Replacement of an Exterior Door - Tips for Making an Impression With Your Entry Door

Front door of a home.

Maybe you've been thinking about a new entry door since you bought your house or you've found a door you like but have no idea where to find one like it. You love your old house and the front door tells a story, but you're afraid it might detract from your home's curb appeal and you'd really like more sunlight in your entryway.

In many ways your front door represents your home's personality. It's important that your front door complements and enhances the overall look of your home, and fits the neighborhood as well. Drive down your street and several others nearby, and write down the personality you feel is most represented by the houses. Now you're ready to pick a new door for your home, as you should easily know whether the style of the new door should be casual, traditional, formal or unique.

Doors are also functional. You've narrowed down the exterior door style you want, and now you need to identify the additional requirements your door needs in order to satisfy the inside of the home. You might simply want a new front door that is energy-efficient. Many hallways tend to be dark, so when you're replacing an exterior door, it's a good time to review your options for bringing more sunlight indoors.

Picking Your Door Style

You might think it's easy to pick your door style, but it's not. It's true that most doors have only a single panel, but there can be many more components. When you want more sunlight, you can do this with glass panel(s) built into the main door panel. You can also add narrow glass panels on one or both sides of the door, or when your home won't accommodate that big of a change, you might be able to add a transom over the door.

While looking at door possibilities, you will be tempted to pick one that stands out from all those around it. That's good marketing, but you might buy (pay for) more than you need or want. Here's a smarter way to pick out a door. Walk out to the street in front of your house. What do you see?

Is your home close enough to the street that when you're standing (most often people will be driving) you can see the door details? Do you see a well-designed home with the door at the focal point, or maybe a beautifully landscaped setting where the door is one element along with trees and shrubs? You might even want to take a photo or draw a sketch and make the door size the same as photos/illustrations in your catalogues. Cut out the door space and "audition" different door styles.

Having done this exercise, you will be far better prepared to select the best door style for your home. Look at these five Thermatru doors and you should already see how they each satisfy different requirements. When the door is the focal point, it makes sense to pick a door style with more detail, using the texture of wood or integrated glass to create a door that captures the eye. If your door plays a supporting role, then you can use a simple door style and put more of your budget into the surrounding trim (see the small, decorative roof over the door above) and/or landscaping.

Different styles of front doors.

Decisions You'll Make When Buying a Door

After you've picked your door style, there are more decisions to be made.
  • Material choices include wood, fiberglass and steel. You want to consider energy efficiency, i.e., a door with an EnergyStar rating (check for available tax credits) and maintenance requirements.
  • Even door hardware comes in different styles. The new levers are better, as they're easier for anyone who has trouble gripping small objects. Dead bolts are a great option for those who are worried about security, but make sure the length of the bolt provides real protection.
  • The manufacturer influences the cost of your new door. Budget will help narrow your choices from a simple, attractive front door costing $400 to $600 to a premium front door that can cost up to $15,000. Don't forget the hardware, which can run from less than $100 to more than $500.

Installing an Exterior Door Isn't Easy

  • Proper installation is critical in order to avoid problems with water damage. The job requires professional carpentry skills so the door functions properly and remains weathertight. Here are reasons why you might not want to install your own door:
  • The door must be level along three dimensions, which can be a problem when the rough framing in which the door sits isn't true on all sides. Doors must be straight vertically (not tilting left or right), plumb with the wall (one side can't be deeper than the other), and not tilting with top or bottom deeper than the other.
  • When replacing a door, it's not uncommon to run into wood rot problems, which need to be resolved while the rough opening is accessible.
  • A new door must work with the interior flooring, and sometimes the wood rot extends under the floor, requiring a new subfloor before the new door can be installed.
  • All exterior doors must be weathertight , which involves weather stripping (this should be part of the new door product), and sometimes you need a rain deflector for the bottom of the door to keep out horizontal rain.
  • All exterior doors must be painted on all six sides when new, in order to reduce the amount of swelling/contraction of the wood, and, yes, even fiberglass doors need this type of ongoing maintenance, as they have a wood strip around the edges in order to get a nice, tight fit.

Tina Gleisner

Tina Gleisner is President of My Handyman of Southern NH, and founder of the Assn of Women Home Owners. Through her many articles, Tina hopes to provide the information home owners need to maintain and enhance their homes with less stress and more time to relax and enjoy their homes. All Mr. Handyman franchises are Fully Insured - General Liability and Workers Compensation. Some services subject to state and local licensing and may not be available in all locations. Click here to request service in your area.