Q. I'm considering installing pocket doors—what are the pros and cons? How much should I plan on spending? Do they work in any type of wall?
A. Pocket doors are a relatively inexpensive way to enlarge a room, especially in bathrooms and bedrooms, since you reclaim space previously allotted to a swinging door.
Assuming there are no complications (see below), you can expect to spend in the neighborhood of $2,500 to $3,500 including parts, labor and a consultation on the plans. If adding the door is part of a larger renovation or you're using a pre-fab pocket door, you could spend as little as $1,600.
Check what's in your walls
The critical first step is understanding what's in the wall where you'll be fitting the pocket that will hold the door. The wall cannot have any existing obstructions, such as wires or gas lines.
You may be able to see what’s behind it if you can get the apartment’s original architectural drawings or plans, either from the previous owner, the co-op or condo board, or in your closing documents. Also, be sure to check with your building super--he’ll likely know where the electrical and gas lines are.
If you can’t get your hands on the drawings, then you have no option besides opening the wall, which may cost an additional $1,000 unless it’s part of a larger project, in which case it’ll cost less.
Depending on what you find in the wall, obstacles may be moved to accommodate a pocket door. But if you need to move, say, a gas line, you could be looking another $5,000 to $6,000 minimum for permits, the plumber, closing the wall, and so on.
"You may need to consult with an architect or engineer to determine if the wall is load bearing," says Aaron Koffman of the Hudson Companies, a New York City developer. (This step shouldn’t break the bank. An architect or engineer may do it for free as part of a larger project or charge around $300 to review the existing architectural plans.)
The next step is to choose your door. While many contractors will customize your installation, you can now buy pre-fab pocket doors at the bigger hardware stores starting at around $250. Or you can use a repurposed or vintage door--though if you do, remember that the door should not come with holes drilled in it for a doorknob or hinges, since they won’t be needed.
As far as locks, you have a wide range of options, and the hardware can run between $40 to over $1,000. Once again, if you go with a pre-fab pocket door, your lock may be lower quality, but it’ll be more affordable. All told, $1,100 to $1,400 in labor, plus the door at $250 and an affordable lock at $40 could get you to an all-in cost around $1,600.
Want to save even more--while still saving room?
"You could install a pocket door in front of an existing wall and have it slide behind a bookcase or other taller furniture," Koffman suggests. With this route, you’d only have to pay for the door, mounting hardware, a track, and a lock--no wall work--which would contain the cost at $600 to $1,000.
Note that you can't nail or screw anything into the wall that holds your pocket door, so pick another spot for your flatscreen or favorite painting.
Also, keep in mind pocket doors typically run on a track at the top of the door and jamb, which can warp over time, especially in humid spots like the bathroom, so you may want to think twice about installing one there. A stronger, more solid, higher quality door will hold up better against warping.
Fraser Patterson is a former general contractor and the founder of Bolster, a NYC-based company that connects homeowners with contractors--and provides a guarantee from an insurer that renovations will be completed on time and on budget. For more information, visit http://www.getbolster.com. To ask a renovation question, click here.