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Front Entry Doors by the Numbers

Published June 23, 2016


According to the 2016 Cost v. Value report from Remodeling Magazine, installing a new front door is one of the best investments a homeowner can make – with a return on investment (ROI) of 82% to over 90%, depending on the type of door you buy (fiberglass or steel, respectively). It's not hard to see why a new front door is so valuable to both homeowners building a new house from home plans and those who own existing homes, as it provides security, privacy, and an upgrade to your property's aesthetics and curb appeal.


A front door upgrade is recommended, but are all doors created equal? Steel doors provide the optimal way to recoup your money, as they are stylish and durable at an affordable price. Fiberglass doors are resistant to weather conditions and are maintenance free, while there's almost no material that can match the luxury of wood doors. Some other ways to maximize the ROI include expanding from a single door to a double door or buying a unit with decorative glass or elaborate trim molding. Once you decide on the kind of door you want – in terms of material – then you can decide on these variables, available with whatever type of door you buy.


Door Material Is Your First Choice


When buying windows, as opposed to doors, you need to evaluate the many different style choices that each types offers – and their pros and cons. Some windows slide open; others open using hinges; while some don't open at all and are just designed as a source of natural light. When it comes to doors, the “type” isn't necessarily a variable, but instead the key buying decision is material. The material from which your door is constructed will determine its energy efficiency, cost, and looks.



Steel Doors


With over a 91% ROI, installing a front door made of steel is pretty much a worry-free project. Steel doors are actually the most affordable on the market, and they provide some of the best thermal resistance (comfort) and energy efficiency (dollar savings). Although it would seem that steel would be a highly durable front door option, the material can actually be prone to paint chipping and oxidization when exposed directly to the weather. For the most part, a steel door is generally used as a temporary solution or a renovation that is done just as the home is prepared to go on the market. But it can look right at home on a Country-style home plan or Ranch house plan and last a long time under the right conditions


If you're looking for a steel door as a long-term investment, it's important to weigh the discrepancy between premium and inferior products. With regard to steel, this comes in the form of material thickness. All steel is not created equal, and the higher the gauge number, the thinner and more vulnerable the door will be. Residential doors are normally 18 or 16 gauge. Interior doors may be 20 gauge. Heavier gauge steel (14 gauge) is often the material of choice for commercial and industrial buildings because it is both secure and durable.


Steel entry doors are manufactured with a core of insulation – usually foam – but steel itself is a thermally conductive material, so the doors must be manufactured with a thermal break, preventing thermal transfer between inside and outside and adding a layer of protection against the elements. Most steel doors can be repainted using 100% acrylic paint, though some warn against it, but for the most part they require very low maintenance.

Steel doors come as flat panel units, panel doors embossed with 2 to 8 panels (left), and glass-panel doors (right).




Wood Doors


Many residential wood doors ­– especially less expensive doors – are not constructed of a solid chunk as you might expect. Instead they contain an environmentally stable plywood or laminate veneer over a hardwood backer that provides durability. The core is a rigid energy efficient material that provides insulating properties. This manufacturing process makes wood doors more affordable but it still doesn't eliminate the vulnerabilities that all wood succumbs to – primarily weathering, insect damage, and decay, and the need to be treated with some kind of finish every few years.


Of course there are wood doors constructed of solid pieces. They are 100% wood, which makes them very heavy but also very secure and durable. Wood doors provide a great return on investment but with a slippery slope – they are most appealing the newer they are and do not fare well with age. Fortunately, solid wood doors, just like wood floors, can be sanded down and refinished a number of times. A quality wood door would look right at home on a Luxury style home plan or European house plan. The thing with wood doors is that they not only can be maintained, in most cases they must be maintained. Other doors are mostly “set it and forget it.”

Wood doors are luxurious and can come with or without glass. This glass-panel entry door to a 4-bedroom, 2½-bath French style Country home plan is surrounded by sidelites and a transom above, all with elaborate decorative caming in the glass (House Plan #149-1158).




Fiberglass Doors


Fiberglass is perhaps the perfect mesh of the two other popular door types – steel and wood. Fiberglass offers the durability of steel but can be manufactured with a finer grain texture to capture the appearance of wood. Fiberglass doors offer perhaps the biggest variance in value between low and high end, however. Cheaper versions of the door have the tendency to crack in cold weather and deteriorate quickly.


High-end fiberglass doors, on the other hand, can last for decades even when the unit is untreated. Mold and insects are not attracted to fiberglass as they are to wood, and the material does not rust as steel doors may over time. Fiberglass doors can be stained or painted to restore luster lost over time, and the models with significant depth to their wood grain will be appealing to future home buyers. They can go with almost any style of house, including Farmhouse home plans and Modern House Plans.

With the look of expensive mahogany, this fiberglass door boasts beautiful Craftsman style glass, perfect for a Craftsman home plan, and needs very little maintenance compared with its namesake.


Once you've determined your ideal door material, the rest comes down just to finding a style that suits your needs – and whether or not you want to add glass (and how much), sidelites, extra trim, or double doors. Most doors have the same functionality, but one that can be enhanced with heavy-duty locks and nowadays Smartphone automation is ideal. Regardless, they have been and will continue to be one of the best ways to put money back into your home or business. 


Footnote: The lead image is of the front door of a 4-bedroom, 4½-bath luxury European style home plan (House Plan #106-1165). For more information, click here

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