Volume 42, Issue 1 - January 2007


Tips on Designing and Measuring Frameless Shower Doors

By Danny Donahue

The same scenario is played out time and again. Installers arrive at their appointed jobsite, 60 miles from the shop, with the ½-inch tempered glass door for a frameless shower enclosure. After gathering their tools in the bathroom and laying down the appropriate drop cloths, these men are ready for the “big moment.” The glass is carefully and arduously carried upstairs, and when it is placed into the opening, horror is revealed: it doesn’t fit.

I’m sure this never happens to you. With a measured amount of caution and respect for the level of quality that is required to install frameless enclosures, one can become quite proficient in this growing and lucrative niche of the glass industry. The majority of problems encountered along the road of frameless enclosures are associated with either poor design or improper measuring. 

The Customer’s Vision
Once the enclosure has been designed and measured properly, the installation itself should be a snap. An installer has to consider the customer’s vision, as well as the important criteria of safety. When weighing these two critical, and sometimes differing, points of view consider this: no amount of money is worth risking the well being of a person. A dangerous (at worst) or unsafe installation is easily avoidable.

There are some important tips to keep in mind when designing a frameless enclosure.

Probably the most common design flaw is the idea of hinging a door off a fixed panel that doesn’t have top support. Some customers will tell you, “The folks at the glass shop down the street say they will do my enclosure without a header.” Don’t be threatened by this proclamation. Simply explain that for the door to safely hinge off a panel, that panel must be captured at both the top and bottom. An application without top support is deemed unsafe because the door will flex the fixed panel from which it is hinged, perhaps resulting in the panel exploding. If the customer counters with, “I’ll sign a waiver of liability,” keep in mind that it will not mitigate your liability. You are the expert in the field. The waiver is as good as the paper on which it’s written.

Measure Matters 
It is also important not to exceed the maximum width and weight restrictions on a hinge. The distance that the door is being swung is just as important as the total weight of the door. Some installers figure that, if the door is “just a couple of inches over” the manufacturer’s recommended width for two hinges, they can use two hinges instead of three. This is wrong-headed thinking and can result in a door sagging and falling out of adjustment. This, in turn, leads to your worst enemy: the callback.

Measuring an enclosure properly requires a high degree of accuracy. After the design of the enclosure has been decided, measuring the unit is a step you can totally control. Measurements taken inaccurately will always result in a failure of some kind. A helpful tip in regards to measuring a wall-mounted door application is to be sure the wall off which you are hinging is straight. The wall doesn’t have to be plumb, but it does have to be straight. Place a straightedge along the wall to assure the wall is flat. Hinging off a wall that isn’t straight will result in the hinge’s pivot points fighting one another and the door slipping.

Another very important aspect of measuring is making sure the measurements taken mathematically coincide with the surface’s out-of-level and out-of-plumb conditions. For example: If a door opening measures 27 ¼-inches at the bottom of the opening and 27 ½-inches at the top, there is a ¼-inch out-of-plumb condition that must be accounted for. By using a level on the vertical walls, you can determine exactly where the ¼-inch outage is located. In short, your measurements and your outages have to be mathematically sound. Look for a hinge manufacturer that provides a technical guide that outlines these critical details for the use of their components.

Take the Time, Do it Right 

These considerations are just a few of the tips that can make your glass shop stand out as a company that takes on these precise installations. It is of utmost importance to figure out these possible pitfalls prior to installation. Don’t let a design oversight or a measuring inaccuracy become an installation nightmare. Remember the example at the beginning of this article: not only do the two installers have to go back to this jobsite that is 60 miles away, there is also the productive time that these two installers lost that could have been spent elsewhere, let alone the relationship with their now unhappy customer. 
If you take the time to design and measure an enclosure that you feel comfortable installing, and one that your customer will enjoy for years to come, everyone’s a winner. 

Danny Donahue is the director of frameless shower hardware for Los Angeles-based C.R. Laurence Co. Inc.

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