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The Ins and Outs of Folding Walls and Doors
By: Gary A. Barranger

One important thing to know about folding walls and doors is that certain products are appropriate for certain applications.

1. Classrooms
For most classrooms, the traditional divider of choice is the accordion door. These are easy to move, not too heavy for support, and more fitted to church budgets.  And, if you hear some sound (and you likely will), the sound you hear is most often a hymn being sung in a nearby classroom. In a church setting, you don’t find too many people who would object.

(Caveat – if you want markerboards or tackboards in the classroom and the divider goes between exterior and interior glass walls, you may need to use the flat paneled operable wall to have the benefit of built-in markerboards or tackable surfaces.)

Accordion doors are, in my opinion, the only “goof-proof” dividers. Manufacturers typically have longer warranties for these, as things seldom go wrong.

2. Fellowship Hall
For most fellowship halls, we still recommend accordions…but two conditions often weigh in favor of the more expensive operable walls. 

It is very difficult, but not impossible, to have doorways with accordions, and, as you push the accordion back to be stored, it will project a good deal back into the room unless you have had the foresight to build long narrow storage closets (most are at about 2” per lineal foot).  But be aware that 3.0 – 4.5 lbs. psf accordions are much lighter than operable walls, which weigh from 4.5 lbs. to more than 12 lbs. (We don’t recommend these high STC, heavy weight products.)

3. Gymnasium/Multipurpose Rooms
For use in gymnasiums or to divide the sanctuary from the fellowship hall, operable wall panels, which can tower to heights of more than 30 feet (you’re not going to need something that tall), often work better than accordions that have height restrictions of less than 20’-0” and become increasingly difficult to move with increased height and length. 

While individual or paired panels can be used to divide a gym, some have found it beneficial to electrify the opening.  If that is your decision, and you have the budget for it, here’s a word of caution.  Electric partitions can be dangerous, and, on occasion, people (often children) have been injured or worse by them.  The industry took steps years ago to try and prevent accidents by requiring two control stations – opposite ends and opposite side so that no one is hidden in a closet or standing in the path. 

They also offer lead edge sensors, pressure sensitive floor mats, and motion sensors to stop the panels from hitting someone. All add on expensive expenses. 

Despite these, we have seen more than one instance where panels have been retracted into closets with table, carts, chairs, trash cans stored, and the results were never good for what was stored and seldom good for the divider.

4. Finishes
The industry is based around providing products in textured vinyls of one sort or another.  Modern vinyls are inexpensive, easy to clean (most of the time), and generally Class A fire-rated (which means they will not help a fire along should the unthinkable ever happen). But, depending on finish selection, the sky is the limit.

Because of the way in which they move and their relatively narrow faces, not all finishes can be successfully applied to accordions – vinyl, cloth fabrics, vertical ribbed carpets, acoustical fabric, and for some wood veneers are available. 

Since operable walls are drywall partitions with wheels above, you can do almost anything – from what is on the face of the accordions to mirrored glass, to wallpaper, to markerboards (from standard heights of 48” to full-height), to laminates or all types. I once had a project where the laminating (which was a hand-etched stainless steel) cost more than the panels themselves).

5. Tracks
All partitions require an overhead track through which its carriers run. Partitions with floor tracks (available from many in decades past) are now dinosaurs. There are too many problems with floor settling, foreign objects getting into the track, and cost.

Tracks will either “recess” or “surface mount.” They must be attached to something.
Both accordions and lighter weight operable walls can have their track attached via screws to  wood headers – typically a double 2 x8 or 2 x 10 laid flat that is, in turn, attached by all-threads, or other means, to the building structure.  Both types of partitions can also have rods go directly from the track to support steel (beams, angles, channels, etc.) above.

Two manufacturers are now offering complete self-supporting systems that incorporate track. In one instance, the construction is a truss that is capable of coming with a 24” high acoustical baffle – which is better than 50% of the openings we encounter.  Its columns are sized so they do not offensively project into the room or, most importantly, they can be hidden inside your stud wall.  Where your building is such that support can not be provided, this is a cost-effective, quick and clean way to get the structure in place that you need.

6. Reparability
Find out how easy or difficult it might be to repair a product in the event of an accident or change in taste.  Some manufacturers have accordion sections that can be replaced in the field, while others require that the door be taken down, crated, shipped back and forth from the factory. In a word - expensive.

Some manufacturers’ operable walls panels have field replaceable faces, which is a plus if a hole gets knocked into one and a troublesome flaw if not.  Ask this question and listen carefully for an answer.

Gary A. Barranger is president and co-founder of Barranger & Company, Inc., a Building Specialties supplier located in Richmond, Virginia, where he works with his brother and sister in their family’s business, www.barranger.com.









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