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The primary function of any entry door that leads outside is to be tough enough to hold up against wind, rain, scorching sun and potential household intruders. But style is also important to many people, as the front door is one of the first things that newcomers will notice about the exterior of your home. Who doesn’t want to make a good impression, right?

Unfortunately, it can be tough to find the right balance of form and function. This is especially true of doors constructed from older materials. Older wooden doors, or doors with wooden veneer, can warp and crack and even lose their shine as a result of exposure to the elements. Even metal doors can experience peeling after some time. Newer doors are made of different materials and are better reinforced to withstand the harsh demands of day-to-day life, and there are more stylish options than ever before.

Check the door and frame for damage

A lot of the time, replacing a door is a simple matter of switching the old one out for the new door. The door is also called a “blank” or a “slab.” Sometimes, however, you’ll have no choice but to rip out and replace the framing that accompanied the old door-including door jambs and threshold. This is especially true for many wooden doors and door framing, due to its tendency to experience rotting.

If your door frame is fine, you might not be in the clear yet. Wall studs can settle out of alignment, which can make it difficult to open and close the door. Obviously, you want your front door to open and close easily, so you’ll need to plane the top and bottom. Sometimes, you might have to resort to trimming one or more edges to get the door to hang correctly. This can only be done with wooden doors. Metal and fiberglass doors can’t be planed or cut like wooden ones can.

Switching your old door for a pre-hung door

A pre-hung door is one that hangs on hinges within a new frame. Pre-hung doors are sold as systems, and usually include some kind of weather stripping. These doors are a great choice for those experiencing damage to their existing door frame, as well as those who are removing the frame to enlarge the threshold.

The first step in setting up a pre-hung door is to determine if you need a left-handed or right-handed door. Stand in the doorway and face toward the outside. If the lockset is on your left, you need a left-handed door. If the lockset is to the right, you need a right-handed door.

One alternative to replacing the entire door frame is to use a door-replacement kit like the Replace Door Systems from Pease Industries. In the case of these kits, the door is pre-hung in a small steel frame that fixes to the old frame. This way you get the benefit of easy installation and having the frame reinforced with steel. But these doors can also reduce the size of the threshold slightly, and are only available in a few sizes. Additionally, door replacement kits cannot be placed over a rotted door jamb.

To replace rotted door jambs, you need to find the right jamb size. To do this, measure the height and width of the existing door jamb between the inside edges. Add half an inch to the frame height, and then half to three quarters of an inch to the width. The width of a door is measured across its face, and most are thirty-six inches or wider.

Choosing the right materials

Most door manufacturers offer dozens of styles to select for any door in your home, including the front door. You’ll be able to find a wide selection at most any lumberyard, home center or door dealer. Alternately, you can design your own door with the help of certain manufacturers that let you specify the types of panels and glass options that you want. Most people like the idea of customizing their own door, but be aware that this process can include a two-to-eight week delivery time.

Most doors are a combination of several materials, such as fiberglass doors with wooden frames. It is important to keep in mind that the surface material is what most effects appearance, functionality and price.

The most common material for any type of door is wood. Wood offers a plethora of aesthetic options and come in oak, cherry, walnut, mahogany, pine, maple and fir. You can also find paint-grade doors in softwood varieties, such as western hemlock.

Most stock wood doors are a sandwich of a wood-veneer skin over an engineered-wood core. This structural design reduces warping that can damage your door, and are a low-cost alternative to solid-wood doors at around $200 to start. When shopping for your door, look for furniture-grade veneers at least one-sixth of an inch thick. Anything thinner than that might become easily damaged.

Solid-wood doors are the most costly of all your options, starting at around $600. Hardwood doors are even more expensive than that. Be prepared to spend between two and four thousand dollars for a complete system that includes:

  • A pre-hung door in its frame
  • Hinges
  • Locksets
  • Sidelights
  • Weather stripping

When shopping for prefinished wood doors, make it a priority to look for durable stains and clear finishes. Polyurethane is a popular option for finishes of this nature. High-gloss sheens provide the best protection for painted doors against the elements. Whatever finish you choose for your door, apply it to the top and bottom edges of the door to prevent it from absorbing moisture and swelling.

Keep an eye open for the details. The more intricate the carvings and moldings on the door are, and the thicker and wider the stiles and rails, the better the door is considered to be. The same is true of panel thickness. Lower-end models will have thinner panels.

Steel Doors

Steel doors are generally not considered as stylish as wooden doors, but they can’t be beaten in regard to their emphasis on security and durability. Steel doors are stronger than wood and fiberglass, and have the additional benefit of not cracking or warping under duress. It’s also incredibly easy to fix any dents in these doors with an auto-body repair kit.

Another reason you might opt for steel is that these doors cost the least out of all of your options for materials. Prices start at about $150 without hardware or glazing. If you opt for a full steel door system complete with premium hardware and sidelights, the cost of a steel door can be very similar to that of a wooden door system.

Any steel door you buy will have an inner frame made of wood or even steel for additional strength. The cavities within the frame are filled with foam insulation. Some premium doors offer heavier-gauge steel that reinforces your door with extra durability and security.

Most doors of this material are coated with baked-on polyester finishes that might require occasional re-painting. Premium doors get a vinyl coating not unlike the ones on vinyl-clad windows that offer greater weather resistance. If you’re looking at the really high-end selection of steel doors, you can even find ones with a laminated wood veneer that looks pretty close to the real deal.

Usually steel doors are part of a pre-hung system. However, you can sometimes just lift the old door off of its hinges and replace it with your new door as long as the hinges match. Some doors come with extra pre-drilled holes for the hinges to allow for minor adjustments.

If you choose an embossed wood grain, be certain that it runs horizontally on the rails and vertically on the stiles. Also, make sure to check and then double-check your warranty. Some manufacturers will void it under some circumstances, such as if you install an aluminum storm door with a steel door. The reason for this is because heat building up between the two metal doors can damage the finish.

Fiberglass Composite Doors

Fiberglass composite doors are tough and as low-maintenance as it gets, making them a wise choice for harsh and humid climates. Wood-grain texturing and staining techniques can be used to mimic the appearance of wood and can be made to match oak, cherry, walnut and a variety of other types of wood. Beneath the molded surface is a framework of wooden stiles and rails, including wood edges for the lockset. Any voids (or “honeycombs”) in the framework are filled with a foam insulation.

Because of how durable these doors are, they carry long warranties with them. Pease Industries backs its models up with a warranty for as long you own the house. These extra-extended warranties are usually only offered when the door comes with a complete entry system that includes framing.

Fiberglass composite doors are also extremely affordable, starting at about $200 without glazing or hardware. However, accessories all cost the same regardless of the material of the door, so a fiberglass entry system with all the bells and whistles can run you for about $4,000.

As you would with a steel door, make sure that the wood-grain pattern runs horizontally on the rails and vertically on the stiles to best mimic the appearance of real wood grain. Also, it is essential to make sure that the hinges line up with the existing frame.

Aluminum Doors

Like steel doors, doors made of aluminum utilize an insulation core covered by a metal skin. However, aluminum units are sold only through dealers, as they are each custom-built to the satisfaction of the customer. You can choose all kinds of styles for your door, such as color and wood-grain finishes.

The baked-on enamel finish of the aluminum door removes the worry about painting and rust. This is why these doors often come with a twenty-year warranty. Additionally, you can match the color and style with an aluminum storm door. All of these additional benefits drive the cost of the unit up quite a bit, at prices that start around $600. They are the second most expensive material choice, after solid wood.

Some tips for when you go shopping for your new door

Whether you’re just buying the door or an entire entry system, here are a few things to keep in mind.

  • When buying a complete entry system, make sure that all of the components are coming from the same manufacturer. Check that the weather stripping seals properly and the threshold interlocks with the bottom edge.
  • Look for glazing on window units. Some manufacturers add a glazing for added security that is designed to resist break-ins. Decorative windows with real lead or brass cost more than ones with fake variations of these materials.
  • High quality steel and fiberglass composite doors have a thermal break that usually consists of a vinyl strip or part of the wood frame that separates the inside and outside door skins. This helps to protect outside elements from damaging the door.

Now that you’re armed with this wealth of information, you can make a more informed decision about what to purchase for your home.