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Choosing The Perfect Doors

The doors for a home may seem like rather simple objects but they but they actually possess some complexity that's easy to overlook. We all want them to look nice since they're easily seen and play a big part in defining the style of a home as well as a room.

But depending on their role, they can also be a big factor in keeping our house warm and draft-free as well as quiet and peaceful.

Knowing what you need a door to do for you and what kinds of materials and technologies achieve those ends will help you make the right choices.

Then there's the innovations and technologies to consider that make doors even more useful, efficient and environmentally friendly. So take a few moments to get familiar with the "ins and outs" of doors (yes, pun intended!) so that it's easier to make the right choice, whether it's an interior, exterior or patio door.

Types Of Doors & What You Should Know Before Choosing

Regardless of whether you're remodeling or building new, most door choices come down to which style looks best. A door is a vertical welcome mat and because it's such a visible fixture, it only makes sense to want something that looks good. But all doors aren't created equal so it pays to understand how they're made and the differences among them in order to make the right choice.

Doors For Different Roles

Doors play different roles which govern the materials they're made from and how they're built. The basic types, not counting the garage door, are interior, exterior (or entry doors as they're also called) and patio doors. Closet doors fall into the 'interior' category.

  • Exterior / Entry Doors
    Exterior doors have to stand up to the elements so they're made from several different types of materials (see the material information below).

    exterior door

    Wood has been a mainstay for entry doors but other materials like steel and fiberglass offer benefits over wood.

    The location of the exterior door is something to consider when making choices. Front doors are a good place to spend a little extra on good looks like a distinctive wood craftsman door or some other type that suits your style.

    On the other hand, entrances that are not as noticeable like garage, mudroom and back entrances might do with less distinctive doors, allowing you the opportunity to save some money. Regardless of the type you choose, try to get one that has the best insulation value available for that style and material.

  • Interior Doors
    Interior doors come in many shapes and styles running the gamut from builder grade hollow-core to beautiful custom-made wood doors. Interior doors are typically made from either wood or MDF (medium density fiberboard), an engineered wood-based product.

    interior door

    MDF doors don't have any grain and are usually painted. Because they're an engineered product, they're very stable (less likely to warp/twist) than solid wood. They can be routed, machined and formed easily which allows for the application of intricate designs or to mimic the look of traditional rail and stile doors.

    Hollow doors transmit noise more easily than solid ones and while they may be less expensive, they feel flimsier and don't have much heft. They're built with a narrow wood frame around the perimeter with two "facings" or "skins" placed on either side.

    Solid doors are made from solid wood (usually of stile and rail construction) or a real wood veneer that's layered over an MDF or some other form of hardboard core.

  • Patio Doors
    Patio doors are a bit more unique in that they're an exterior door but usually wider and they typically contain more glass. In that sense, they're somewhat like a window and it pays (literally and figuratively) to choose one with good energy performance.

    patio door

    Patio doors come in a wide variety of styles and two main configurations: sliding and hinged.

    Some hinged styles are actually french doors, with both doors hinged at the right and left sides of the frame.

    Other styles offer the look of a french door but only one of the doors opens, the other is essentially a window that looks like a door.

    Considerations to think about with patio doors is the difference in space-makeup between the sliding and hinged varieties. Sliding doors don't swing out into a room and thus take up less space. Hinged doors open into the room and require enough space for the door swing.

  • Garage Doors

    garage door

    Garage doors make up the largest doors in your house and are actually the most complex. There's a wide variety of styles and types of construction and choosing the right kind for your house takes a little understanding of what to look for.

    Since the garage door is usually one of the most visible parts of your home it makes sense to choose one that looks great and complements the style of your house. However other considerations include which materials to choose, making sure the right safety features are included and whether to install it yourself or have it done professionally.

Door Types, Terminology & Important Points

Every type of product has its unique terminology and doors are no different. Understanding "door-speak" as well as learning about the other standard features will help you browse through product literature and ultimately make a better choice.

  • Pre-Hung & Slab
    Interior and exterior doors can be bought as pre-hung units, or slabs.

    Every door is mounted in a frame (called the "jamb"), with its hinges attached to one side of the frame. A pre-hung door comes already mounted in this frame (the jamb assembly) with its hinges attached to the jamb. All that's needed for installation is to shim the door/frame assembly into the door opening (usually called the "rough opening") in your house.

    A slab door is simply the door itself, with no frame, hardware or hinges attached. If you plan to install pocket doors you could buy slab doors and then mount them in the hardware that enables them to be sliding pocket doors.

    You can buy slab doors to replace existing doors but you'll need to install the hinges and you'll probably have more work ahead of you to install them properly, making sure they're straight with no binding.

  • Fire Ratings
    Fire doors have fire ratings expressed in blocks of time like 20, 45, 60 and 90 minutes. This represents the door's ability to withstand and prevent the spread of fire, allowing you time to escape. They're made with features and materials specifically designed to meet these criteria.

    Your local building code may specify the requirements for the location and type of fire door that's needed in your home. A doorway that adjoins a garage and the interior of the house is one good example of an appropriate application, though they can be installed anywhere in the home.

  • Standard Sizing

    entry door

    Interior and exterior doors come in standard sizes although that doesn't mean you won't be able to find a custom size if you need it. But for the most part there are some standard dimensions in both height and width.

    Typical heights are 78 and 80 inches (6'6" and 6'8" though taller doors at 84 and 96 inches are available too (7' and 8').

    Widths are commonly available in sizes ranging from 24 inches (for smaller interior and closet doors) to 36 inches in 2-inch increments.

  • Other Types Of Doors
    There are some other sub-classifications of doors beyond entry, interior and patio doors. Knowing what they are and that they exist might help you solve a particular problem or provide greater design flexibility in your home.

    Pocket doors are suspended from rolling tracks and slide into an opening in the wall. A variation on that theme is a sliding door that uses the same mounting hardware. Rather than sliding into a wall pocket, they slide along an adjacent wall. Both styles make great space savers since there's no door swing involved.

    Dutch doors are split horizontally across the middle allowing you to open and close the top and bottom portions independent of one another.

    Long-span doors are related to patio doors in that they're used as a wall divider between inside and outside spaces. These products can span a pretty substantial width, essentially opening up a room to the outdoors. Types include folding doors that open in the center and accordion to the side or slide across each other.

    Shoji doors are a variation on the Japanese shoji screens which are typically used as room dividers. They have a similar construction as the shoji screen, with a wood framework and translucent fabric. They're usually a sliding door.

  • Sound Ratings

    interior door

    Interior doors are classified with a sound rating often referred to as "STC". The STC refers to "sound transmission class" and is just a fancy way of measuring the amount of sound loss through the door.

    In simplistic terms sound is measured on one side of the door and then on the other side. The drop in sound pressure (measured in decibels) provides the door's STC rating.

    For example, an STC rating of 29 means that there's a loss of 29 decibels through the door. When comparing various products, the higher the STC number, the "quieter" the door and the less noise that will pass through it.

  • RH & LH Door Swing
    Doors are specified with a right-hand or left-hand swing and governs the relationship of the hinge and handle and which way the door swings once it's hung.

    Whichever side the handle is on, as it opens to you, denotes whether it's a right-hand or left-hand door. In other words, a door that has the handle on the right-hand side as it opens to you has a right-hand (RH) swing.

    (It's sort of counter-intuitive because in this example, the hinge is on your left as you face the door and the door swings toward the left too. But, no one guaranteed this stuff would always make sense.)

    This characteristic is also known as the door's "handing".

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Door Materials

As we mentioned previously, doors are made from several different materials each with their own plusses and minuses. While wood still dominates the scene other materials like fiberglass and steel offer technologies and efficiencies that wood can't.

  • Wood
    Wood is used for both exterior and interior doors and one of it's undying features is the natural beauty that it offers.

    interior door

    With wood you have the choice of many different species and various stain colors.

    Other benefits of wood include the ability to repair minor damage like nicks and scrapes. Wood doors also have a more high-end look, particularly when they're stained to show off the beauty of the wood grain.

    Drawbacks include a high level of maintenance and wood's natural tendency to "move" (warp and twist).

    A wood exterior door will need to be refinished, sometimes annually, depending on it's exposure to the elements and sunlight. It's insulation value is also not as good as fiberglass and steel doors.

    A wood interior door is not prone to such deterioration since it's out of the elements but swelling and warping can still be an issue if it's not sealed well enough on all sides, particularly in a humid environment.

  • Fiberglass
    Fiberglass is usually used for exterior doors where its advantages are put to good use against the elements. Don't be put off by fact that it's fiberglass -- many fiberglass doors do an incredible job mimicking the look of natural wood.

    The benefits of fiberglass include a relatively maintenance-free product and better insulating values than a solid wood door. This is because the door's core is filled with foam and/or other insulating materials. Fiberglass also doesn't rot or swell like wood can.

    The downsides of a fiberglass door are minimal, with the most prominent arguably being the fact that it isn't a true "wood" door. But some fiberglass doors are hard to distinguish from real wood so this downside is subjective.

  • Steel
    Steel is another kind of entry door material and it's positives include good insulating values and general durability.

    exterior door

    Like fiberglass, steel won't rot, twist or bow like wood might when exposed to the elements. It usually costs less than a wood door.

    On the flip side steel doors can dent and they'll also rust if the finish paint is scratched off exposing the steel base material. However, unless you're pretty hard on your doors, a steel door should be pretty durable and offer good service.

    One other downside is that detailing on some steel doors isn't as crisp as wood or fiberglass, easily revealing the fact that it's not a true wood 6-panel exterior door you're looking at.

  • MDF
    MDF or medium density fiberboard is an engineered material made from wood fibers pressed tightly together and combined with glue binders. Many interior doors are made from MDF.

    The beauty of MDF is that it's a stable material and isn't susceptible to bowing or twisting like real wood. It's also easily molded and machined which allows manufacturers to include detailing that looks very similar to the kind you see on real wood doors. Raised panel and mission style doors to name a few are easily reproduced using MDF.

    MDF is a good choice if you're going to paint your doors since you're not going to see any wood grain (because MDF doors don't have a wood grain). That brings the cost down relative to a similar-sized/detailed wood door.

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Features, Choices & Innovations Worth Noting

You might just think a door is just like any other, save for some minor detail differences or material types. But believe it or not, there are some innovations and features offered by various manufacturers that are worth noting.

Being aware of what they are will give you a broader spectrum of available choices and might help you ultimately decide which kind of door is right for your particular application.

At the least, noting what these special features are might help you find a product that you otherwise wouldn't be aware of or might not consider. As you do more research and look at manufacturer websites, look for any new features and innovations they might have. Companies are constantly looking for ways to compete and by developing these new features and technologies, you ultimately benefit through better products.

  • Rot/Decay Resistant Woods
    Some manufacturers feature special technologies that provide greater resistance to the ravages of the elements. Some Jeld-Wen doors are made with their AuraLast® wood which is treated to resist decay, termites and water saturation. Their technology involves protection 'to the core' vs. a topical treatment.
  • Realistic Faux-Wood Treatment
    Fiberglass entry doors do a pretty good job of impersonating their real-wood cousins but some companies take extra efforts to make this happen. ThermaTru doors use AccuGrain™ technology to achieve a real wood look on their fiberglass models. Their process uses multiple dies and casting techniques taken off of real wood doors to reproduce a real-wood look.
  • Practical Ingenuity

    chalkboard doorPhoto Courtesy of Simpson Door

    Doors offer style and beauty but they can also be practical and serve more useful purposes than what you'd normally think. Examples include chalkboard doors that offer actual chalkboard panels in the door.

    Simpson Door offers a model with several options for a chalkboard panel. Masonite also offers an interior door in both wood and MDF that features chalkboard panels. These products offer a convenient place to leave messages, whether it's a reminder to clean the room on your teen's bedroom door or a grocery list on the kitchen door.

    Other practical innovations involve entry doors that put mini-blinds between the panes of glass. Therma-Tru's PDF® French/Hinged patio doors include blinds inside the glass meaning you'll never have to deal with cleaning the dust off those blinds anymore.

  • Detailed Embossing On A Steel Door
    The nature of steel doors makes them harder to achieve detailed embossing to get a look like raised panel models. But ThermaTru employs a high-definition embossing treatment in their ProEdge™ and Profiles™ steel entry doors. The result is a deeper and crisper embossing that looks much more like a typical wood paneled door.
  • Ultra-Quiet Doors
    Looking for a door that will really block out the sound? Look for products with high STC ratings. The QuietHome Door by Serious Materials has an STC rating of 44 for a 1-3/4" thick door and a rating of 51 for a 2-1/4" door. By comparison, hollow core doors have STC ratings around 15 and solid core models are usually around 27 to 30.
  • Environmentally Friendly Doors
    There are lots of green options when it comes to choosing doors. Jeld-Wen offers products made from Juniper in their Custom Wood Estate Collection. Juniper can be an invasive plant that crowds out other desirable plant species and is often discarded once removed from the habitat. Use of Juniper provides a use for the wood that might otherwise be destroyed.

    Jeld-Wen also makes doors with no-added formaldehyde outer skins that meet the stringent California Air Resources Board limits.

    Other options include environmentally friendly interior doors made from sustainable processes using low/no-toxic materials. CMI makes the Craftmaster Green Door that is SCS (Scientific Certification Systems) certified to have no added urea formaldehyde and includes a minimum of 63% recycled content like wood by-products from other wood processing operations.

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Where To Get Your Doors & Free Price Quotes

Shopping for doors starts with an understanding of 'what's out there' and getting a sense of who offers the kinds of products you're looking for. Once you settle on a particular style and/or features, you'll greatly narrow down your choices.

A good place to start before you even get in the car is the internet. Browsing through the sites of several door manufacturers can help you get a sense of what's available. Usually their websites will have a dealer locator function that can show you where to find products in your local area.

Doors are sold at the traditional home and lumberyard centers as well as at dealers who specialize in doors and windows. These dealers sometimes concentrate on one or two brands so you might have to search your local area a bit if you're interested in a particular brand.

If you'd like to find a supplier and installer of doors in your local area, fill out the form below. HomeStyleChoices.com partners with Reliable Remodeler to help homeowners find local contractors and sources of products.

When you use this form you'll be contacted at your convenience by several door professionals that can provide free estimates for your project. Just click the appropriate radio buttons on the form and then input your zip code. There's no obligation and it's a convenient way to make contact with door installation services that can assist you.

Doors are also sold online. If you're in the market for interior doors that don't involve some of the complexities of patio and exterior doors, buying online might be a good option. Pricing can sometimes be very competitive.

Door pricing can vary all over the map depending on the type you want, it's features, sizes, wood type, etc. If you're not absolutely zeroed in on specific model 1-2-3 with features x-y-z, you might be best served by visiting a local home center or door dealer and getting familiar with what you can get for various price points. If you're planning on having your door installed for you, don't forget to include installation costs.

There again, some online retailers provide pricing on their website so you can also get an idea on cost using that avenue too.

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Here's More Related Info That Might Be Helpful...

Choosing Garage Doors - Your garage door forms one of the most visible parts of your home. Find out how to choose the right garage door when it comes time to replace your existing door.

Chalkboard Doors - Chalkboard doors offer a handy place to jot down the grocery list or let your child's creativity flow.

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