If the sliding glass doors in your home are more than 10 years old, you might notice that they are becoming harder to slide open. This problem is even more common on aluminum frame dual pane doors. The reason is because the doors are heavier due to the dual pane glass, but many of the aluminum units did not use stainless steel rollers. So, in many cases, the rollers get rusty from moisture and they start to bind.
In order to replace the rollers, you have to remove the sliding panel from the opening. In most instances, the fixed panel must be removed in order for the sliding panel to come out. There is a simple way to determine whether or not your fixed panel has to come out as well. If the slider is on the inside track and the fixed panel is on the outside track, you have to remove both panels, because the slider will only come out from the outside. There is a lip on the bottom of the track inside your house. That lip keeps water from coming in. Unfortunately, that lip is also too high to lift the sliding panel up and over. So, you have to remove the fixed panel first, then lift and swing out the slider from outside. If you are one of the few people who have a slider on the outside track, then you can lift your slider out without removing the fixed panel.
But, let’s assume you need to remove the fixed panel first. Here is what you do: Remove your screen door if you have one. The screen door will have two rollers on the bottom. Lift one end of the door frame with one hand while using a flat screwdriver to lift the roller off the track. Do that on both sides, then take out the screen door and set it aside. Now, look for a metal piece on the bottom track that runs from the bottom corner of the fixed panel all the way across to the bottom of the side jamb that has the door lock hardware. If your door is really old that piece might be missing. If you have one, you can pry it up from the track. It is snapped in place even though it looks like it is a part of the track. Once you have that piece removed, you want to look inside the house where the fixed panel is against the wall jam. Look for screws holding the frame to the jam. They usually have one near the top and bottom corners, and one near the center. Remove these screws and put them where you won’t lose them. Now, you should be able to pull the fixed panel out of the side jam. There is a very good chance that it will be stuck. If it is, grab the center rail near the bottom and lift up as hard as you can. If you feel the panel go up, pull it back down. Do this a couple of times, then try to pull it out of the side jam again. This usually loosens it enough to pull it out. If it still won’t come out, you will have to put a thin screwdriver between the fixed panel frame and the side jam and pry while a helper pulls the panel away from the jam. Once you get it free of the side jam, grab the fixed panel side rail and have a helper grab the other rail. Lift the panel up into the top track and swing the bottom out of the bottom track. Remove the panel from the top track and set it aside with the screen door.
Now, you can try lifting the slider up and out, just like you did with the fixed panel. If the slider won’t clear the bottom track, you need to do a couple of things. First, look to see if it’s the old rollers protruding from the bottom that is preventing the door from coming out, or if the actual bottom of the door frame is hitting the track. In almost all cases, it will be the old rollers. But, if the opening is 8′ wide, sometimes the wood header that runs across the opening has sagged just enough to make it tight in the center of the opening. If it’s the rollers, you need to adjust them all the way up into the door. Look for a hole on the bottom side where you can put a phillips screwdriver and find the adjustment screw. Then turn that screw counterclockwise as far as you can. Do that to both sides, then try lifting out the door. If you are still getting stuck, have your helper lift one side and pull outward while you try to pry the frame and roller over the track. If you get one side out, have your helper hold that side with his or her foot to prevent it from going back in while he or she lifts the other side for you to pry free.
Once you get the slider out, almost all rollers are held in place by the same screw that holds the frame corners together. So, you need to set the panel on one side, remove the screw in the corner, flip the panel over, remove the screw on the other bottom corner. Now, you can take a rubber mallet or the wood handle of a hammer, and tap the bottom frame off the glass. This will give you access to your rollers. Take a close look at how they are inserted into the door frame. In fact, it’s a good idea to only remove one roller to bring with you to match for the new ones. Then, when you get back home, you can use the roller that is still in place as a guide to installing the new ones.
Places like Home Depot, Lowes, and Ace Hardware carry about 80-90% of the rollers out there. So, you should be able to find them. However, let’s say this just isn’t your lucky day, and you can’t find your rollers anywhere. You are going to have to have them ordered. Bring the roller to your local glass shop. If you’re lucky, they will have them in stock. If not, they can order the rollers, but you won’t get them for about a week. Don’t panic. Just go home and tap the bottom frame back on the door panel, but leave the corner screws out. You can even leave the roller out that you removed. Lift the door back in place, install the fixed panel but don’t snap the bottom piece back in, and don’t install the inside screws. Then, from inside the house, lift the slider and pull it closed. You don’t want to drag it if you left the roller out. It will scrape the bottom track. Just lift it enough to take the pressure off, and close and lock it.
When Your new rollers come in, take everything back out and install the new rollers. Adjust the new rollers all the way up before putting the door back in. That way, the new rollers won’t interfere with you lifting it back in place. Adjust the new rollers down until the door slides good and locks. You want to be sure there is an equal gap at the top and bottom when the door is about an inch from closing into the side jam. You can adjust the rollers to make this dimension even. If you can get the job done by a professional for $50 or $60 including parts, it might be worth hiring someone to do it. But, in high population areas such as Los Angeles, it’s common to pay $100 in labor only. Then they mark up the cost of the rollers, and you could wind up spending $130 for a job that you can do yourself for about $20.