Replace a Front Door

Your home's entry door is a true multitasker. It protects you and your family from the elements. It keeps intruders at bay. And because it's the first thing people notice when they come to visit, it makes a statement not only about the house but about its occupants as well.

What statement does your home's entry door make? Is it sleek, modern and sophisticated? Warm, traditional and inviting? Tired, abused, worn out?

If your door is sending the wrong message, it's time to change. No matter what your style, you can find a door that will project a favorable first impression and increase your home's curb appeal. And replacing an entry door is not as daunting as it may appear. A few basic tools are all that's typically required for the job, and with proper planning, you can usually make the switch in just a few hours. We worked with Club Member and master carpenter Dale Berns of Metro Homes Inc., in Minneapolis, Minnesota, to install the Jeld-Wen door for this story.

Remove the hinge pins and take the door out of its frame. Remember to save any hardware that you intend to reuse.

Remove both the interior and exterior trim. Once it's removed, you'll have your first real look at the door's framing. Check for rot (shown in the photo 3, below) and replace any damaged sections.

Exterior door choices
Purchasing a new entry door is not as simple as buying an interior door. You'll have a few choices to make, and the more familiar you are with your options, the easier these decisions will be.

First, you'll need to decide whether to buy just a replacement door that uses the existing door frame and hinges or a complete entry-door system, where the door is prehung in its frame, the door's bottom edge interlocks with the threshold, and weather stripping encircles the door's perimeter. The hinges are part of the system. Sidelights often flank the door, and all components are designed and machined to work together reliably.

Depending on the size of the new entry system and its installation requirements, you may need to add framing members to the door opening.

Once you have the door opening properly framed or repaired, apply self-adhesive threshold tape. Start with the sill; then apply tape along the jambs and finally to the header. Make sure that the tape overlaps.

Apply silicone caulk around the door opening as the manufacturer recommends; then lift the new entry system into place. Do not slide it into position, as you're likely to disturb the caulk beads and dislodge the threshold tape. Instead, lift and tilt the assembly into place.

Next, you'll need to decide what material you'd prefer for the door. In general, you have three choices:

Wood doors offer the most traditional appeal, and many provide the aesthetic of a well-crafted piece of furniture that sends an inviting message of home and hearth. The substantial weight of a wood door can also add a sense of security and sturdiness to your home. These doors may be painted or stained, and they're available in a variety of wood species. Although many doors require yearly maintenance to look good and perform well, some manufacturers offer extremely durable low-maintenance options (see "Low-Maintenance Wood," in PDF below). Solid-wood doors are the most expensive type — prices range from a few hundred dollars for a single basic door to $2,000 or more for a complete entry system.

Steel doors have energy-efficient foam-core insulation, are fully weather-stripped by the manufacturer and come primed for painting or with durable baked-on finishes. They are highly resistant to shrinking, swelling and warping, and their tough construction will withstand years of extreme weather conditions with minimal maintenance. Steel doors are available with fire ratings of up to 90 minutes, and many are designed to meet strict requirements in hurricane-prone areas. Some models even qualify for Energy Star compliance ratings.

Steel doors are the least expensive option. A single paneled door without hardware or glazing typically costs $100 to $150. But if you purchase an entry system that includes amenities such as sidelights and high-quality hardware, the price can be just as high as for wood or fiberglass models.

Fiberglass doors offer the same energy savings and ease of installation as steel doors. Resistant to a ll sorts of weather as well as scratches and dents, they won't warp, rot, crack or split and are an excellent choice for extreme climates and high-traffic entrances. They're available with painted finishes or embossed wood-look finishes such as oak, mahogany and alder. Expect to pay from about $200 for a single basic fiberglass door without glazing or hardware to $2,000 or more for an entire entry system.

After fastening the entry system to the framing by driving either nails or screws through the door frame and into the opening's framing (according to the manufacturer's requirements), install the interior and exterior trim.

Replacement considerations
When replacing an existing door, measure the door's actual width, thickness (normally 1-3/4 in.) and height (normally 6 ft. 8 in.).

If you're buying a complete entry system and intend to replace the jamb as well as the door, measure the thickness of the existing jamb, from the inside of the exterior molding to the inside of the interior molding (this equals the wall's thickness). Stand inside and note which side the knob is on. If the knob is on the right, you have a "right-hand" door; if it's on the left, you have a "left-hand" door (see "Talking the Talk," in PDF below).

If you're considering an entry system, make sure that all of the components are from the same manufacturer; many systems are assembled by distributors, and their parts may not be designed to go together. Check the weather stripping to make sure that it seals well, and inspect the threshold to make sure that it interlocks with the door's bottom edge. And if the door or the sidelights include any windows, make sure that the glass is at least dual-pane, low-E glazing.

When you're choosing a door, keep in mind that it's a long-term investment that makes a big impact on your home. Even if it costs more, a high-quality door will pay you back with smooth operation, energy efficiency, low-maintenance requirements and great looks for years to come.