Getting to know doors

The first thing people see when they come to your home is the door. It’s up to you to decide how welcoming (or forbidding) you want it to appear. There are all kinds of design options (colours, windows, knobs, etc.), as well as different types of doors.

What is a door?

A door is a structure that opens and closes to allow access to your home, or to various rooms in your home. Doors can swing on hinges, or they can slide or even fold. They can open to the left or the right, depending on what fits the structure of your home.

But if you think that allowing access to your home is a door’s only function, think again. Doors help keep the weather out, and keep the heat in. They also act as a barrier against fire, as well as unwanted intruders. They are a pretty important part of your home. When selecting a door for your home, you not only want to consider its appearance, but also the security provided, and the energy efficiency.

Doors can be made of a variety of materials, commonly steel, aluminum, wood, PVC, or fibreglass. In Canada, any exterior door must have some type of insulation; otherwise, in many areas of the country, you are going to get frost on the inside of your door. Normally, exterior doors will have a foam insulation injected into the door.

How does it work?

There are all kinds of doors, so let’s take a look at a few types, and how they operate:

  • Hinged doors: When you think of a door, you’re probably picturing a standard hinged entrance door. This type of door can be made of a single piece of solid wood, or it can have a hollow core. There are normally two or three hinges, attaching the door to the jamb. The number of hinges is usually related to the height and weight of the door. Depending on where the door is situated, and its purpose, it may have a door knob or lever type opener, which may or may not lock. A regular hinged door is definitely the most common type of door you’ll see, and can be used as an interior or exterior door. These can be very inexpensive, simple to install, can be made of virtually any material, and can be as simple or as impressive as you want. These doors are either pushed or pulled open on the “handing” side (not the side with the hinges). They swing open in one direction (inwards or outwards) on the hinges to allow entry or exit. It’s important to note, when installing a door, that clearance space is needed behind the door to allow room for it to open. Some doors can swing both in and out, but these are not usually seen in homes, but more likely in a commercial establishment, like a restaurant.
  • French doors: These are really just a set of two hinged doors, usually made of glass with a wood frame. They normally swing inward, and are locked with bolts at the top and bottom, as well as a regular lock on the knob or lever. These are great for letting in lots of light, and are often used to lead onto a deck or patio. However, a lot of glass usually means a lot of heat loss, unless you get double glazed or low-e glass. And to make this more secure, Plexiglass or Lexan are good options instead of regular glass.
  • Bi-fold doors: These are a beautiful way of opening your home to the outdoors. You often see this type of door on closets, but they can also be used as exterior doors. These are similar to a regular hinged door, but are usually made of a transparent material (glass or other) and have an extra set of hinges in the middle, with a track at the top and bottom. The door opens accordion-style and slides out of the way on the track, allowing you to have a large entranceway to your patio, and really bring the outdoors in. This type of door, made of wood, metal, or another material can also be used inside your home instead of a regular hinged door, when space is at a premium. Because of the extra set of hinges in the middle, only half as much clearance is needed.
  • Sliding doors: These doors are often used to open to patios or decks. They can have a track on the bottom, and a track on the top, and at least one of the panels slides to allow entry. The panel that moves is called the “active leaf”, while the fixed panel is the “inactive leaf”. Normally, there is a stopper at each end of the track, so the door won’t slide right off. These doors allow you to have a great view of the outdoors(when made of glass) , they close tightly to provide a good seal against the weather, and they’re space-saving; they don’t require clearance, as a hinged door would, for instance. Sometimes, sliding doors will actually slide right into a wall; great space savers called “Pocket doors”.

What should you do when something goes wrong?

Some common problems with doors, include:

  • Sticky doors: Wood expands and contracts, depending on the humidity in the air. If high humidity is causing a door to stick, you can start by trying a dehumidifier. If that doesn’t do the trick, you may need to sand down part of the door.
  • Sloppy hinges: Hinges may become loose over time. If tightening up the screws doesn’t work, they may be stripped.
  • Loose latches: If you have a hard time getting your door to latch, or if it won’t stay latched, there are a few things you can try. First, try tightening the screws in the strike plate. The strike plate is the part, on the door jamb, that the bolt fits into. If it still won’t latch, take a look with a flashlight to see where the latch is hitting. It might be too high, too low, or too close to the front or back. You may need to readjust the strike plate. If only a slight adjustment is needed, you can try grinding the strike plate’s opening with a file. If that doesn’t work, you might need to remove the strike plate and install it in a different spot.
  • Paint buildup: Over the years, if a door has been painted several times, it may start to stick due to a buildup of paint. Start by sanding the area that is sticking. You might need to scrape off some of the old paint with paint remover, and then sand the door. If this is the case, you can finish it off by applying a very thin coat of paint. And don’t forget to let it dry completely before closing the door.
  • Squeaking hinges: If your door is squeaking every time you open or close it, try lubricating the hinges with a silicone spray.
  • Cold air coming in under the door: You may need to re-caulk around your door to prevent air leaks. You also might consider adding or replacing weather stripping especially if your door is not closing properly.
  • Door hits the wall: If the door swings open and hits the wall, you could end up with the knob going right through the drywall. There is an easy repair for this. A simple door stop can be installed on the wall or on the door. One end is screwed into the door or the wall, and the other end has a rubber cap which will cause the door to stop before it can cause any damage. Another type of doorstop is called a “hinge stop”. You simply remove one of the hinge pins, put in the hinge stop, and put the pin back in the hinge. These stops are adjustable so you can have the door stop at a specific spot.

Take a look at Popular Mechanics for a great “How to” section with diagrams for repairing common door problems.

What can you do to maintain your doors?

The type and amount of maintenance required depends on the type of door. Let’s take a look some common door materials:

  • Steel: These doors are very low maintenance, and have excellent insulation properties.
  • Aluminum: Low maintenance, but not a good insulator. These doors are very light, so are most often used for balcony or screen doors.
  • Wood: Some maintenance required. Solid wood doors are quite rare nowadays, and would likely be found only in heritage type homes. Modern laminate doors are less prone to warping due to weather and temperature changes. These doors have panels made of wood veneer, with insulation material injected in between. They need to be sealed against humidity, and then painted or stained. Good weather stripping will help make the door air tight, and should be replaced as necessary.
  • Fibreglass: These doors are very low maintenance. Just wash them with soap, and check the weather stripping once in a while. They are resistant to wear and tear, and are humidity proof.
  • PVC: These doors are also low maintenance. PVC doors are very resistant to weather damage and corrosion, very sturdy, with steel reinforcement inside, and good insulation properties.

What is the life expectancy?

According to the International Association of Certified House Inspectors, exterior doors made of wood, steel, or fibreglass will last the life of the house. Vinyl doors will have a shorter life expectancy. With regard to interior doors, they should last a lifetime, but French doors will fail sooner. Here is their chart:

Door type Life expectancy
Fiberglass (Exterior) 100+ years
Fire-rated steel (Exterior) 100+ years
French (Interior) 30 to 50 years
Screen (Exterior) 40 years
Vinyl (Exterior) 20 years
Wood (Exterior) 100+ years
Screen (Exterior) 40 years
Wood (Hollow core interior) 20 to 30 years
Wood (Solid core exterior) 30 to 100 years

What will your home insurance provider want to know?

Your home insurance provider will want to know about anything affecting the security of your home. They normally won’t be concerned about whether your doors are steel, wood, or PVC, but they may want to know that every outside door has a deadbolt lock.

Of course, it’s also important to let your insurer know if you have any specialty doors that may increase the cost to rebuild your home. If you’ve installed very expensive wood and glass folding doors leading to your deck, instead of the usual sliding glass doors, you should let your insurer know the cost to replace them should anything happen.

image of different door types
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