Tom Shafer

Finding an entry door that fits

April 03, 2013

One of the least expensive ways to improve your home's facade -- and even give it a whole new look -- is to install a new front door. Replacing a plain entry door with one that includes decorative glass can add distinction to the exterior of your home. But be aware, there's more to selecting and installing a new entry door than you might think.

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Entry door replacements: what you might not know

Many homeowners choose a door by browsing retail stores and door showrooms, searching online and flipping through magazines, or checking out other doors in the neighborhood. That's the easy part. But once they make a decision, purchase a new entry door and attempt to install it, that's when they can run into problems, especially replacing an existing fiberglass door.

Fiberglass front doors are 36 inches-by-80 inches -- at least, according to the manufacturers. In reality, new fiberglass entry doors typically measure 35 7/8", 35 13/16", or 35 ¾". Heights are also varied -- 79 11/16", 79 ¾", and so on. A fiberglass entry door replacement that's an exact fit is a rare find unless it comes from the same manufacturer as your original door.

Even then, there are pitfalls. The door opening can be out of square or out of plumb due to the house settling, so the exact same door might not fit tightly either -- or close easily -- and the weatherstripping might not fill the gaps completely to prevent drafts and air leakage.

Wood doors have an advantage in that they can be cut to size and planed to fit out-of-square door frames. They are almost always true to size -- a standard 36-by-80 inches. But a wood door cannot be used to replace an existing fiberglass door because the thickness of each differs.

Make the new front door an easy fit

The best solution is to replace the entire door, including the frame that is installed into the opening. However, if you have side lites, they have to be replaced also. A door with side lites is made as one unit, or made with the side lite frames attached in such a way that they cannot be separated from the door frame. In the case of a door with side lites on either side, they both have to be replaced.

Although more costly, replacing the entire door assures a tight fit. The weather-stripping makes contact with the entire perimeter of the door. The door is square. And the rough sill under the door -- which is almost always water-damaged -- is replaced.

Best of all, by replacing the door frame and the door together, you can choose a rot-resistant frame material at the same time you enhance your entry with energy-efficient, decorative glass lites. A new front door that gives your home curb appeal, saves energy and fits properly is truly a beautiful thing.

About the Author

Tom Shafer has decades of experience in window sales, marketing and product development. He's worked closely with window design engineers in testing, design, and building code interpretation. Past employers include United Windows and Doors and Norandex, MI Windows. He currently works at a home improvement retailer.

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