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How to Replace and/or Install a Screen or Storm Door
The aluminum storm door on the back of the house withstood the ravages of foul weather for over twenty five years pretty well, but it was worn out none the less. It was a builder’s grade aluminum frame storm door and its kick panel was dented and the bottom window rail was bent. My first instinct was to repair and paint it, but the door’s hinge, a single hinge that ran from top to bottom, was worn to the point the top of door leaned nearly a half inch to the right. Wanting to paint it to better match the house, I did a test shot with some cheap spray paint but it didn’t stick very well. The right kind of paint for this job would cost about $30, so I decided to replace the door with a newer, more modern one.
A replacement storm door of exactly the same kind was available, and for less than $60. But I wanted to upgrade to something nice, in a darker color to match the house. Remembering the dozen or so times I had to repair the screen, I wanted to get one with the screen in the upper window panel, to protect the screen itself during foul weather and keep it out of the reach of ornery toddlers or enthusiastic pets. The prices for such screen doors are set to be about a hundred dollars, and they are more decorative, obviously intended to cover front doors rather than back doors.
One thing at a couple of the fix-it stores disturbed me. They offered installation for about $100. If I wanted installation, I would have “called a guy” and told him the exact model of storm door I wanted, the dimensions of the door opening and would have paid him the retail price for the door, $35 for the service call and $15 for the labor; meaning, that in the town where I live at least, the cost of having the storm door replaced by someone else would have only been about $50 more than doing it myself. But I like doing things myself.
The new storm door was more than twice as heavy as the old one, and it wasn’t completely assembled. Also, despite the impression given by the display model at the store and the picture on the box, the screen was in the lower panel. I took the glass and screen out of the door and had to cut off little tabs from the center mounting bar with a hacksaw, but I was able to re-install the glass and the screen the way I wanted them.
The surround for the door came in three parts. The hinge was not attached. Confused, I consulted the directions. Following them caused me to go astray, meaning I had to back track and then do some things that weren’t mentioned in the directions. Specifically, I went ahead and screwed the top and right side of the surround to the hinged left side of the surround, and installed a temporary screw at the bottom right to hold that corner of the surround in place, a screw that I would remove later to allow the door to open. The whole assembly was about a half inch shy of the 32 inches it was supposed to be, so I nailed 1/4 inch furring strips all around the door opening to compensate.
Once again following the instructions, this time to mount the handle and latch, I drilled 5/8 inch holes in the door, using the supplied template. To de-burr the holes, not wanting to make another trip to the store for another tool, I did something that would upset not only Bob Villa, but probably Ted Nugent as well. I inserted the bore brush for a .38 revolver in the chuck of my drill and used it to get rid of the burrs. It worked, but the bore brush was ruined. I took a moment to reflect that when the original storm door was installed, cordless drills did not exist and the very idea of sticking anything other than a drill bit into the chuck of a power drill was ridiculed as the height of stupidity. The problem with following the directions this time was this: the holes were larger than necessary. Smaller holes, perhaps ¼ inch, would have given the mounting hardware a tighter, more rugged fit. Oh well, live and learn.
To install the closer, the gas-filled piston that pulls the door shut automatically, I ignored the instructions completely and had no trouble at all. With the job done, just out of curiosity, I looked at the instructions. It suggested installing the opener right below the window opening, about a foot and a half from the bottom of the door. That would cause curious toddlers to play with it and suffer a severe emotional experience if they got a finger stuck in the mechanism. I put the closer at the top, the way it’s been done by everybody else for decades.
Overall, the door itself had a metric-system feel to it and the directions were awkward and misleading. Installing it gave me a feeling of being in a somewhat foreign, but not entirely foreign, place. The feeling one might get when visiting Montreal, Canada or San Juan, Puerto Rico. If I had this to do over again, I would have chosen the standard builder’s grade aluminum door. The new door, although more expensive than builder’s grade, required more assembly and more metalworking skill. To install this door correctly on the first try would require the combined skills of a U. S. Navy Machinist’s mate and a Seabee.
But the door is installed and looks and works great. It will last at least 25 years.