By Mary Boone
"Come in, stay awhile," whispered the heavy oak door with stylish sidelights.
"Go away!" shouted the scuffed storm door through its torn screen.
You're right, doors don't talk -- but they say a lot. After all, the front door is the first thing visitors see when they approach your house. If it's tastefully painted and outfitted with stylish hardware, it truly does say "welcome."
If your door hangs plumb and is in good overall condition, its makeover may be as simple as a do-it-yourself paint job.
If, however, painting or refinishing your old door isn't in the cards, you may need to invest in a new one. You'll find a broad selection of entry doors at lumberyards, home centers and door specialty shops. Many manufacturers allow you to specify the number and types of panels, glass options and colors -- but these doors need to be specially ordered and often take up to two months for delivery. You might also order a handcrafted wood door through a local millwork shop, with the knowledge that customization will cost you both time and money.
Steel, fiberglass and wood are the most popular material choices for exterior doors, and many styles combine several of these materials (a fiberglass door, for example, might have a wood frame). Unique glass and solid-panel configurations can dress up any exterior door.
This quick overview will help guide you toward a door that sends the right message.
If security is your priority, a steel door may be your best bet. Steel doors can also be your least expensive option, starting at around $150 for a paneled door without hardware or glazing. The cost of a steel door system with sidelights and premium hardware, however, can rival that of a quality solid-wood door system.
Steel doors come in a variety of finishes, from a baked-on polyester finish to a wood-fiber coating, which can be stained. They generally come as part of a pre-hung door system; steel doors usually come with hinges attached or with predrilled holes.
According to the 2011-12 Remodeling Cost vs. Value Report, replacing a dilapidated entry door with a new mid-range 20-gauge steel unit, complete with dual-pane windows, jambs, aluminum threshold and lockset will cost about $1,238 -- 73 percent of which can be recouped when the home is sold.
Versatility and beauty make wood doors a popular choice. Natural finish doors -- stock and custom -- come in oak, cherry, walnut, mahogany, maple, fire and pine. There are also paint-grade doors on the market, most often made of pine or western hemlock.
Solid-wood doors are the most expensive option. A standard-size, six-panel pine door will cost around $600; similarly sized hardwood doors are considerably more expensive. A complete wood door system, with pre-hung door, frame, hinges, locksets, sidelights and weather stripping, can cost upward of $5,000. Add on an overhead transom, decorative art glass and installation, and the total cost for your high-end front door can soar to $10,000 or more.
Love wood but can't stomach that price tag? Consider a stock door with a wood-veneer skin over an engineered-wood core. The sandwich-style construction minimizes the expansion and contraction that can cause warping, and they're a comparative bargain at $200 and up.
Fiberglass-composite doors are durable, low maintenance, energy efficient, good looking and can be a smart choice for harsh climates. In recent years, fiberglass doors have gained popularity with mid-range builders, who are switching from steel entry doors to fiberglass because it's not as susceptible to dings and dents.
These doors have wood grain texturing and can be stained to match natural woods. Fiberglass-composite doors usually come only as complete entry systems that include the frame. They also typically carry long warranties.
Expect to pay about $200 for a 6-foot-8-inch paneled fiberglass door without glazing or hardware. A fully loaded fiberglass entry system can cost as much as $4,000 plus installation.
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