Whether you’re deciding on what style of door you want for your main front entry, or to your patio, or to any other area that leads to the outdoors, there are several door styles to consider. It’s not just a matter of choosing a traditional single, or double, French doors for your main entrance. You could also install a pivot door, or a dutch door. For your patio doors, there are French doors, sliding doors, and bifold doors to consider. This week and next, we’ll talk about the pros and cons of each style of exterior door.
This mini lesson will focus more on door styles than materials. But here’s a brief summary of the materials that exterior doors are typically made of.
Wood is one of the more common choices for front doors today, especially in custom built houses. Today’s wood doors are usually made of an engineered wood core, or steel core, covered by an outer layer of wood veneer (remember, wood veneer is just a thin, sheet of wood).
This type of construction minimizes warping and decreases the cost of the door, as compared to a solid wood door. That’s because, compared to solid wood doors, engineered wood and steel-door cores are generally cheaper and more dimensionally stable. Dimensionally stable meaning the material doesn’t increase and decrease in size very much when exposed to moisture and temperature changes .
Look for furniture-grade veneers that are at least 1/16 of an inch thick. If the veneers are any thinner than that, they can be easily damaged. Wood doors need to be maintained with periodic painting or staining, but many homeowners are willing to do that extra maintenance because they can’t resist the beauty of authentic wood.
Fiberglass doors can be really affordable, but look for pricier, good quality ones that are dent resistant and durable. Fiberglass doors are available with a smooth surface that can be painted or, an embossed wood-grain texture that can be stained. Fiberglass doors rarely need touch-ups and their foam core makes them pretty energy efficient, so they perform well in harsh climates. Look for Energy Star rated doors for the most energy efficiency. One drawback with fiberglass doors is that they can crack with extreme impact.
Steel doors are fairly inexpensive and account for about one half of the market. They can offer the same security and weather resistance as pricier fiberglass and wood doors. They’re fairly strong and won’t crack or warp, but they can dent. Minor dents can be be repaired, but you may need to replace a door if you have large dents. Steel doors can also be scratched, and scratches may rust if they aren't repainted promptly. Depending on the core, a steel door can be very energy efficient. But steel conducts heat, so unless the door has an insulating core and/or an Energy Star rating, steel doors are not ideal for extreme climates.
Okay, so that was a very brief overview of the most common exterior door materials. Now let’s get into door styles. What style doors should you choose for your front, side, back or patio doors?
TYPICAL HINGED SINGLE DOORS
Sometimes a typical, swinging, hinged, single door works best. Standard sized exterior doors are either usually 36 inches wide and just under 7 feet tall. Standard doors have 2 hinges on the side that allow them to swing inward or outward. If you choose an out-swing configuration, consider the impact of drifting snow on your ability to open and close your door. With in-swinging doors, snow or rain may cling to the exterior of your door and could potentially cause moisture to be brought inside.
You can have sidelights installed on both sides of your single door to let in plenty of natural light. Sidelights are usually narrow, vertical, stationary windows found immediately adjacent to a door.
Pros of a typical, hinged single door
1. Affordable-- basic single doors are generally the most affordable style you can choose.
2. Energy efficient-- depending on the material used, a single door can be one of the most
energy efficient door styles too.
3. Safe-- because they usually have excellent locking options and provide privacy.
Cons of a typical, hinged single door
1. Plain-- they can look sort of plain and lack uniqueness. You can remedy this, though, by painting your door a bold color.
2. Natural light--they let in less natural light as compared to other door options, especially if they don’t have glass at the top half of the door.
3. Limited sight lines--they limit your sight lines to the outdoors, which could be an issue if you want to keep an eye on kids and/or pets playing outside. This is especially true if you only have side lights and no glass incorporated into the door itself.
FRENCH DOORS/DOUBLE DOORS
French doors are hinged double doors that can open either outwards or inwards. When open, French doors provide full access to the entire width of the door opening. This is in contrast to most other door styles that eat up a few inches of space when the door is open.
French doors range in size, but they are typically 6 to 10 feet high and, together, they are 3 to 8 feet wide. Although they can be made completely of wood, or some solid material, many French doors include at least some glass.
Pros of French Doors
1. Luxurious-- they can make a home look and feel more luxurious. If you browse photos of luxury homes, they often have double front doors. Double doors can take an ordinary home and make it look and feel grander and more valuable. French doors can also provide balance for large exteriors.
2. Natural light-- when they’re made with glass, they provide lots of natural light to dark rooms and entries. Not only does this help the house look more beautiful, but it can also help to decrease your use of electricity.
3. Lightweight-- an individual French door is usually lighter in weight than other door types. This can be helpful for the elderly, small children or those with disabilities.
4. Wide Opening-- opened French doors give you a wider opening into or out of the house.
A single front door is generally enough room for homeowners most of the time, but there are times when a little extra space can be nice: if you’re pushing a baby stroller, in a wheel chair, bringing in large packages, or moving furniture, for example. A second door that swings open can make it easier for you to get through.
Cons French doors
1. Need more space-- French doors require a little more space to open than most doors since their hinges allow them to fully open up. Plus, French doors are often wider than standard single doors. This means you will have to carefully consider whether you have enough room comfortably open them.
2. Price-- French doors are usually more expensive than basic, single doors and basic sliding patio doors.
3. Installation is more difficult-- installing French doors is not a simple DIY task. You either need to be very handy, or get a professional installer.
4. Not very energy efficient-- French doors are well known for their poor energy ratings. The area where they join together allows outside air and wind-driven rain to enter your home. This can increase cooling and heating bills and cause potential water damage to interior flooring. All exterior French doors should be fitted with weather stripping to help decrease these issues.
5. Less secure--double French entry doors can be more easily compromised due to their center locking system. Because the locking system doesn’t extend into the fixed-in-place door jamb, French doors can broken into more easily than some other door styles. Add a multi-lock system to increase security.
6. Shut by the wind--French doors can be blown closed by the wind when you want them open
(this can be a problem mostly in a patio area).
Bifold doors are known as folding doors or accordion doors. They are opened by folding back their panels in sections. They’re known as ‘bi-fold doors’, despite them usually having more than two panels.
They can be opened up completely and pushed to the side so the entire doorway is unobstructed. They are a great option for indoor-outdoor living.
Pros of BiFold Doors
1. Views-- their large panels are often 3-4 feet wide each. Each Panel also ranges from about 7 to 9 or 10 feet tall. These large panels of glass let you enjoy expansive views.
2. Natural Light-- they let in an abundance of natural light
3. Energy efficient-- although they aren’t usually as energy efficient as a well-insulated, single doors made of fiberglass, wood or steel, in most cases, quality bifold doors are pretty energy efficient (I’ve been told, though, that they just a little less energy efficient than multislide doors, which we’ll talk about in a second). And obviously since they are made of glass, the energy efficiency of bifold doors will depend on the energy efficiency of the glass panels that you choose.
Cons of BiFold Doors
1. Space needed--they still require some interior or exterior space when fully opened, but less space than French doors
2. Security-- some models are not as great for security as other door styles because they sort of “float” over their track. In other words, they aren’t as solidly planted in place as other options, even when closed. To increase security, ask for anti-lift bars and internal locking bolts and hooks to keep all the panels together when the door is shut.
3. Price-- they are expensive, averaging about $1000 per sq foot, so a 10 ft wide patio door would cost you about $10,000.
Well, that was part 1 of the ins and outs of exterior doors. Next week, we’ll discuss the pros and cons of sliding doors (including Multi-Slide doors), pivot doors, and dutch doors. I’ll also answer the question, “What ever happened to storm doors and screen doors? Are they still a thing?"
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Please remember that the purpose of this podcast/blog is simply to educate and inform. It is not a substitute for professional advice. The information that you hear is based the only on the opinions, research and experiences of my guests and myself. That information might be incomplete and it’s subject to change, so it may not apply to your project. In addition, building codes and requirements vary from region to region, so always consult a professional about specific recommendations for your home.