Excerpt from my regular column in the Santa Barbara News-Press.
Question: The sliding glass door that goes out to the patio in our family room has become so hard to open that I am afraid that either I’m going to hurt my shoulder trying to push the door along it’s track or the glass in the door is going to break. The sliding door is solid oak and is very heavy, but isn’t really that old since all our doors and windows were replaced when I bought the home about 10 years ago. Can this door be repaired so it is not such a struggle to open and close?
Your Handyman: It is not uncommon at all for a sliding glass door to become difficult to operate usually due to accumulated dirt and crud on the door rollers and floor track, a failed or damaged roller, or damage to the track itself from something heavy being dragged over it like a large refrigerator. In the less common case where the opening for the sliding door was not framed into the wall correctly or there is active settling in the foundation, the problem may be that the door frame is no longer square and is pressing against the door. If after inspection you do find that the floor track is damaged or the top of the frame is sagging, then it is time to call a contractor who is experienced with window & door installations to see if the track can be replaced or if the wall opening can be reinforced.
If these two conditions are not present then the repair of your door should be fairly easy. Your first step is to make sure that the track is clear of sand, dirt, pet hair or anything else that can impede the rollers, and then lubricate the rollers with a silicone based spray lubricate that can be purchased at any hardware store, rather than using an oil based spray like the old style WD40. If the base of the door is dragging on the track then the rollers need to be adjusted downward to lift the door up a little. There will be a small round hole at each bottom end of the door to allow a screw driver to be inserted to make a height adjustment. If the rollers are in good working condition then they should operate fine after a thorough lubrication and height adjustment; if they still don’t work smoothly, then it is time to replace the roller assemblies.
Most sliding doors are designed to be removed from the track by lifting up on the door from the inside and then pulling the base of the door inward and off the track. Lifting the door off the track is best done by two fit young people as many doors will be quite heavy and yours in particular being made of solid oak, may be way too much weight for a single person to safely handle.
Once the door is off the track then it can be carefully laid down on its side preferably onto carpeting or a furniture pad. There are typically two roller assemblies, one at each end of the door base and usually it is fairly obvious how they are attached to the door frame and can easily be removed. There is very little standardization of parts for windows and doors, and usually the roller assemblies do not bear a manufacture name or part number. So the next step in this repair project is what I describe to customers as the “treasure hunt”, where with the old roller in hand you go from glass shop to glass shop looking for the correct replacement part. I know this sounds inefficient but it’s really not possibly to describe the rollers accurately over the phone, in most all cases we are able to find the correct part on the shelf of a local glass shop, and the part can always be special ordered if not in stock locally.
After installing the new roller assemblies, carefully lift the door back onto the track with the assistance of your helper and usually there is an opening in the side or end of the door where the height of the roller relative to the door frame can be adjusted with a screw driver until the door rolls smoothly and is at the correct height for the latch assembly to work easily.
Owner, YourHandyman & Construction
CA License #935259