Choose a Quality Entry Door
A hard look at the features and components that enhance a front door's energy efficiency, durability, and aesthetics.
Synopsis: Choosing an entry door involves considerations such as budget, aesthetics, and maintenance. In this article, contributing writer Matthew Teague breaks down the three types of entry doors—wood, steel, and fiberglass—and looks at the materials and techniques used in their construction. He also explains what makes a quality door, suggests where one’s money is best spent, and gives guidance on maintaining a door. Sidebars in the PDF below examine hardware options and energy-efficiency issues.
Often underappreciated but never overlooked, entry doors serve to welcome your guests, to protect against weather, and to keep out intruders. Not only does an entry door help define the architectural elements of a house, but it also helps to distinguish the owner’s style. Because prices range from $120 to the thousands, choosing an entry door involves considerations such as budget, aesthetics, and maintenance issues based on individual need more than the construction of the door.
Many of the key components that differentiate a quality door from a lesser one, however, go unseen. Efficiency, durability, and the life of a door depend on the nuts and bolts of how a door is made. Here, I’ll break down the three types of entry doors and look at the materials and techniques used in their construction. I’ll also shed light on what makes a quality door and suggest where your money is best spent.
Entry doors are constructed of wood, steel, or fiberglass, each with its own attributes and drawbacks. Besides door type, there are a few things that you’ll want to consider right away. For instance, pay attention to your local climate and the location of the door itself.
Highly exposed entrances on the south, west, and east sides of a home receive the harshest sunlight, making UV-resistance a necessity. Doors placed under eaves, porches, and other overhangs will be better protected. Most manufacturers of wood doors recommend that their doors be installed below an overhang that’s at least half as deep as the distance between the sill and the eave. If you have less of an overhang, opt for a more durable door.
Although fiberglass and even steel doors attempt to mimic the look of wood, nothing matches the inviting, warm feel and heft of a well-made wood door. Available in almost any style or species and with countless glass orientations, wood doors not only offer the most traditional look but also the most options. They can be adorned with virtually any molding profile and can even be carved. Most feature frame-and-panel construction, allowing them to expand and contract with changes in humidity without sacrificing the door’s strength.
Although some wood doors are doweled together, those constructed with traditional mortise-and-tenon joinery fare better over time.
Most modern wood doors feature a thick veneer (1/16 in. is fairly standard) attached to the faces and sides of an engineered-wood core, which minimizes warping and helps to extend the life of the door. Core materials used for the stiles and rails vary among manufacturers, but better doors have stave cores (1-in. strips of wood glued together) with the same species of wood used throughout. Using the same species makes the door more stable because the expansion and contraction rates of the core and veneer are consistent.
Panels are traditionally left unglued to prevent cracking as they expand and contract within the frame, but some manufacturers now use an elastic sealant to prevent air and water penetration in these critical areas. If energy efficiency is a concern, look for panels that have wood laminated over an insulating core.
For more photos and a breakdown of steel and fiberglass entry doors, click the View PDF below.