Choosing a door comes down to balancing aesthetics, energy efficiency and function with cost.
As a major contributor to curb appeal, exterior doors command attention. But as much as exterior doors are about style, they are also about function, providing light, ventilation, insulation, security and protection from the elements. Making the right choice in exterior doors requires consideration of all these factors plus the budget.
Materials, size and options in exterior doors will influence the price. Steel doors are the least expensive, followed by fiberglass and wood. Beyond the purchase cost, weigh the impact of energy efficiency, maintenance costs and tax credits.
Homeowners can receive a tax credit for 30% of the cost (excluding installation), up to $1,500, if they upgrade a home with a door that has a U-factor and Solar Heat Gain Coefficient (SHGC) of less than or equal to 0.30.
Wood, fiberglass or steel exterior doors?
Wood, fiberglass and steel are the most common door materials and each has its advantages.
With its lower cost, low-maintenance characteristics, a galvanized steel door is a practical choice. When filled with a polystyrene core, steel doors are energy star compliant and are available with fire ratings to 90 minutes. Stronger than fiberglass or wood, steel doors offers the greatest security and can meet the building codes of hurricane-prone areas. On the down side, steel doors show the effects of wear and tear more than fiberglass or wood doors.
Fiberglass doors offer the same energy-saving qualities as steel doors combined with the look of wood doors. Designs can mimic wood grain or feature a solid surface suitable for painting. High-quality composite construction makes these doors resistant to all types of weather, as well as to scratches and dents. According to the NAHB Builder Practices Survey, on new single-family homes use of fiberglass doors has increased from 16% in 2001 to 38% in 2007, due to increased acceptance by builders and homeowners.
Many homeowners prefer the natural warmth of a well-crafted wood door. The substantial weight of a wood door provides a sense of security, and wood doors are available with fire ratings to 90 minutes. They are also suitable for hurricane-prone areas. However, because wood expands and contracts with temperature changes, wood doors are less energy efficient and require consistent maintenance, including refinishing every two to five years. A wood door does not keep out heavy rain as well as its fiberglass and steel counterparts, and it is not recommended for colder climates. In addition, unless there is an adequate overhang, a hardwood doors with a southern, southwestern, southeastern or western exposure will require frequent maintenance and can undergo rapid finish deterioration, color fading, splitting, warping, shrinkage, joint separation, and water penetration between the mouldings, panels, and glass.
Swinging doors are the most popular because they are appropriate for nearly every application. They can open inward or outward and be used in single-door or multi-panel configurations. Swinging patio doors that are hinged on the side and open in the center are called French doors.
Sliding doors are often chosen for patios, decks and small spaces where the door might interfere with traffic flow or use of space. Modern sliding doors offer significant improvements, including energy-efficient frames and glazing, multi-point locking mechanisms for better security and flashing packages that prevent leaks.
Advances in glazing such as double and triple glazing, gas-filled glazing and low-e glass make it possible to let in more natural light and views through exterior doors, while keeping an eye toward energy savings. However, it is important to balance the cost of upgraded glazing against expected energy savings.