Because a pocket door disappears into the wall instead of swinging into the path of travel, it can often solve awkward design problems, as it did in the basement renovation project I completed recently in a home in Reading, Mass. With the basement’s long hallway and doors providing access to a laundry room, a garage, a staircase to the main level, and the living area shown in this article, pocket doors were a good fit.

I’ve installed dozens of pocket-door kits over the years, including Johnson’s heavy-duty, commercial-grade frame (the one shown here). But kits change as manufacturers tweak their products, so I carefully read the installation instructions for every kit I install. To re-familiarize myself with how everything fits together and figure out what I’ll need from the lumberyard, I start by unpacking and laying out all the kit parts and fasteners.

In new construction, floors and ceilings are usually level, which makes framing a square, plumb, and level rough opening straightforward. In a renovation, floors and ceilings are rarely level and walls rarely plumb. On this project, the basement floor had been covered by a carpet over a pad that concealed the waviness of the slab. And because the ceiling drywall had been fastened to the floor joists instead of to furring strips, the ceiling was a little wavy too.

Renovation plans called for new, vinyl plank flooring after the existing carpet had been removed. Over old concrete slabs, I usually install pressure-treated 2x4 sleepers—which are easy to shim over low spots—followed by 3/4-inch plywood subfloor sheathing. To gain a little headroom, I installed thinner-profile 2-by-2-foot Dricore panels over the slab, followed by 1/2-inch AC plywood sheathing to make the subfloor feel more solid and provide a smooth substrate for the click-lock vinyl flooring. The thickness of the panels (and the shims needed to level them) along with the sheathing had to be accounted for when I established the height of the header for the new door.

As I framed the rough opening in the new 2x4 wall separating the living area from the hallway, I used a laser level to establish a benchmark elevation for setting the door header and aligning the heights of my new door openings with the existing ones. Following the instructions that came with the kit, I added 4 1/2 inches to the height of the door (80 inches) to establish the minimum height of the header. Then it was time to tackle the installation of the frame for the 2'-8" x 8'-0" solid-core door.

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