to compromise on not having a door, so this seemed to best way to achieve both. I don't feel great about having to pay someone to do this job and I did have a few weeks where I thought I'd seriously regretted the decision, but I have to admit, I think it will be nice to have the job done without stressing about actually doing it.

The company we picked to carry out this job was Homebase, whom I didn't even know did window and door installations! Their services were not greatly promoted online or in store and I really only came across them by total chance. Their finance options were good and their price was also the cheapest of the window/door companies, however there was no reviews to read, making this a total gamble. I did lose some confidence in them when I popped in store to pay and the staff seemed non-the-wiser about placing a window/door order. But I have a full installation review coming up soon, so watch this space.....

Have you ever installed your own window or doors? Would you have attempted this job yourself?

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