Exterior doors: the right choice | Pro Construction Guide
Exterior doors

Exterior doors: Making the right choice

Choosing a door

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.

Stay true to style

Renovations to existing homes should always attempt to match the home’s architectural style. Doors in modern homes should reflect the clean lines, lack of ornamentation and expanses of glass that define this style.

Traditional homes are better matched with a door featuring divided light designs. A Spanish-style home might feature a door with an arched shape, decorative glass and wrought iron accents.

Online guides such as Jeldwen’s design center at www.jeld-wen.com or (800) 535-3936 are an excellent resource.

Wood, fiberglass or steel exterior doors?

Wood, fiberglass and steel are the most common door materials and each has its advantages.

Steel doors are energy star compliant

When filled with a polystyrene core, steel doors are energy star compliant and are available with fire ratings to 90 minutes.

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 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.

Fiiberglass doors

The fiberglass doors have the same features energy saving steel doors, combined with the appearance of wooden 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 wood door.

Many homeowners prefer the natural warmth of a well-crafted wood door.

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.

Choosing door options

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.

Add light to the home’s interior with the addition of a transom or sidelights. The options are endless and include stained glass; textured, fluted or beveled glass; and unique grill designs.

Choosing a door comes down to balancing aesthetics, energy efficiency and function with cost. But with new tax credits in place, exterior door renovations represent a great opportunity for remodelers to grow their businesses. Homeowners will not only save money by increasing the energy efficiency of their homes, but they can also save on a renovation that will dramatically enhance the home’s style and curb appeal.

Understanding the NFRC Label for exterior doors

The National Fenestration Rating Council (NFRC) label makes it possible to compare the energy performance ratings of exterior doors. NFRC ratings evaluate the performance of the entire door, not just the glass or door slab. The U-factor and SHGC can be found on the National Fenestration Rating Council (NFRC) label. For more information, visit www.nfrc.org (English only) or call (301) 589-1776.

U-factor – measures the rate of heat loss through the product. Expressed as a number between 0 and 1, the lower the U-value, the greater the resistance to heat flow and the better the insulating value.

Solar Heat Gain Coefficient (SHGC) measures how well a product blocks heat caused by sunlight. The lower a window’s SHGC, the less solar heat it transmits in the house. SHGC is expressed as a value between 0 and 1.

Visible Transmittance (VT) measures how much light comes through a product. VT is expressed as a number between 0 and 1. The higher the VT, the more the light is transmitted.

Air Leakage (AL) is expressed as the equivalent cubic feet of air passing through a square foot of window or door area (cfm/sq. ft.). The lower theAL, the less air will pass through cracks in the window/door assembly.*

Condensation Resistance (CR) measures the ability of a product to resist the formation of condensation on the interior surface of that product. The higher the CR rating, the better that product is at resisting condensation formation. CR is expressed as a number between 0 and 100.

—By J. Costin

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