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What to know when shopping for doors

Updated on March 17, 2015

Entry door with sidelites


Door Security

People seem to have the misconception that a steel door is more secure and harder to break into than other types of doors. This is not true because the security of the door is the jamb, not the door itself. When someone breaks into a door they will break the 3/4" jamb around the door because breaking the door or glass would be much more difficult and make more noise. So if security is your concern than think about the material the jamb is made from. A 3/4" pine board is fairly easy to break compared to a PVC or steel jamb. The problem with steel jambs is they look like an industrial door, which most people do not want on the front door of their house. PVC is the best choice for jambs for several reasons, because of security and they are weather and bug resistant.

Using a multi-lock door unit adds to security because the door actually locks at three points. At the top, bottom and at the handle. Once again it is the jamb that is actually providing the security.

People love designer glass on their door because it looks beautiful and people cannot readily look into their house, while the home owner can still see through it enough to see who is knocking on their door.

Gothic style wood door with sidelites and transom
Gothic style wood door with sidelites and transom

Wood doors

Nothing matches the beauty of a real wood door. But oak and maple doors are very expensive. Pine doors are a little less expensive, such as a Fir or knotty pine door. Pine doors are usually paint grade doors, but higher quality pine can also be stained. Wood doors are not as insulated as fiberglass or steel with foam. A 1-3/4" wood door has an R value of about 2.5, similar to dual pane window glass without Low-E. R value means resistance to heat flow and the higher the value the more insulation. Wood doors are also more maintenance intensive than steel or fiberglass foam filled doors. People buy wood doors for their beauty.

Interior or Exterior doors

Exterior doors are insulated and they are sealed when pre-hung. Pre-hung means the door includes the jamb (frame) and a threshold and is sold as a unit. The door slab (without the jamb) can also be purchased and hung onto an existing jamb that is already attached your house. Exterior doors can either contain glass or have no windows at all. Doors come in many different designs and patterns. Such as panel doors, flush, half glass, oval glass, arched glass, etc. Besides the door the highest expense will be the glass design and the factory finish. There are many styles of glass design which you can see in the manufacturer brochures or at their website.

Interior doors are not insulated doors. They can be hollow or solid and also sold as a pre-hung unit or as a slab. Interior doors usually do not contain glass, except for french style (double hinged) doors. It is possible to purchase an interior door with glass, but difficult to find and can be expensive.

Fiberglass doors

Fiberglass doors can be smooth or have a wood grain imprinted into it, such as an oak or maple grain. They can be stained to appear as a wood door while being much more insulated and less maintenance. They still need to be maintained, but cannot rot or be damaged by bugs or termites. Fiberglass doors are much less expansive than a wood door, but slightly more than steel. They are made of a fiberglass skin laid over an insulated foam core. Fiberglass also out performs steel doors because they cannot be dented or rust.

Smooth fiberglass doors can be many panel styles with or without windows. They also look good as a painted door.

Fiberglass has become the most popular type of door purchased. Because of the many styles offered, the textured wood grains offered and they are the least maintenance intensive door you can buy. They out perform all other types of doors on the market today.

Steel double door

Steel Doors

Steel doors are smooth with no texture and the least expensive exterior door. They can be flush or a panel door and also contain windows.They are very well insulated and less maintenance than wood. You can get many styles of steel doors and patio doors. Steel doors can be residential or industrial doors. The downside of steel doors is that if they are not maintained correctly they can rust. Steel doors can also be dented if bumped hard enough.

Interior 5 panel door

Door Sizes

Exterior door standard height of is 6'/8" (80"), 7'/0", or 8'/0". Some older doors may be 78". Heights other than that would be a custom size. Width of single exterior doors are usually 36" for a front door and 32" for the back door. But houses built before 1990 can be other widths. Widths other than 30", 32", 34", 36", or 42" for a single door would be a custom made door and more expensive.

Double exterior door heights are the same as single doors. Standard widths would be 48", 60", 64", 72",or 96". Other sizes would need to be custom made.

Interior doors standard heights range from 78", 80", and 96". Custom heights can be special made at a higher expense. Standard widths for interior doors normally range from 18" to 36" in 2" increments for single doors. Smaller and larger widths can be custom made, depending on the style of the door. Double interior doors are offered at the same widths as exterior double doors.

Sidelights are same standard heights as doors and come in both exterior and interior. The widths usually range from 8" wide to 16" in 2" increments. They can be attached to either side of a door or both sides.

Transoms can also be exterior or interior and normally are used with double doors. Transom sizes match the sizes of the doors. It is possible to purchase a transom on a single door, but the width may be a custom size. The heights of transoms usually range from 10" to 18" in 2" increments. Again custom sizes can be purchased at a higher expense.

Handing prehung doors

Doors can be outswing or inswing and either left or right handed. The standard to find the handing is pulling the door towards you, the side that the handle is on is the swing for inswing or outswing. From inside the house, pulling a door towards you and the handle is on the right, it's a right hand inswing. Many companies view the door from the outside, but even though the handing is viewed in reverse it is the same handing.

For a closet door that is outswing. Again pulling the door towards you the side the handle is on is the swing. If the handle on the left pulling the door out towards you, it is left hand outswing.

Double doors or sliding patio doors are viewed the same. They will either be left or right active. They may be active / passive for left active and right passive, meaning that they both open but the active door is the main door. Or they can be active / stationary, meaning one opens and the other does not open at all. Double doors can also be center hinged or hinged on the jamb, as a normal door is hinged. A double door or patio door that is active / passive will usually have a flush bolt on the passive door. To open the passive door you must first open the flush bolts at the top and bottom of the door.

An exterior door is usually double bored for a handle and lockset, but they can also be a multi-lock unit. On a multi-lock handle there are three locking points, the top, bottom and at the handle. This adds to the security of the door.


Fire Code doors

Fire doors are made to meet codes that require them, such as between your house and garage. They have rating which state the amount of time it takes a fire to burn through them. There are 20 minute wood jamb fire doors, 45, 90 and 145 minute fire doors with steel jambs.

The door itself can be made of wood, fiberglass or steel. Most fire doors are exterior doors, but interior fire doors can be purchase, but they are much harder to find.

The door inside your garage that leads into your house needs to be a fire door by code in most townships and cities. Fire door doors are normally 80" in height and can be 30", 34" or 36" in width. Other sizes can be custom made at a considerable expense. You can find standard size fire doors in 20 minute and 90 minute ratings at most building supply stores, other sizes and ratings need to be special ordered or may even need to be custom made.

© 2015 Randy Hirneisen


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