Front doors play an important role in a home's curb appeal. Whether plain or elegant, every exterior door begins with a basic door at the center. From there you can upgrade a door's style by adding features like sidelights and rectangular or curved transom glass above the door. Regardless of which features you add (or don't), you will also have trim around the door providing one more way to dress up your home's entrance.
When ordering any exterior door, there is certain information you need to provide beginning with which way the door swings when you open it. Exterior doors are always measured from the outside, with you standing outside the house and facing the door.
Purchasing a new exterior door isn't as easy as making a trip to Home Depot. After picking the door you want (read Front Doors and First Impressions), you need several key pieces of information to order the door. Over many years running my handyman business, I saw lots of mistakes when homeowners ordered their new doors. That's what prompted me to write this article.
Here's a real story from my days running a handyman business. Sometimes it's hard to believe it really happened … but it did. I went to visit a difficult customer who assumed one of our tools was a magic wand that we could wave to fix the problems they presented us with. They had ordered a replacement patio door which we installed in their kitchen eating nook.
Only after it was installed did my technicians learn the homeowner wanted the door to slide the other way. They had no idea that when you order patio doors, you have to specific which panel will move. We had to remove the door, reconfigure and re-install it because it wasn't ordered correctly … and I was there to handle the discussion about who would pay for the extra time used to install the door they purchased, the way they wanted to use it.
This article outlines the information my handyman business used to order doors through a local building supply company, Harvey Building Products. They manufacture windows and assemble Therma-Tru doors, so we used them as our sole supplier unless homeowners insisted on another brand.
There are different regional building supply companies throughout North America and I'd recommend you look for one that carries Therma-Tru doors. We recommend spending a little more on a quality product versus dealing with installation and maintenance issues.
What Size is an Exterior Door?
Doors are referred to by their width and height. A typical front door may be 3 feet wide and 6 feet, 8 inches tall. In the trades, this is called a 3-0 x 6-8 (or 3068) door. When you are replacing a door, you need to measure the size of the existing door and that should be the size of the new door.
If you are replacing the door and the surrounding door frame (called pre-hung) or adding a new door, you must allow several inches around the sides and top of the door for adjusting and shimming the door inside what is called the “rough opening“. A good rule of thumb for replacement doors (existing flooring in place) is to add:
- 2-1/2″ to the width of the door (1-1/4″ for each side)
- 3-1/2″ to the height of the door
Normally exterior doors are 1-3/4″ thick (interior doors are less, typically 1-3/8″). Exterior doors are usually solid core so the extra thickness allows for more insulation. In measuring a door’s size, the thickness of the door jamb is what's important. The door jambs are the upright pieces of wood that form the sides of the door frame. They are an integral part of the frame to ensure a tight fit between the door and the frame surrounding the door.
Forgetting (or guessing) on the width of a home's exterior walls is one of the most common reasons why a door installation doesn't go smoothly. The width of the door jambs is determined by the width of the wall framing, either 2×4s (older homes) or 2×6s (newer homes). The door jambs will cover the rough framing that holds your door in place. Using a pre-hung door from the manufacturer helps insure that your new door is level and plumb for smooth operation of the door.
Exterior Door Hinges & Hardware
Once you've determined the door size, you need to identify where the hinges go and which way the door swings. These questions can be very confusing for homeowners and sometimes for contractors too. Here is one technique that works fairly well:
- Stand outside the house and face the door.
- Determine if the hinges are on the left (left hinged) or right (right hinged).
- Identify if the door swings into the house (most common) or out.
Determining where the hinges for screen doors go is more challenging. Most often the hinges will be on the same side as the entry door, with the screen door swinging out while the door swings into the house. At times, the homeowner may prefer to switch the storm door hinges to the other side to accommodate the natural traffic flow in and out of the door.
Homeowners may reuse existing door hardware or select new hardware including a new door handle. It is easier to have the manufacturer drill out the holes for the hardware. This will save you installation time but you must be prepared to specify the type of hardware you plan to use when you order the door.
- Are you using a standard entry lockset or custom hardware requiring different openings (read: Front Door Handles: How Many Styles are There?).
- Will there be a deadbolt lock? A single bore allows for a door knob only while a double bore supports an additional deadbolt lock.
- For double entry doors, it is also important to indicate which door will open first.
Exterior Door Casing
After a door is installed, trim is used to cover the gaps between the door jambs and the exterior siding plus casings on the inside, to cover the gaps between the door jambs and the drywall. Your interior casings should match the other trim used inside your home for windows and interior doors. The most common exterior trim is called brick molding and it is typically ordered with the door, for delivery at the same time.
Tips for Ordering Other Exterior Doors
Exterior doors must be researched, ordered and installed with care as they affect your home's interior comfort. You'll want to consider using dual pane versus single pane glass for energy efficiency. Here are a few tips to help you start researching each of these doors.
- Screen/storm doors are used in conjunction with entry doors. Door hardware for the inside door requires 3 to 4 inches clearance. An extension jamb kit can be used to build out one or both sides of the door, required when you have glass panels or sidelights surrounding your front door. In warmer climates, the front patio is often screened with a custom screen door like the one shown here.
Note: Less expensive storm doors are cheaper for a reason. The manufacturer has left several manufacturing steps out and these become part of the door installation process or “assembly”. Try to avoid this situation, which almost always costs more when labor and material costs are added together. Another problem my handyman business ran into is following the manufacturers instructions and finding too little support under the storm door when it extends beyond the door threshold.
- Sliding patio doors may include 2, 3 or 4 panels. A 2-panel door will have one active (sliding) door and one inactive (stationary) panel. For 2-panel doors that come assembled, a homeowner must specify which side is active. Patio doors with more than 2 panels will be delivered unassembled due to size and weight. The assembly process is critical to the door functioning properly so take care to follow instructions carefully and test the ease with which the door slides before installing.
- Swinging patio doors are typically 2 or 3 panels wide. The active panel has hinges where it is attached to the inactive panel and the latch is on the opposite side, where the active panel meets the door jamb. Swinging patio doors tend to be more secure and energy efficient than sliding patio doors.
- French doors contain at least 2 active panels that swing in or out from the center of the unit. They use a 3-point locking system to secure the door the the head jamb and the sill or threshold below the door.
We've got lots more tips about the many doors in your home. If you're researching front door styles and related topics, these are the best articles to check out:
- Doors Tips to Add Value to Your Home
- Exterior Doors: Fact, Fiction, Gobbledy Gook?
- Front Door Handles: How Many Styles are There?
- Handyman Repair Stories for Common Door Problems
- Digital Doorbells for Smart Homes
PS While this article provides an overview of the basic decisions you need to make when buying a door, there are a lot more options to consider from type of threshold to weatherstripping. Therma-Tru Door System Components (the doors my handyman business used) has a nice document that illustrates all of these options and more.