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.
(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
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
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Despite these, we have seen more than one instance where panels have been retracted into closets with table, carts, chairs, trash cans stored, and the results were never good for what was stored and seldom good for the divider.
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).
Tracks will either “recess” or “surface mount.” They must be attached to something.
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.
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.