Thinking About Installing a Hidden Bookcase Door? Consider These 7 Issues First
Hidden doors and bookcases aren’t just for superheroes and spies. Before installing one in your home, here's what you need to know about budget, permitting, and a host of other issues.
Whether you’re a billionaire with a secret passion for fighting crime, someone who is low on storage space, or a prepper who wants to be ready for the worst, installing a hidden bookcase door may have crossed your mind. These camouflaged passageways are designed to be unnoticeable when not in use, but provide easy access at a moment’s notice for those who know where they are. Not to mention, they are oh-so-very cool.
If you’re considering installing a hidden door or bookcase, it helps to do some homework about what’s involved in how to build a hidden bookcase door before you can live your best caped-crusading life. To help shed some light on these details, we asked Steve Humble, president and founder of the Hidden Door Store, for some advice.
What’s the door’s purpose: security or novelty?
The first detail to nail down is why you want the door in the first place. Do you want to install a hidden door for security or for novelty? Do you need a secure, hidden room to retreat to, or are you just trying to make the most out of your tiny space by installing a bookshelf in a doorway?
According to Humble, security doors involve a ton of engineering and design, and even many experienced cabinetmakers and woodworkers lack the expertise to pull them off. Creating a novelty hidden door bookcase is much easier.
What’s your budget?
Secret doors and bookcases can run the gamut in terms of pricing, ranging from $1,000 to $25,000 or more. If you’re on a tight budget, consider how you want to spend it. Are you okay paying for labor, or do you want to order an inexpensive door and install it yourself?
If your secret door is hiding a vault of gold coins and other collectibles, your design options are nearly endless. Shelves, mirrors, custom trim work, exotic wood species, and security features like deadbolts, bulletproofing, are all options you can customize for those treasures.
Hidden bookcase doors take a lot longer to install than you think.
Whether you order a novelty door and install it yourself or you pay a professional to design and build a custom door, it’s going to take time. Humble says the lead time on his pre-designed doors is currently 1 to 2 months.
He also says that even experienced DIYers should expect to spend as much as 10 times longer installing the door than even the longest estimate, as there is a lot to know about these “niche” passageways (sorry, we couldn’t help it).
Permits can be a gray area.
Novelty or space-saving doors are probably fine in most areas, but the nature of a security door warrants informing your local building department of its existence. Since these doors are “secret,” many homeowners prefer to keep them that way (especially if they’re hiding valuables). How you handle your local building regulations is up to you, but these codes exist for safety reasons. Consider carefully the consequences of bypassing local codes.
Wall framing plays a role in a hidden door’s viability.
Hidden Door Store installs around 50 hidden doors each year, so they’ve seen it all. According to Humble, the rough door opening (the space between the framing, sans door) is as important as the door itself: “If the walls are not flat, the opening is not plumb, or the floor is not level,” he says, “it’s almost impossible to make a good secret door work in that location.”
Another important detail to consider is the stud connections. They must be very secure and stable or else the door will sag and not work properly. Humble suggests spending a little money on a precision level: “When installing a secret door, a laser level is a good investment. Bubble levels just don’t tend to provide enough precision for the best result.”
Can you DIY a hidden bookshelf door?
There are prefabricated hidden doors available online from retailers like Wayfair, The Home Depot, and Lowe’s. A DIYer can tackle the job with the right tools, enough time, and plenty of patience. However, these doors are of the novelty variety, so don’t expect to install the Bat Cave door from an off-the-shelf selection.
For security doors, it’s best to hire a professional. They’ll come to your home, inspect the structure, and take measurements before heading back to their shop to design the door with a CAD program. When the door is ready, it takes expertise to install it to ensure it blends in with the space and provides the security desired. You can’t get that kind of professional design and installation from a non-custom solution online.
If you install a secret bookcase door, make contingencies for emergencies.
While novelty hidden doors are rarely the only way in and out, security doors are often the sole passageway for a space. Be sure to have a method of communication with the outside world on the other side of the door if something bad happens, such as the door jamming in place or an intruder forcing your retreat. Also, access to provisions like food, water, ventilation, and toileting needs can help make an unexpectedly long stay inside a bit more comfortable.