How to: Choose a front door
Even if you can’t afford to make any other changes to the exterior this year, upgrading (or at least sprucing up) your front door can provide a high return on your investment. Apart from the improved energy efficiency of a well-insulated and well-fitting door, you may be eligible for government rebates such as the Home Renovation Tax Credit as well as incentives for energy retrofits.
Steel doors are probably the most popular replacement doors, for several reasons. The first, of course, is that they are the least expensive option (though premium models can cost nearly as much as a solid wood door). Steel doors are durable, more secure than wood, and will never warp, twist or crack. Generally, the interior features a steel or wooden inner frame filled with insulating foam, resulting in a door that provides as much as five times the R-value of an ordinary wood door. However, for all their durability, steel doors are vulnerable to dents, and if the painted skin is breached by a scratch or severe dent, it can rust. And don’t combine a steel door with a storm door; heat build-up between the doors can cause the surface to peel.
Aluminum doors are a relative newcomer to the market and share many of the same advantages as aluminum siding, including a baked-on enamel finish that never needs repainting and won’t rust. There are literally dozens of styles and colours available, including wood finishes. You can also combine an aluminum door with a storm door without fear of the hazards of heat build-up. The main drawback is that, like steel, aluminum can dent, and since they are usually built to order, aluminum doors are more expensive than steel.Fibreglass doors are much more resistant to damage than steel or aluminum and can be made to mimic genuine wood exactly, but without the drawbacks of wood. These doors can be painted or stained any way you choose; in fact, they should be repainted every five years or so, making them higher-maintenance than steel.
Composite (or wood-veneer) doors combine an MDF (or stronger engineered-wood) core with a wood veneer. In some ways this is the best of both worlds, in that you get the matchless beauty of genuine wood with the strength, R-value and weather resistance of a manmade. However, these doors require as much maintenance as a solid wood door.
Genuine wood is the traditionalist’s choice and available in just about any type of commercially logged wood, from premium species like mahogany, teak and walnut to economical paint-grade species such as hemlock or pine. And ironically, some types of wood actually stand up better to the elements than manmade.
New construction methods reduce many of the drawbacks of solid wood, while maintaining its beauty and authenticity. One method is called “cut and turn,” whereby the lumber is cut lengthwise into sections and every alternating piece is turned 180 degrees, virtually eliminating the stresses that cause warping or bowing. Another method combines a core of a more stable species of wood with a veneer of a premium wood—giving you the look without the cost or vulnerabilities of a solid door made from a more expensive species.
However, along with wood’s main drawbacks, the insulating value of a wood door is not as high as a manmade with an insulated core. (Wood proponents do point out, however, that the front door itself is only a tiny proportion of the overall outer surface of your house; inadequate weatherstripping can make any type of door far less efficient.) And wood, whether solid or veneer, requires regular maintenance, including staining or painting and sealing.