Making Bifold Doors Into A Screen To Hide The Water Heater

We know this was supposed to be the final chapter when it comes to our big basement makeover, but because we tackled two different DIY projects (making a screen to block off our fugly water heater and frosting the windows for 100% privacy that still lets in the light) we realized it would be crazy to try to squeeze all those step by step photos and instructions into one post… so we’re breaking it down to two. Just look at it as twice the fun. So without further ado, here’s how we made a custom screen to hide our eye-sore of a water heater with $18 worth of secondhand bi-fold doors and a quart of punchy bright green paint (stay tuned for the window-frosting tutorial coming soon).

Before we get into all the nitty gritty details, we should remind you what the aforementioned water heater looks like. Remember this guy?

Of course the room has come a long way from that point (we added a rug, brought in a bike rack, upgraded the the lighting situation, papered the insides of the armoires, hung some art, brought in some storage, and organized our paint). But the frighteningly gross water heater remained… taunting us with its hideousness. We debated springing for a tankless variety, but because we’re big fans of working with what you have (and didn’t want to cart off our fully functional water heater to a landfill) we opted to create a screen that will block off the water heater along with the ugly trap door in the wall behind it (which leads to the crawl space under the house). And when this water heater finally breathes it’s last breath we’ll definitely consider upgrading to a tankless one (and we’ll still be able to use the screen to hide the unsightly trap door in the wall behind it).

But how did we end up with a giant screen without blowing our meager basement budget (many store-bought ones are in the $100-300 range and a bunch of those weren’t even tall enough to work for our space)? We just brainstormed materials that we could use to whip one up on the cheap. Here’s how it all went down.

Step 1: Locate three adequately tall bi-fold doors that are sturdy enough to stand on their own and will easily obscure a 6′ water heater. After debating the use of everything from all-weather curtain panels hung from the ceiling to bookcases on wheels (which could be pushed aside for water heater access) we finally decided a screen was the perfect solution for our space. And what’s an easier way to make a screen than hinging three bi-fold doors together and calling it a day? At first we thought about cutting a full sized door in half but bi-folds are like pre-cut doors, so they’re ready to go. Even better. Plus they’re easy to move, relatively simple to find, and definitely would add some playful color to the room if we opted to paint them a bold hue.

So a plan was born. For just $18 we snagged these three bi-fold doors at our local Habitat For Humanity ReStore (they were having a 40% off door sale when we went in- uh, awesome!). Plus they already came with enough hinges to join them all together and create one large screen. Jackpot.

When we got to the checkout the lady was like “um, you’re missing a door” (since there are supposed to be four) but we explained that this wonky set of three bi-folds was actually perfect for us since we were going to make a screen by joining them together and didn’t need a fourth. She seemed excited for us until we mentioned that we were going to attempt to shove them into our good ol’ Nissan Maxima. Then she just shook her head and muttered good luck. Of course we took it as a personal challenge…

That’s me flashing my victory smile. A lot of people write to us and ask how we take on so many projects with such a small car. We’re just like anyone else with a modestly sized ride… we squeeze things in when we can and call John’s sister and beg to borrow her Ford Explorer when we can’t. In a pinch we’ve even been known to rent a pick-up truck from Home Depot for a few hours, just to cart something around. It’s all about, in the words of the ever-fabulous Tim Gunn, making it work.

Tip: when you recline the front seat and place large objects in the car as we did above, you can actually fasten the passenger side seat belt across them, which can help keep things safely in place so they don’t slide around and encroach on the person in the back seat- especially when she has an ever-expanding belly full of baby to protect).

Step 2: Place bi-fold doors on cardboard (for painting) and hinge them together in the room where your screen will be living (to avoid the annoyance of building it in one place and then moving it halfway across the house afterwards). When we finally got our precious cargo home we placed the doors on a large piece of paint-ready cardboard, hinged them together with the free hinges that we inherited with the doors, and stepped back to take a look. By golly this just might work. We also did a bit of puttying/sanding to fill in any recessed parts of the doors and smooth out anything that wasn’t exactly ready for paint (but for $18 pre-used doors, they weren’t bad at all).

Step 3: Paint your newly made screen. That’s it. You’re done. I guess we should elaborate a bit. We used one quart of semi-gloss latex paint by Behr, which we had color matched to Benjamin Moore’s Bunker Hill Green 566. Two coats later John was finished. I love this whole being pregnant thing. No painting for me (of course for the impending bathroom and nursery projects we’ll be using no-VOC paint so I’ll be back on painting duty, but for the separate entry basement we figured low-VOC Behr paint worked for us- and at just $14 for the quart it put our total cost for the entire screen project at… (drumroll please)… $32!

We love the happy burst of emerald green that it brings to the space (it complements the paper behind the armoire doors, the large green tupperware bins we brought in, the storage boxes in our Ikea workstation, and even the subtle green stripes in the rug). And the function is great. It definitely hides the ugly stuff but still makes it easily accessible. Best of all, there’s still more than enough room- over 35″-  to walk to the other side of the basement, roll out our bikes, etc.

So that’s how you give an old set of bi-fold doors a whole new life on the cheap. We’ll be back with a window frosting tutorial followed by an entire basement project wrap-up (complete with photos from start to finish and even a budget breakdown for your viewing pleasure). And while we’re on the subject of repurposing bi-fold doors, have you guys reused doors or windows in any interesting ways? We’d love to hear how you’re giving old household staples a second life with a bit of DIY determination so do tell.

Psst- Want to look back on our big basement makeover from start to almost-finished? Here’s the first post, the second post, the third post, the forth post, the fifth post, the sixth post, and the seventh post. Ah memories.


  1. says

    Hey Lovies!

    Where did you get your window frosting from? We have two sidelights on either side of our (abnormally huge) sliding glass door and I’m loathe to curtain them because, well, that would look ridiculous.


    • says

      Hey Noni,

      We grabbed ours at Home Depot (the brand is Gila). Hope it helps! Of course we’ll be sharing a lot more window frosting details in our upcoming post about it. Stay tuned…


  2. Vonda says

    As usual, great job!! It makes me wish I had a basement.
    I do get a little jealous at all your cool projects, the energy you always have going into them and how fun they seem to be to you. Somehow our home projects never end up being fun, well except the being done and decorating it part!

  3. says

    I love the green! Great pop of color and it definitely does the job.

    Our hideous-turned-beautiful DIY adventure was resurfacing our bathtub. Like you guys we only have one tub in the house and after 84 years of use (I know!) it was DISGUSTING. But I couldn’t justify hauling it out and replacing it with a cheap new tub, so we spent (another) long weekend without a tub and resurfaced it ourselves! You can see a peek of it here: We’re so happy with how it turned out and it only cost us $42 and a wknd without a shower!

  4. Sheryl J says

    You guys are awesome. And thanks for answering the question about transporting your brand new purchases. Since I have a small Civic, I am left to figure out how to fit anything big in there.

  5. Rachael B says

    My husband drives a Maxima and we use it as our “truck” too!!! My car the seat doesn’t let down in the back to slide things through, so I am so glad he has the “Max”…hahaha!!!

  6. Heather M says

    Very nice! We’re re-purposing a door that we currently have in an old office building we own. It’s a beautiful old panel door with 2 glass panels on the top half of the door. We’re going to bring it home and replace our current door that goes into the laundry room from the kitchen/ living room area. It will bring so much more light into the house, since the Laundry room faces south and gets a lot of light, but the kitchen and living room windows are shaded by the woods in the back of our house. Just some sanding a painting. We’re also currently in the middle of installing french doors where we knocked down a wall to create a dining room, which will also help bring the light in to the main area of the house. It’s amazing how doors can make such a difference!

  7. says

    Screen looks great! Just a thought – you could turn them upside-down and use the slats to hold photos or mementos. That may be too mesy looking for you (or things may slide through) but it definitely can be dual purpose!

    • says

      Hey Tiffany S,

      That’s a great idea!!! We’ll definitely play around with that option down the line. You know, after we tackle our gutted basement and get moving on the nursery! Ha. Thanks again for the suggestion you crafty gal, you.


  8. says

    I’m glad someone else has the same car issues as I do. I have a ’95 Saturn SC2 that’s so small, no one ever takes me up on my offers to drive (works for me!). But it is a challenge getting home improvement items from point A to point B. It requires a lot of seat folding and all-around creativity.

    I like the screen a lot! It makes me feel warm and fuzzy that you guys were able to reuse those doors while benefiting the Re-Store.

  9. says

    My husband and I recently squeezed 100 ft of 4in corrugated drain pipe in our Honda Civic. We had a small audience in the parking lot by the time we were finished. My husband told one of the onlookers to sell his truck and get a Civic. :)

  10. Amber says

    It looks great! I LOVE the color!

    Were the doors wood or that lovely vinyl that is sometimes used for interior doors? I have a few of those laying around but I don’t know if I would be able to paint them.

    • says

      Hey Amber,

      Good question! Ours are solid wood. You probably could paint the vinyl ones you have, but you’ll want to use a good oil-based primer and maybe even rough them up with sandpaper first. Hope it helps!


  11. Laila says

    Hey guys!

    Love your blog. Hate the green doors. I think that’s the first decorating idea that I’ve disliked with this much passion. Why green? Why that shade of green? It’s a good solution for hiding the heater but it’s not exactly the most beautiful thing and the color only calls attention to it! Grey or slate or even keeping it white would’ve been way better imho.


  12. Amanda V says

    Uh oh S and J,

    I love the idea of bring in a contrasting color, but I don’t think I like that green. It is almost too green…I think if the middle part of the screens were a different color, maybe a cream or a lighter green, it would flow a little better.

    I would have painted the screen the same color as the floor. it would kind of look like the floor is extending up and around the water heater. It would probably look like that screen is supposed to be there.

    sorry on this one. :O( but the project is looking awesome!

    • says

      Hey Amanda & Laila,

      No worries! Design is definitely subjective, so although we love the bright happy dose of color (which we matched right to the green storage boxes in our Ikea workstation) we certainly don’t expect the entire internet to agree! We do think that you might see more of how the punchy green tone fits in with the rest of the space when we share final reveal pics of the whole room (there are pops of that emerald color on every wall, so it really does feel cohesive- at least to us). Stay tuned…


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