Product 101 / By Charlotte Barnard / March 30, 2018
Front Doors for a Warm Welcome
Stepping up the entry door’s function, style, and security
Nazli and Larry’s brownstone renovation
First impressions make lasting impressions, and this is as true of your home as it is of anything else in life. Let’s begin with the front door. It’s the focal point of your entry and the feature upon which pretty much everything else hinges—literally. You can go dramatic or understated, but you want a door that works with the style of your house while also keeping it secure and free from drafts. The right choice will set you well on your way to the kind of curb appeal that also gives a boost to the value of your home.
There’s plenty to choose from and plenty to consider when making your selection. Sweeten, a free service matching homeowners with vetted general contractors, offers a rundown of doors—materials, style, accessories, and add-ons—to help you navigate the process.
In short, security, energy efficiency, and good looks. The appropriate door performs on many levels. It’s also a good investment. The National Association of Realtors advises that homeowners can expect as much as an 80 percent return on window and door upgrades at closing. If you’re not moving, this enhancement makes you a better neighbor and a happier homeowner with a prettier front entrance. Prices can range from $200 up to $2,000+ if you add on sidelights, transoms, or different finishes.
You can also seize the opportunity to upgrade security with a new and more secure lock system and, if necessary, an energy-efficient door that reduces air leakage, thus trimming utility costs.
Finding your style
The choice, of course, is yours, and you can have whatever you want—windows or a solid panel, sidelights, or a transom. For the most winning curb appeal, you will want to stick with a door that fits with the architecture of your dwelling. Today’s houses, particularly new construction, can often be a hybrid that includes features from different eras—for example, Tudor plus French Revival or Spanish Colonial plus Craftsman. Consult with a professional, such as an architect, your contractor, or a sales rep with a door company who has experience pairing the right door with a particular house style. You can also find architectural home styles online, including on manufacturers’ websites, and compare what you find with your home. Therma-Tru Doors offers the DoorWays app, which allows you to try out different doors on an image of your own front entrance.
Exterior renovation by Sweeten contractor Richard
Door systems and configurations
You’ll find that entry doors are often referred to as “door systems,” which means they come not as a mere rectangular slab but pre-hung in a frame and pre-drilled for both doorknob and deadbolt. The system should also include the door’s bottom edge, which interlocks with the threshold, and most likely weather stripping encircling the door’s perimeter. This is not only convenient but also sensible. You want to purchase all the door features from one manufacturer to ensure everything functions well together.
If you’re replacing an existing door, you will want it to be the same size as the previous one, unless you are taking apart the entire entryway for a dramatic change. Changing the dimensions of the door or adding sidelights or a transom involves reframing the opening, and you will need a contractor to perform this job. Consult with your own contractor before committing to a particular door to be certain the door will fit before it is paid for and delivered.
Other terms you’ll encounter are “flush” and “paneled.” Flush doors are flat and smooth on both faces. Paneled doors have rectangular recesses framed by horizontal rails and vertical stiles. The original purpose of panel construction was to minimize cracking and warping on wood doors by giving the panels room to shift with changes in humidity. The “look” caught on, and it can be found in other door materials.
When you see the word “door,” you may automatically think “wood.” However, there’s more to materials nowadays, including fiberglass, steel, and wood composites. In each of these categories, doors are typically made of more than one material. Other materials are incorporated to enhance stability and energy efficiency. A wood door may have a steel interior, a steel door may have a wood exterior, a fiberglass door may have a wood frame—all for stability and strength—and most will have some type of foam insulation to fill the interior voids.
Each of the materials has its pros and cons, and the versatility to achieve different styles, configurations, and finishes, including the look of woodgrain.
Pros: A practical choice for most climates, particularly harsh or humid, fiberglass doors resist wear and tear extremely well. Available in smooth or embossed woodgrain texture, they can mimic the look of wood and take paint or stain. Dent-resistant and requiring little maintenance, these doors typically come with a long warranty, from 20 years to limited lifetime.
Cons: Can crack under severe impact.
Price range: $200 – $1,500
Pros: Positioned as the strongest of doors, steel will not crack or warp. Coated with a baked-on polyester finish, this door will require periodic repainting. Higher-end versions come with a vinyl finish for greater weather resistance. Some manufacturers offer a wood veneer or wood composite coating that can be stained.
Cons: Not as weather-resistant as fiberglass or wood doors. Easy to dent, dings are hard to fix, and scratches may rust if not treated promptly. In extremely high temperatures, the surface can be hot to the touch.
NOTE: Both steel and fiberglass doors should come with a thermal break that separates the inside and outside door skins. This prevents transference of outdoor heat and cold, which can cause frost to form on the inside surface.
Price range: $200 – $2,000
Pros: This natural material still has its fans who are drawn to its heritage of warmth and the versatility of different species. Wood resists cold and heat. Some wood doors are composed of a veneer skin over an engineered wood core to protect from moisture that causes shrinking, swelling, and warping. It’s also the least likely material to dent and scratches are easy to repair.
Cons: Solid doors can be made through a millwork shop, lumberyard, and some door manufacturers, but they are expensive and time-consuming to complete. They also require regular upkeep—painting or varnishing to maintain their appearance—and a protected area in the shade or under an overhang.
Price range: $175 – $2,600
The hardware—hinges, door handle—while practical, also complement your door style. Manufacturers will offer further options for customization with decorative glass, grilles, metal trim, and clavos (aka, decorative door studs). Sidelights and/or a transom also lend visual interest while ushering in more light. There’s plenty of choice within the glass category too—clear, rain, satin, and geometric to name a few. And don’t forget the door knocker, even if you have a doorbell!
A contrasting or complementary door color adds a touch of wit and drama to the entry. Try matching it to the window frames or shutters, if you have them, for a truly coordinated look. Or just go for it with one bold color for the door. Many manufacturers offer color as part of the door selection process, saving you the trouble of painting, and these finishes are formulated to be fade resistant.
Picking the right front door can feel like a big commitment, and it is. But as with all the right relationships, it’s one that you can depend on and enjoy for many years.
Just as a front door makes a lasting impression on everyone who enters, interior doors—whether they stand out or blend in with their surroundings—impact the overall design of your home.
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