Entry doors are often more than just front doors–those we tested can also be used in back or on the side. Because the front entrance of your home commands the most attention from the street, it also commands the most attention in the marketplace. Here’s what to consider, wherever you put it.
We’ve found that most entry doors perform well overall. But the materials they’re made of–fiberglass, steel, and wood–each have strengths and weaknesses. And while a low-priced steel door can be the equal of a wood or fiberglass door costing five times as much, it’s not the best choice for wear and tear.
Steel and fiberglass doors typically have more insulating value than wood doors. Models that are Energy Star-qualified must be independently tested and certified, and often boast tighter-fitting frames, energy-efficient cores, and, for models with glass, double- or triple-panel insulating glass to reduce heat transfer. You’ll find more details on the federal EPA’s EnergyStar website. But you may not save as much as you think, since doors are a small part of the surface area of a house and typically don’t allow significant amounts of warm air to escape. What’s more, heat is generally lost through air leaks around the door, not through the door itself.
They’re relatively inexpensive and can offer the security and weather resistance of much pricier fiberglass and wood doors. Steel doors require little maintenance–unless dents are a part of your home scenario. They’re energy-efficient, though adding glass panels cuts their insulating value.
A steel door is your best bet if security and durability are top priorities. Steel units are stronger than wood or fiberglass doors, and they won’t crack or warp. Any dents or dings on these doors can be pulled and puttied with an auto-body repair kit. All steel doors have an inner frame made of wood or, for greater strength, steel. The cavities within the frame are filled with high-density foam insulation. Premium doors typically have a 24-gauge skin and a steel frame, though some offer heavier-gauge steel (represented by a lower number). The surface usually is smooth or has an embossed wood-grain pattern. Most steel doors are coated with a baked-on polyester finish that requires periodic repainting. Premium versions get a vinyl coating similar to the one on vinyl-clad windows for greater weather resistance. Some even have a stainable wood-fiber coating or, on really high-end versions, a laminated-wood veneer. Steel doors usually are part of a pre hung system. But if you’re simply lifting the old door off its hinges and hanging a new one, remember that steel doors come with hinges attached or holes for the hinges predrilled. The hinge area on the door must match the hinge area on the existing door frame. Some doors come with an extra predrilled hole for the hinges, which allows minor adjustments to be made when hanging the door. Also, if you choose an embossed wood grain, make sure it runs horizontally on the rails and vertically on the stiles. Finally, check the warranty. Some manufacturers will void it if you install an aluminum storm door with the steel door. The reason: Heat buildup between the doors might cause the finish to peel.