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Exterior Door Basics

Exterior doors are made for efficiency, security, and beauty. Prioritize your needs and budget before you sort through the options available.
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Exterior Door Basics
A wood door has always had authentic charm and warmth, but they can be inefficient and require constant maintenance.
Homeowners in the market for an exterior door must consider more than aesthetics. Durability, soundproofing, security, and energy efficiency are key qualities for exterior doors. Doors may be made of wood, fiberglass, or steel, with or without frames, locks, lites, or hardware. It's important to look at the conditions an exterior door will face before deciding on the construction you desire.

Wood
In the world of building and home products, wood is synonymous with authenticity. A wood exterior door gives a home's entry an authentic feel. Homeowners who value aesthetics and want to invest in curb appeal often look to wood doors for a quality solution.

Homeowners may opt for a clear finish that showcases the wood's character or select a variety that takes paint or stain well. There are many species options, including mahogany, fir, hemlock, pine, maple, poplar, oak, cherry, and exotic woods. The ability to tailor the entryway to the look and feel of the home is a key selling point for a wood door. "Homeowners want something that is uniquely theirs," says Brad Loveless, Marketing Coordinator for Simpson Door Company, of McCleary, Washington. "With wood, there is flexibility in size, shape, species. There is no limit to the customization options."

Wood doors have drawbacks, however. Low insulation values and high maintenance may turn homeowners off to wood doors. Wood requires consistent care to prevent cracking and splitting. Wood also expands and contracts with changes in temperature and weather, which can lead to warping, twisting, squeaks, and scrapes, although these tendencies will vary from species to species and have improved with advances in door construction. "People think of doors as a single slab of wood, but really they are made of a number of wood components that fit together and work with one another to prevent the warping that happens with older wood doors," says Loveless. Costs for a wood door vary widely. A basic pre-hung wood door (which would include sill, hinges, and framework) might sell as low as $150, while a customized system with glass could cost thousands of dollars.

Fiberglass
Fiberglass doors are not new to the industry, but their strength in the field is relatively new. Once misconstrued as "plastic" doors, fiberglass doors have been around for over 20 years, during which time they have undergone significant technological advancements. Typically marketed as a marriage between the aesthetics of real wood and the strength and security of steel, fiberglass doors also bring exceptional insulation qualities to a home's entry system. Most fiberglass doors on the market are composed of two fiberglass skins that have been filled with polyurethane foam.

"Our fiberglass doors provide five times the insulation that a wood door offers," says Sara Theis, the spokeswoman for Therma-Tru doors. A Therma-Tru fiberglass door can provide an R-value anywhere between 10 and 12, compared to an R-value of two for a typical six-panel wood door. The same foam core that slows heat transfer also adds sound attenuation properties to the door, keeping noise from the outside world where it belongs—outside. In an effort to improve their aesthetics, fiberglass door manufacturers have invested in proprietary solutions that recreate the random grain patterns found in natural wood. "Our AccuGrain system is a graining technology that captures the fine-wood detailing of real wood grain," says Theis. "It looks and feels like real wood." Manufacturers also offer period styles and collections that solve the problem of choosing a door to fit the architecture of the home.

Homeowners investing in a fiberglass door won't have the same headaches they might with a wood door. Though they can still stain or paint a fiberglass door, they won't experience the cracking, warping, splitting, and rotting that occur in wood doors. Durability is the hallmark of fiberglass doors. "We do suggest a homeowner reapply a top coat every two or three years," Theis says. Less expensive than a custom wood door, fiberglass doors are still more expensive than a basic six-panel wood door. A pre-hung fiberglass door system can run anywhere from $500 to $5,000, depending on add-ons like decorative glass.

Steel
Steel doors offer strength, security, and durability. Homeowners who value these qualities should take a hard look at this option. Like fiberglass doors, steel doors increase their insulation properties by sandwiching a polyurethane foam core between two steel skins. Homeowners investing in a steel door can expect sound reduction comparable to a fiberglass door. Also like fiberglass, steel does not have the maintenance needs of a wood door, and won't crack, warp, or twist. Steel doors can be painted to match or accentuate a home's color and feel. For added safety, steel doors are often fire rated, and many are designed to conform to hurricane codes. Steel is an economical fit for the homeowner who places security, safety, and energy efficiency on the top of the list for a new exterior door. Depending on the manufacturer and dealer prices, a steel door system might cost between $100 and $200.


Text by Benjamin Hardy
© 2006 Renovate Your World




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