What type of replacement door is best for my home?

There are many manufacturers in the replacement door game, making it very difficult to know how to select just the right one for your home. Adding to that challenge is that most of these manufacturers offer dozens of styles, made from a variety of materials, with many color and hardware options, rendering it impossible to make a choice, let alone, the right choice for your home.

Replacement doors can be purchased direct from a manufacturer, in big box stores, home centers, lumber yards, and at local window and door specialty businesses. You can also design your own door as some manufacturers let you specify the type of materials, designs and glass options. This can be a great choice for homeowners seeking a specific look, however, custom doors can sometimes delay getting the work done, as they are usually “special order”. 

When considering a door replacement, the most important decision is the type of door you are going to use. Will it be fiberglass, wood, steel, aluminum or a combination of any of those materials, as many fiberglass and steel doors have interior wood frames. But, it is the surface of the door that most affects the appearance, durability, security and price of your replacement door.

Fiberglass composite doors are a very common material in the replacement door marketplace. They are durable, but may require maintenance, as direct sunlight can affect the durability. They mimic the look of wood with wood-grain textures and can be stained to match walnut, oak, cherry, and a variety of other woods.  Beneath the molded surface is a frame of wooden stiles and rails, including wood edges for the locking hardware.  Voids in the framework are filled with polyurethane-foam insulation.

The benefits of these fiberglass doors are that they carry longer warranties than other types of doors and typically, are the most affordable.  These doors are installed complete. They include the pre-hung door, frame, hinges, sill, locksets and weather stripping, which allows the manufacturer to stand behind their warranty.  Doors that are improperly installed, or which are installed other than as recommended by the manufacturer, may not fall under the warranty umbrella, should there be issues in the future, so buyer beware.

Fiberglass doors come in a variety of colors, with a variety of panel and window options. They are secure and offer an energy savings value. 

Wood doors are also very common.  They are versatile, beautiful and provide a bold, rich look. Natural-finish stock and custom woods doors come in walnut, oak, cherry, mahogany, maple, fir, and teak. You can also find paint-grade wood doors in several soft wood varieties, such as pine and western hemlock. 

Many stock wood doors are not solid wood. They are sometimes a combination of wood veneer surfaces over an engineered wood core.  This minimizes the expansion and contraction of the wood materials, which can cause warping, making it difficult to securely close or open entry doors. Because the wood veneer looks so good, they are a low cost alternative to solid wood doors – but make sure you look for furniture grade veneers that are at least 1/16 inch thick.  Any thinner, the wood can easily damage.

Solid wood doors cost the most, but again the advantage is that they are aesthetically superior. The benefit is not only on the exterior, as the interior side of a solid wood door brings a certain level of finesse to any entry hall. These doors also make sense from an energy efficiency perspective, as they keep out the excessive heat and cold air out, especially when the door is framed properly. Solid wood also cuts down substantially on traveling sound, keeping street noise out of the interior of your home. The downside is that this type of door requires the most maintenance and upkeep.

When shopping for prefinished woods doors, look for durable stains and clear finishes such as polyurethane.  High gloss sheens offer the best protection for painted doors.  Whichever finish you choose, make sure it is applied all the way around, covering the top and bottom edges.  This helps prevent a wood door from absorbing moisture and swelling.

Steel doors are your best bet if security and durability are your top priorities.  Steel units are stronger than wood or fiberglass doors and they won’t warp or damage easily.  Any dents or dings on these doors can be pulled and puttied with an autobody repair kit.

Some steel door manufacturers provide replacement door options that are able to be retrofitted into an existing frame. This is a great option for older homes that may have custom molding.

Steel doors can be the most cost effective if you are not concerned about appearance, especially when replacing a side or back door. Typically, they have an inner frame made of wood or steel, and the interior is filled with high-density foam insulation. Premium steel doors typically have a 24-gauge surface with a steel frame, though heavier-gauge steel is available for more durability.  The surface is usually smooth or has an embossed wood-grain pattern.

Most steel doors are coated with a baked-on enamel finish that can be easily maintained with an annual cleaning and waxing. Premium versions have a vinyl coating similar to the ones on vinyl-clad windows, providing greater weather resistance. These doors are typically part of a pre-hung system.

Aluminum doors, like steel doors, use an insulation core covered by the aluminum surface. Unlike other door systems, aluminum doors are very limited and sold exclusively through dealers that custom build the replacement door to your entry opening.

Aluminum doors have a baked-on enamel finish, so they never need painting and won’t rust, which explains why a 20-year warranty is common. You can also match the color and style of your door with an aluminum storm door.  All these features don’t come without a price. Aluminum doors are the most expensive option after solid wood.

When selecting a new front door, keep this in mind:

When choosing complete entry systems, be sure all components come from the same manufacturer. Check that the weather stripping seals properly and that the threshold interlocks with the bottom edge of the door.  

Look for low-e glazing on doors with windows.  For added security, some manufacturers offer glazing designed to resist break ins. Decorative windows with real lead or brass trimming cost more than ones with the lead or brass “look”. Make sure when selecting this option you know what you are getting.

High quality steel and fiberglass doors have a thermal break, which is often a vinyl strip or part of the wood frame that separates the inside and outside surfaces of the door.  This prevents cold and heat from being conducted through the door, and frost from forming on the inside surface.

Choosing the right door will not only provide beauty to both the inside and outside of your home, it will provide energy savings, and less annual maintenance, especially if your door is more than 20 years old.  

As with any home improvement, do your homework. Get at least two to three estimates and make sure the contractors you are interviewing are licensed and insured, and they know how to install a door properly. There are many times where a newly installed door has to be replaced because of a poor installation.

Michael Veneziale – Statwood Home Improvements

(718) 351-4600      www.statwoodwindows.com

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