Updated: June 8, 2015
Repairing or Replacing Your Exterior DoorsDoors and windows are kind of strange creatures -- intentional holes you cut into your walls. So walls that are meant to keep out the wind, rain, and cold need to be protected with good quality windows and doors. Exterior doors come in a variety of shapes and sizes, with front door tending to be the most exotic with various windows and panels around them to give the entryway a little more character. Most other exterior doors (apart from sliding glass) tend to be a little more straightforward. Exterior doors are normally made from 3 alternative materials - wood, metal (often steel), or fiberglass (or some similar composite, manmade material). A few decades ago, you would have found mostly wooden doors on home exteriors. Wooden doors have their own good and bad points -- they have a nice solid feel and of course natural wood grain, but they also can eventually rot, crack, and warp since they are just wood.
If your wooden doors are protected by covered entryways or roof overhangs, your door and surrounding trim might stand up well for 20 years, with proper paint and maintenance. But for more exposed doors subject to water, cold and heat, direct sunlight, etc. over time you will get more signs of damage, and eventually you will need to replace your doors with new ones. Same thing goes for metal doors - you can get rust, dents and scratches, along with wooden door frames and jambs that begin to suffer water damage. Keep in mind that your door system is more than just the door - it also includes the door jamb and trim, the weatherstripping, and the sill at the bottom. All these components work together to keep the elements out.
Benefits of Fiberglass DoorsWhy are fiberglass doors better than wood doors? Fiberglass doors are superior to wood and metal doors in a number of ways. First of all, they don't rot or crack like wood, so if you don't abuse them, they can look nearly the same 10 years after you install them. And since they are not wood, there also is no insect damage possible. Second, they offer several times more insulation protection than wood doors, keeping your home cooler in the summer and warmer in winter (most fiberglass doors have a solid polyurethane foam core). Third, they come with a nice smooth finish that you can paint right over if you choose, offering easy care and cleaning. Some of the big names in fiberglass doors are Therma Tru (thermatru.com), Jeld-Wen Fiberglass doors (jeld-wen.com), Plastpro (plastproinc.com), Codel, and Fibertec.
Our problem: Rotting Door Jamb, Rusted and Bent Metal Doors, and Cracked Front DoorWe recently decided to replace a few doors on our home, for a variety of reasons. Our house is almost 15 years old, and we bought it almost 5 years ago. The first door that was causing us problems was a wood exterior door that led to a storage room on the side of the house. Unfortunately, this was the south side of the house with no overhang or protection over the door, so rain slapped right up against the door and door frame during every storm. When we bought the house, the paint was all peeling off the door trim and there was wood rot -- we had the old owner replace the door before the purchase. Now, 5 years later, this door was already in the same poor condition. Given the circumstances, the solution seemed pretty straight forward -- we needed a fiberglass door and jambs and trim that were also made of some composite material and NOT wood. A new fiberglass door and jamb would mean no more need for paint and no worries about water damaged wood. The next door was a mudroom entry that was a metal door with large window on the top half. This door also suffered from backsplash of rain from the sidewalk in front of it, leading to a damaged sill, rust along the bottom of the door, and even some minor water seepage into the linoleum floor just below the inside of the door. After consulting with our door contractor, we again opted for a fiberglass replacement with a nice watertight adjustable sill and sweep to keep water out, and all fiberglass and composite materials on the exterior to stand up to the elements. The last door we decided to replace was the front door, which was a solid wood 6 panel original door, but was starting to shows significant cracks and a little water damage. Since the front door was part of a larger system with sidelights and transom lights (which were holding up pretty well), we didn't want to have to replace all that so we opted to just swap out the wood door for another wood door, hoping to get another 10 years out of the whole thing before having to worry about replacement. So that was our job - get these 3 doors replaced in a manner that would give us weatherproof solutions without breaking the bank.
When it comes to tearing out and installing a new exterior door, the procedure is pretty standard. So to put in a new door, the first step is to remove the old one. First remove the door itself from the hinges. If you look at your door frame, you'll find various pieces of molding or trim hiding the actual door jamb. On the outside, you may also see brick molding. Since most new doors come pre-hung on new jambs, you need to remove the old jamb. This means removing the trim and molding pieces to get access to the actual wood framing that the door jamb is nailed into. Sometimes you will be saving and reusing your trim pieces (especially on the interior), so you may need to remove these pieces CAREFULLY with a pry bar. You'll need to take out the sill plate as well. Once the wooden framing of the door is visible, you need to remove the old jamb using a reciprocating saw, slicing through the nails and shims that hold it in place. Installing the new jamb takes more skill and practice. You will need to make sure the jamb is plumb and level, which is done using shims (little angled pieces of wood, like thin doorstops). Once the new door jamb is in place, it is on to the finishing work of replacing trim and molding, making sure weatherstripping and insulation and caulking is done correctly, and installing any new hardware as needed. A fairly experienced do-it-yourselfer with carpentry knowledge can take on a task like this, for others we recommend having it done professionally. We opted for the professional door installation route to make sure it was done correctly -- we don't want any more water leaks or water damage!