Installing Exterior French Doors: Adjust for Plumb, Level, and Square
French doors are notoriously difficult to install so that they operate correctly, so take the time to make any necessary adjustments.
The door opens, so that’s a good start. We’ve got the door secured to the framing, so it’s nice and solid now, but before I start flashing and tying in the outside, I really want to make sure these things operate properly. French doors are really hard to install so that they operate correctly. We’ll spend a little bit of time getting them adjusted, and then we’ll finish up the exterior flashing, just in case we have to move the door a little bit.
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Right off the bat, I can see we’ve got a little problem: The door is swinging out by itself. And the reason for that is we didn’t set the door dead plumb. Remember, we compromised at the very beginning of our framing job? This wall is out by 5/8 inch. We tried to cheat that, about halfway—but it wasn’t quite enough. What we need to do now is get the door closer to plumb. We’ll adjust it so that the door doesn’t swing by itself. But that will complicate the exterior trim; I might have to back-cut it a little bit. On the interior, we’re furring out the wall anyway, so it doesn’t pose a problem.
First things first: Let’s get this door to not swing open by itself. Then we’ll get into the hinge adjustment. I put the airbag back in at the top and inflate it a little bit, so when I pull the screws out, it’ll give me some friction; I can adjust the door and hold it in position. If you don’t have an airbag, use some shims and just kind of pin it.
We’ll pull out the top three screws to make this door plumb. Then we’ll do the same on the other side to make that door plumb. Now that the doors are staying where we put them and not swinging out on their own, we’ll check to make sure we didn’t make the doors cross-legged. With the doors closed, check the diagonal at the top first and then at the bottom. The doors are flush. That tells me they’re in the same plane. You’ll notice, though, that the joint is not even. That has nothing to do with being cross-legged; that’s an adjustment we have to make to the hinges.
I need to straighten the header out before I go any further. If the doors are out of alignment at the top, that will catch your eye. I’ll stick the airbag in at the top to hold the header straight. Drive a final screw in the top jamb, but don’t overtighten it. I don’t like to shim the top head because if there is any settling in the building, it’ll push the jamb down.
Take the shipping spacers out at the bottom because they will push the doors up and give you a false reading. Push the doors closed, but don’t latch them; if you latch them, they could pull back into position. If the reveals around the door frame are not even, we’ll have to do some adjustment.
One door is sitting higher than the other. The hinge at the bottom of the higher door is way too close to the jamb. I’m going to adjust that hinge so I get a wider reveal on the right side of it, make sure the door latches, and get an even reveal at the top. Then I’ll match the height of the door and the set. The way to adjust the bottom hinge is with an Allen key. If I turn it clockwise, the hinge will move out; counterclockwise, the hinge will move in. I want it to move out, so I’ll give it a couple of turns and then see what it looks like.
I check the reveal at the bottom with a shim. I use it as a gauge to then check the reveal at the top. Here at the top, I need to move this hinge in. I’ll turn the Allen key counterclockwise and bring it in just a little bit.
This manufacturer ships its jamb hinges without screws in two of the holes, so we can put color-matched screws in there. They’ll connect to the jamb and keep the door from sagging later on. Don’t overtighten the screws.
Done, and now the door looks nice and straight, with even reveals. The only thing is that it’s tight at the top, so we need to lower this door without causing a problem at the bottom. At the bottom of the hinge is an adjustment. I can raise or lower the hinge with the Allen key. As I turn it clockwise, I’m lowering the door. Now there’s a nice reveal at the top, and the door still swings freely.
Wow, now the left door is a lot lower, so it has to come up. It’s also tight at the bottom hinge. So we’ll adjust the hinge to fix the side reveal.
Now that the side-to-side reveals are pretty good, I’m looking for a nice and even straight line in the middle. Looks good. Sometimes you can’t achieve perfection, but I’ve come pretty close.
I want to bring the elevation of the door up so they match—not just for the appearance at the top of the doors, but also for the hardware. The hardware is predrilled here. I want the hardware to line up. I need to raise the door, and we’ll do that with the hinge. Counterclockwise is up. I’m going to look at that reveal at the top as I adjust. Looks good. Check the operation of the door and then set the hinge screws.
The doors look good and operate freely, and it only took me 15 minutes. It could take you two hours—depending on how much time you took at the front end. We took our time getting everything plumb, level and square. Now we need to flash it and then install the hardware, get it watertight, and air-seal it.