The front door is a reflection of a homeowner’s sense of style, giving the home personality. It is a focal point that greets guests, but an entry door isn’t all about style. It also needs to protect the interiors from the elements and other uninvited guests. For a quick boost in curb appeal and energy efficiency, a new entry door can be a simple, budget-conscious option.
When considering a replacement, there are two routes. If the opening is square, replace just the worn door with a new door slab. If the opening is warped, installing a pre-hung unit that closes tightly to seal out the elements is the more energy- efficient solution. Regardless of the installation method there are countless styles designed to fit every architectural type, from historically accurate period renovations to the Island’s common post-war suburban home to the crisp lines of modern houses. Most colonials and Cape Cod-style homes look appropriate with a solid, painted wood door made with either four or six panels, paired with sidelites along the side and/or a transom above to let light into the foyer. Victorian-era homes showered attention on front doors, using stained or etched glass in lieu of wood panels, letting light pass into the home and offering visitors a sneak preview of the interior. The 1900s saw the start of the bungalow era that opted for simpler construction and clean lines with a stained or natural finish. “A rule of thumb is the more detailed the house the more ornate the door,” said Water Mill-based architect Ronald Kuoppala.
The entry door market is dominated by three materials: Wood, steel and fiberglass. Previously the look, texture or style of the door often determined the material it was made from—if you wanted a door that looked like wood, only a wood door would do. Recently manufacturers of steel and fiberglass doors have blurred the lines, attracting buyers who value the warmth and texture of wood but the durability and low maintenance of manmade materials.
A modern wood door employs a complex framework of solid wood, plywood and glue beneath a thin veneer, attempting to minimize seasonal swelling. Made from a variety of species like oak, cherry, mahogany and Douglas fir, wood doors are prized for their beauty and strength. But they present the greatest maintenance challenge—especially if facing a southern exposure with no overhead protection from the elements. A standard 36-inch wide, 80-inch tall, unfinished fir door slab with four panels and four lites starts at $220 at most home centers. Some manufactures offer a traditional, solid wood door for purists, though these tend to be three times the cost.
A steel door has an insulating foam core surrounded by wood for strength, then wrapped in a metal skin. A top choice for security and durability, the aesthetic is closer to a smooth, painted wood door. Some designs have an embossed wood graining, though the effect is often less than realistic. Changes in temperature and humidity won’t crack or warp a steel door and although they are susceptible to dents, those can usually be fixed with auto putty. A primed, six-panel slab steel door costs less than $100.
The most realistic marriage of wood’s texture and steel’s low maintenance is fiberglass—though it comes at a price. Beneath a stainable skin is a frame of wood and insulating foam that is energy efficient and resistant to changes in humidity. The result is a durable door that starts at about $300 for a pre-hung slab in a stained oak finish.
When it comes to glass, keep in mind what guests might see from the outside. “If the entrance is large and has a grand staircase that is kept neat, a lot of glass is fine,” Kuoppala said. “But if it’s the main entrance for the family and there are a lot of shoes and coats around, you might not want guests to see [in] while they’re standing outside.”