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Exterior Doors

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Exterior Door Materials

Entry doors are made from wood, steel, or fiberglass, and in come cases a combination of these materials.

Basic Door Anatomy

1. Top Rail 
2. Latch Rail 
3. Hinge Stile 
4. Bottom Rail 
5. Latch or Lock Stile 
6. Panel 

Solid wood doors

The standard exterior door material, solid wood, is still the most popular. It may be flush, paneled, and with or without glass. The most common materials for solid wood doors are oak, fir, and pine, along with cherry, walnut, mahogany, and maple. The standard entry door is 3 feet wide and 6 feet 8 inches tall. Larger houses may have entry doors that are 7 and even 8 feet high. Standard thickness is usually 1 3/4 inches, but sometimes is 2 1/4 inches thick. If buying a replacement door, double-check the thickness.

Solid wood doors are exactly that—solid wood without a surface veneer. Called slabs, they are made with vertical stiles that extend the full length of the door on each side and horizontal rails at the top and bottom. Depending on the door design, there may be one or more rails across the center part of the door. Panels are framed within the rails and stiles. Flush doors are also made with rails and stiles, but a surface veneer covers them.

Quality solid wood doors are made with tenons and mortises. To check a door, look at its upper or lower ends. The tenon, or tongue-like protrusion on each end of the rail, fits into the mortised openings in the upper and lower ends of the vertical stiles. On doors of lesser quality, the rails and stiles are joined by dowels. In that case, you will not see mortise and tenon joinery.

Because wood tends to warp when it becomes damp, quality doors often are made by making the vertical rails from two separate pieces of wood, then laminating them together lengthwise, with the grain running in opposite directions. The same is done with the stiles. Then when moisture penetrates the door, the laminated pieces tend to bow in opposite directions, negating the warping effect.

Steel Doors

Steel is a common entry door choice for security reasons but in fact may not be any stronger than a solid wood or fiberglass door. Steel doors are usually sheathed with 24-gauge steel that comes paneled or flush and in a variety of colors. Some are finished with an embossed wood grain and a matching baked-on color. Still others may be given a vinyl coating for greater weather resistance. Steel doors that are painted must be periodically repainted, just as with wood or fiberglass doors.

Steel doors commonly have a wood rail and stile frame with the cavities filled with a foam insulation. Steel door weather stripping is generally magnetic and designed to adhere to the door. Steel doors dent fairly easily but can be repaired just like dents or gouges in your car—and with the same materials.

Steel doors are hung in metal frames, so replacing a door means ensuring that the hinges and screw holes for the door will line up with the hinge holes in the frame. If not, there are new adjustable hinges to help eliminate this problem. And finally, steel doors should not be used on the side of a house where prolonged exposure to the hot summer sun can heat the door so much that it will bow and crack the paint.

Fiberglass Doors

Because these doors are resistant to warping and bowing, they are an ideal choice for humid parts of the country. The fiberglass exterior sheathing is resistant to impact damage and is more maintenance free than many other door types because it is less prone to warping. Fiberglass doors are normally made with hardwood stiles and rails that support handles and locksets. The framework voids are filled with insulation.

The doors come in a variety of styles, both flush and paneled. Fiberglass doors are available with a faux wood grain finish that can be painted or stained to resemble oak, cherry, walnut, or other wood of your choice. As with any painted material, a fiberglass door will require periodic cleaning and repainting, depending on how much weathering it undergoes. Homeowners can also choose from a variety of factory-finish colors.

Aluminum Doors

As with fiberglass and steel doors, aluminum doors have a wood frame with insulation filling the voids. The key difference with aluminum doors is that they are almost exclusively manufactured and sold locally on a custom basis to fit whatever door opening you have.

The doors, with either flush or paneled exterior, usually have a baked-on finish in a wide variety of colors and imitation wood grain. Because the doors won’t rust, they often have 20-year warranties. But, as might be imagined, they dent easily.

Sliding Doors

Patio or sliding French doors are often installed in the rear or side of a house where they open onto decks, patios, or backyards. The large windows are designed to provide a strong psychological link between the house interior and the outside.

Sliding doors can range widely in quality and materials, with solid wood a popular choice. The doors may be vinyl- or aluminum-clad wood to provide long-lasting exterior weather protection. The exposed wood on the inside can be painted or stained.

Sliding doors are also made from steel, aluminum, and fiberglass. If you live in either a predominantly cold or hot climate, be sure to have double-pane low-E glass in these doors for improved energy savings.

French doors

French doors may be sliding or swinging. They can be exterior doors opening out to gardens or used inside for added elegance, such as opening into a living room, library, or study.

French doors are always installed in pairs, and they are constructed so that either one or both doors may open. The best quality doors will be made with actual divided lights that may be thermal pane, beveled, or frosted. Some have snap-in grids that give the same appearance as permanent dividers but can be removed for easier window cleaning.

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