Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Hinge Match: Side-Mount vs. Pivot

steam showerA couple of weeks ago at the Minneapolis Home & Garden Show, there were a handful of people that stopped by with questions about the difference between pivot and side-mounted frameless shower door hardware. I’m pretty sure the sudden influx of questions regarding this was due to another glass company at the show, new to the Twin Cities glass scene, which only installs pivot hinges. They were telling showgoers that pivot hinges were the superior application because side hinges will begin to sag over time. Now, this is a great marketing ploy if your franchise only carries pivot hinges - turn your shortcoming into a distinction! It is, however, complete nonsense…  Ask any reputable shower glass company or the hundreds of thousands of homeowners who love their heavy glass showers. Quality hardware, properly installed is durable enough to support the weight of that door for a long time to come no matter where it hinges.

That said, as a Minneapolis glass company that installs both pivot and swing style doors, we think it’s important that our customers are well-informed about both options so they can decide which application works best for their bathroom. Here’s the lowdown on the benefits and drawbacks of the two styles.

Frameless Shower Hinge
Heavy Glass Shower Hinge

Side-Mounted Hinges
Swing doors work pretty similar to other doors around your home, except they have a 180-degree range of motion. Some glass companies use two hinges on these doors, others three. We find the third (middle) hinge to be superfluous since it doesn’t gain you anything – it doesn’t support a wider or heavier door, for example.  Side-mount hinges are either anchored to a 2x stud behind the tile and drywall on the side of the enclosure or attach to an adjacent glass panel. The nicest thing about swing doors is that you can go to any height you’d like, most commonly in the 72-80” range up from the curb, but we’ve done some on larger walk-ins where they cut the door short, giving it a half-saloon style.

Frosted Frameless Shower Door
Of course, the shorter the door, the less expensive the door. Another great cost saving aspect of this type of door is the fact that it doesn’t require a header since it is supported at the side, not the top. Beyond price, this is a big plus for homeowners wanting to achieve that truly frameless look. So, what are the drawbacks of this style door? This one is pretty subjective, but some people just prefer the look of a pivot door. With a swing door, side-hinges interrupt that unencumbered sightline of solid glass that allows you to forget pivot hinges even exist. The other shortcoming of the swing door is the fact that although you can go pretty tall with these, at a certain point you’ll be forced to use a transom panel above the door if you want a steam shower in an enclosure with high ceilings. On the flipside, this is as much of a selling point as a drawback. Operable transoms are a great way to vent steam showers, plus they add visual intrigue to the overall shower design.

Pivot Hinges
Top HingeAs I mentioned in the previous section, the great boon of pivot hinges is the uninterrupted glass surface from top to bottom that can make you forget that the hardware even exists. Furthermore, they are especially nice when you want a door to trap moisture in a walk-in shower since walk-ins are often framed in by a lower header. This style door also offers a 180-degree range of motion. That’s about all I can say regarding the benefits of pivot hinges – now for the drawbacks. Hinging from the top and bottom as pivots do creates a host of issues. The single greatest mark against them is that securing the bottom hinges requires drilling into the threshold which is really something to be avoided at all costs. Ask anyone involved in nearly any aspect of the construction industry, moisture is the enemy and it is a relentless one. Drilling into the shower curb means that you’re piercing the PVC shower pan liner, the waterproofing membrane that is the last line of defense against water incursion. This doesn’t necessarily lead to a worst case scenario of rotting drywall and a crumbling ceiling downstairs, but you are creating a weakness in a barrier that’s designed to be impenetrable, and that’s clearly not something you want.

Frameless Shower MN
Corner ShowerThat’s the problem with the bottom hinge, here’s the issue with the top. Like the bottom hinge, it needs to anchor into something. There are several ways to do this and problems arise with each. To achieve the signature uninterrupted look that pivot doors are known for requires the door to extend to the ceiling - arresting in appearance, but hard on the wallet if you have high ceilings. The alternative is to use a header across the top, which lowers the door cost, but substantially increases the hardware cost. Some people feel that it diminishes the frameless appeal sought in a heavy glass shower. The final option also requires more costly hardware.

This application is an L-shaped hinge that anchors to the side wall, but extends over the door to hinge at the top. The last thing I’d like to mention is the fact that you’re unable to use an operable transom over pivot hinges which can be an issue if you have a steam shower and you lack a vent inside the enclosure.

Bottom line, I would recommend that if you’re in love with the look of pivot showers, that’s what you should go with. If you’re ambivalent or if cost is an issue, you’ll probably want side hinges.