Big and beautiful doors

Farmers need them, pilots need them, and lots of other consumers just want them: big doors – bigger than ever before. But big is only half the story. The days of the big ugly door is fading fast and in its place are doors that are both really big and really beautiful.

Size
In agriculture, size matters. Farm machinery has gotten larger so consequently the doors needed to allow safe and easy passage for these behemoths have also gotten larger. Mike Schweiss, owner of Schweiss Doors, has watched the industry change over several decades. His company makes custom-made bifolds and has more recently added hydraulic doors to his company line. “When I started making doors in 1980,” he said, “it was very common to have a 20 foot door. Then it was 24 foot. Then I saw them go up to 30 then 36. Now in the ag market, I would say everybody’s putting in nothing less than a 40×18 and larger.”

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Top and bottom photos: Schweiss Doors

Manufacturers are making it easier for customers to go big, according to Marshal Parker, owner of Hydroswing Hydraulic Doors. “The fact that people perhaps overlook is that they can have more size with proportionally very little extra cost,” he said.

Schweiss has discovered the same thing. “When somebody calls in to order, they’ll say, I need a 38 foot or a 42 foot door. But after I talk to them, about a third of my people will go up to a 60 foot or bigger because it doesn’t cost that much more.”

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Top and bottom photos: Hydroswing

The popularity of bigger doors has not been confined to the ag industry. The hangar industry has also been a big market for the big door companies, as well as the commercial and municipal building industries. Anyone with big stuff needing big storage needs big doors.

But another market is growing: residential and retail. And it is that market that is driving the importance of looks.

Design
“Doors are getting bigger, much bigger and fancier,” said Scott Douglas, national director of sales, PowerLift Hydraulic Doors. Glass in particular is popular in specialty markets like retail. “In fact, we just finished a water front restaurant where the walls are PowerLift walls, glass walls that lift up.”

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Top and bottom photos: PowerLift Hydraulic Doors

Doors that become walls is perhaps the best way to define many of the new and popular doors being installed. “Our hydraulic doors are basically a moving wall,” Parker, of Hydrowsing said. “So therefore you can treat it like it is a wall … you can use all the same treatment and sheeting as before, all the same insulation, or you can go completely mad and make it look whatever you want it to … People are coming to us these days and asking: ‘can we use glass, can we use stone, can we use steel?’” The answer is yes.

For residential and retail the goal is often to have the doors clad in a way that will blend in with the surroundings. “We’ve been doing a lot of brick cladding, a lot of stone cladding. We can side it with anything,” Douglas, at PowerLift, said.

Although most people might assume that a farmer could care less about the aesthetics of his barn doors, that’s not always the case. Rural Builder recently interviewed a farmer whose goal was not only to have a highly functional barn, but one that looked ‘sexy’ when he viewed it from his home nearby. To accomplish his goal, he only had to change the color of his doors. He ordered them in black so they would blend into the landscape, rather than glare out like traditional white metal doors.

For storage sheds, more and more ag customers are also ordering doors with more style. In addition to doors that can mimic the design of the building’s cladding, today’s big doors can be ordered with architectural styling. Want a barn door to look like an old fashioned wood barn door? Not a big deal.

What you need to know
What do you need to know, as a builder, about installing really big doors? Assuming you go with a recognized manufacturer, not much since they will provide the needed information. While it may not be true of all suppliers, Hydroswing, PowerLift and Schweiss all provide spec sheets to builders. If you give them the requested information about your building, they can tell you the forces and stresses on that building and how to compensate if needed.

Of course, options for installation can vary: you can go with a door company that does the installation or you can go with a company that provides “install your own” directions.

It is important to know that the market for big and beautiful doors only promises to grow. Hydroswing, PowerLift and Schweiss all report that growth has been picking up for big doors in both new and retrofit building markets. RB

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