The Right Door Can Perk Up a Plain Entrance

December 28, 2013

Choosing doorsFor Anthony Onorato, replacing his front door was a priority during a recent renovation of his Chicago row house. His goal was to get a durable door that would withstand frigid winds off Lake Michigan and provide greater security, yet make a good first impression.

Fortunately for new Chicago homeowners, front-door manufacturers offer an ever increasing array of styles, colors and sizes that provide energy savings and less maintenance.

After Onorato narrowed his choices to those approved by his homeowners association, he chose a wooden door.

Front-door replacement is a project few do-it-yourselfers tackle, said Ron Krauch, project manager for Pro Home Improvements in Palos Heights, which did Onorato’s remodel. Not counting extras, an entry door plus installation costs about $1,600 for steel or fiberglass or $4,000 for wood, he said.

“Yes, you can get a cheaper door at a big-box store than through a contractor, but the devil’s in the details, like cheaper hinges,” Krauch said.

Here are the pros and cons of three basic front doors: wood, fiberglass and steel.

Wood. Solid wood is pricey but exudes charm and good looks. Wooden entry doors come in limitless sizes and styles, from flush (flat) to hand-carved.

Manufacturers have expanded choices of tree species. Andersen Corp., for example, offers seven species and can get others on request.

To find a century-old wooden door with character, shop salvage suppliers, said woodworker Tim Reidy of Napervillel. “The old, slow-growth grain is very tight,” he said. “You can’t buy it (new) like that anymore. Douglas fir or pine are good, but mahogany weathers the best.”

Reidy recommends using marine varnish on wooden doors to protect them from snow, rain and temperature swings.

Keep in mind that some doors touted as wood are wood veneer over engineered wood. Wood is not as energy-efficient as some other types of doors, but manufacturers say it’s the seal that matters. That’s why new ones are sold as prehung systems.

Fiberglass. Lower on the price ladder are fiberglass composite doors filled with wood framework and foam insulation. Wood-grain finishes and textures provide a rustic look.

Fiberglass is more durable than steel, which can dent, and includes more styles. It comes painted, unfinished or split for those who want one color inside and another outside.

Color is the big news in fiberglass. Through Therma-Tru’s color-selection guide (, color consultant Kate Smith helps you choose colors based on factors including your covenants, weather and fixed features such as your roof.

“Pick a color that lets the house fit in but stand out,” Smith said. “Instead of black, for example, try a deep purple or adventurous red. The right color tells people, ‘This home has style. Come in and see.'”

Steel. Steel is the most affordable style and what many production homebuilders prefer. Inside the steel skin is a foam core and wood or steel frame.

Remodeling magazine’s 2013 Cost vs. Value Report said a steel door is the most cost-effective upgrade you can give your house, with 85.6 percent of your cost recouped at resale.

Many homeowners must choose steel because their city building codes say so. Steel doors offer the fewest design choices, but you can jazz them up with paint.

Options. Most homeowners choose at least one extra, especially windows and peepholes, said Derek Brosterhous of Jeld-Wen.

For $100 to $200, you can get a triple lock. It includes a deadbolt andbolts that secure the door to the house above and below the frame. Or install a hidden metal plate (go to for instructions) for $30 to $70. With either add-on, a would-be intruder would have to kick in the wall to gain entry.

Onorato appreciates his door’s built-in shades, which give light during the day and privacy at night.

It seems that the more choices we have for front doors, the less we use them. A garage door is more convenient as a main entry for many homeowners.

Still, the front door is more than a vestige. It says your house has flair, while protecting you from the elements and break-ins.

“You can tell the door that’s been replaced,” Onorato said. “The new one tells people the homeowner is taking care of the house.”

This post was originally published by the Chicago Tribune on Dec. 20, 2013.

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