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What are External French Doors?

What exactly are French doors? Are they French? How did these doors get their name? And what exactly are French doors called in France? We have so many questions!

We know of course what French doors are and what they offer – a beautiful addition to any home that lets light into a room and seamlessly bridges the gap between the inside and the outside. And we know the variety of doors you can get and their low cost compared to other options to utilise an opening in a property larger than a traditional single door.

We’ll also look at what external French doors are and the differences between external and internal French doors.

What are External French Doors?

An external French door is a pair of doors fitted with glass panes that extend for most of the door’s length. French doors open outwards and are manufactured from materials such as wood, uPVC and aluminum. The doors are located on the ground floor exterior wall of a property, typically forming a gateway between the inside room and garden.

External French doors usually feature toughened safety glass to prevent accidents (people running into them), to protect against the weather, and to offer increased security. Modern doors are fitted with multipoint locking systems, again to increase security.

What are French Windows?

A French window is a pair of windows without a central mullion that swing outwards to create a large opening with no frame elements blocking the view.

What is the Difference Between a French Door and a French Window?

French doors and French windows are identical in basic structure and functionality. The main difference between a French door and French window is usage – a French window can usually be found on upper floors of properties to make use of the views on offer. And French windows are narrower and smaller than French doors, fitting in spaces that might not accommodate a French door.

Why are French Doors called French Doors?

French doors originated in 16th century France as the French absorbed architectural elements of the Italian renaissance. French doors allowed the maximum amount of natural light into properties. Originally French doors were used just as windows before they were adapted to function as gateways to balconies.

Traditional French doors were made of wrought iron and wood before the introduction of glass and other materials. French doors were used both as internal and external doors in aristocratic homes and palaces. The popularity of French doors spread across Europe, making them one of the most ubiquitous choices in homes today.

What are French Doors Called in France?

French doors are called portes-fenêtres in France. Portes-fenêtres translates to ‘windowed doors’ or ‘door-sized windows in English, which sounds far less elegant and romantic to us than French doors!

What is the Difference Between External and Internal French Doors?

External and internal French doors share the same basic construction of two panels that open outwards to let light in. An external French door offers an unobstructed view of the outside and allows free movement between the home and the garden. An internal French Door also lets light move between spaces and makes rooms look larger and more open.


Both internal and external French door frames are traditionally made from wood, external doors are also constructed from materials such aluminium & uPVC. Wood is still a very popular choice for external French doors, but will be thicker to increase insulation and security.


An external French door is fitted with toughened glass or double glazed to protect against both the weather and intruders. Internal doors won’t need the functionality of toughened glass meaning more of a traditional glass will be used, one reason internal French doors will be cheaper.

Dressing French Doors

External French doors will often be dressed with blinds and curtains. A roller blind for example will offer an extra layer of installation, stop prying eyes from looking in and protect you from strong sunlight.

Internal French doors can be dressed to give rooms privacy, but dressings are likely to be lighter and more decorative. Make sure you check out our handy guide to dressing French doors. The guide contains advice on the different kinds of dressing available including Ventian blinds, roller blinds and blackout blinds – an essential if you have French doors in a bedroom that gets bright sunlight early in the morning.

External French doors are often supplemented with sidelights – windows that sit either side of the French doors that don’t open. Sidelights are a great feature for French doors, increasing the amount of light let into your home and offering a low cost way to extend your French windows.


External French doors will always have a door threshold – this is because external doors sit in a four sided frame with top, left, right and bottom sides for reasons of structural integrity, security and energy efficiency. This means you have to step over the threshold to enter and exit a property. Lower thresholds can be attained which will help wheelchair users for example to access a property but this can affect the thermal protection qualities of an external French door.

Internal French doors do not require a threshold as the doors do not require the same level of security and insulation, and will be made of lighter materials. This means that internal French doors do not present the potential trip hazard that external French doors do.

What is the Difference Between External French, Bi-fold and Sliding Doors?

External French, Bi-fold and Sliding Doors are the most popular options when it comes to choosing doors for a wider opening than a traditional single door where you are looking to let more light in and improve the transition between the interior and exterior of a property.

Whereas French doors have two door panels, bi-folds have up to six and operate using a track system that the doors fold concertina-style when opening. Bi-folds also open internally rather than externally. Sliding doors consist of two door panels or more on a track system, with the panels sliding behind each other on closing.

The term ‘patio door’ in the UK has come to mean any kind of large door opening on the rear of a property but traditionally means a sliding door, although you will find French doors referred to as ‘French patio doors’.


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