The pocket door is sliding back into fashion—here's how to stay on track with your DIY installation
Designing small spaces is enough of a challenge without thinking about the three feet of space you need to swing open a door. A pocket door is a nifty design that connects rooms or storage areas. So, what is a pocket door? Instead of swinging outwards, the pocket door slides on a track and disappears into the adjoining wall, a bit like a sheet of paper sliding into an envelope.
“Installing a pocket door is a great DIY if you have some experience. If it seems too complex, consider a sliding barn door-style system, which has a lot of the same benefits, and mounts outside the existing wall,” says Andy Kilborn, Expert Review Board Member and Owner of Andy’s Handyman Service.
Pocket door installation can be tricky, especially if you're not adding it during the initial framing stage of building. These nine tips will guide you through the DIY process and help you determine if you need to call in the pros.
1. Choose the Right Wall
When and where should a pocket door be installed in the first place? On a basic level, the pocket design works best for interior door updates. This type of door is a design-savvy fix to close off an indoor space but isn't ideal for keeping out sound or extreme temperatures.
Choosing the right wall for your pocket door is half the battle. You will need enough space for the pocket door hardware, new studs, and the door itself to slide with ease and avoid common issues. We'll talk about the exact space requirements below.
Most importantly, be sure your wall is free off:
The second you encounter any of these issues, you’ll need a structural engineer, HVAC specialist, electrician, or plumber to okay the project and reroute any obstacles.
2. Measure Twice to Install Your Pocket Door Once
The standard door size is 32 inches, so you'll need at least double this and add at least two inches for the track and additional hardware—coming to a total of 66 inches. Your wall should also be at least two inches thicker than the door you choose. As we mentioned above, the wall space should not include any interruptions like wires, ducts, or pipes. And since you will need to remove the existing studs to install the pocket door track, they cannot be weight-bearing.
If you're swapping out a traditional door for a pocket door, keep in mind that you will already have the rough cut from the original opening available—typically 32 to 36 inches wide and 80 to 83 inches high. You will also save up to 10 square feet of space now that you don't have to swing the door on its hinge into the room.
You'll find exact specs in your pocket door installation kit, which is—you guessed it—-our next tip in the process.
3. Purchase a Pocket Door Kit
According to HomeAdvisor, DIY pocket door kits cost between $60 and $400 depending on what's included. You can either purchase a kit with or without the door itself. If you opt to transform your existing door, you can choose a simpler kit.
A high-quality pocket door kit provides the hardware and items to ensure your door slides smoothly and doesn't wear down quickly over time. Many kits include:
Pre-assembled door header
Pocket door frame
Metal split studs
Wheel door hanger and track
Door and hardware
The pocket door also includes manufacturer instructions and project specifications. It likely will not include handheld and power tools or protective equipment. With these additional considerations in mind, HomeAdvisor predicts you'll pay between $235 to 1,650 for a DIY installation. Compare this to professional pocket door installation costs, which can run up to $2,500.
4. Gather Your Tools
Speaking of tools, you'll need a range of saws to remove your drywall and nails attached to the existing studs. If you're customizing the size of your track that came in the kit—not often necessary—you will need a saw that can cut metal, such as a reciprocating saw with a metal-safe blade.
You will also need the following tools:
5. Prepare for Decon
The deconstruction section of the process takes up a surprisingly large percentage of DIY pocket door installation. Set aside several hours to prepare the rough opening where the pocket door track and studs will fit. Removing drywall can produce a large amount of dust, so prepare your space for proper ventilation as well.
If you're removing a traditional door first, detach it from its hinges and remove the entire frame around it. This will include removing all the trim, casing, and threshold. Some DIYers switch the lock and doorknob hardware to repurpose the same door for their pocket design.
If your home was built earlier than the 1980s, there is always a chance that you may encounter lead-based paint on your walls. Before getting started, so contact your local lead-testing experts first to ensure the project can be safely continued or if a particular remediation protocol is required.
6. Call in Help to Hang the Door
Once you move onto the track, studs, and door-hanging process, it is helpful to have an extra set of hands available to make sure the door is plumb (in other words, that it is perfectly level). You'll need to ensure that track is level when installing the split-stud system and use shims when attaching the frame to the wall.
The wheel bracket then slips into the frame to make sure it moves correctly. This can be hard to install on your own, especially if you have to adjust the wheel brackets on the track.
7. Remember the Details
While many kits come with doors and the attached hardware, you may choose to add a handle that extends outside the wall frame for easier access. Remember to add this small hardware piece, as well as a coat of paint or any additional details, before hanging the door.
Your kit will also come with a range of door guides to keep the door from shifting off its track during use. While small, don't skip these essential pieces of hardware. You may need to adjust them as you test the movement of your door.
8. Wait to Re-install the Drywall
Last but certainly not least, don't let the prospect of a finished project lure you into skipping the final steps. If you removed the door from its track for any final touches, make sure it is plumb before re-installing the drywall.
9. Don't Be Afraid to Call in Assistance
Installing a pocket door is not an entry-level DIY, so pat yourself on the back for taking on the challenge. However, this is one of those projects that can cause costly damage when done incorrectly. Poorly adjusting the length of the track, bumping into wiring or pipes, or trying to remove a weight-bearing stud, can cause more damage than a pocket door is worth.
Whenever you're in doubt, call in a door installer who has seen it all before and can make sure your new pocket door slides easily for years to come.