Entry doors are often more than just front doors—those we tested can also be used in back or on the side. Because the front entrance of your home commands the most attention from the street, it also commands the most attention in the marketplace. Here’s what to consider, wherever you put it.
We’ve found that most entry doors perform well overall. But the materials they’re made of—fiberglass, steel, and wood—each have strengths and weaknesses. And while a low-priced steel door can be the equal of a wood or fiberglass door costing five times as much, it’s not the best choice for wear and tear.
Whether you buy at a store or online, you’ll save time by doing some research online and at least visiting a store to truly see what you’re buying. Manufacturer sites describe materials and offer catalogs, and can help you to find a local retailer. And even if you don’t see the exact door you want, a similar model can give you a good idea of construction and finish.
Steel and fiberglass doors typically have more insulating value than wood doors. Models that are Energy Star-qualified must be independently tested and certified, and often boast tighter-fitting frames, energy-efficient cores, and, for models with glass, double- or triple-panel insulating glass to reduce heat transfer. You’ll find more details on the federal EPA’s EnergyStar website. But you may not save as much as you think, since doors are a small part of the surface area of a house and typically don’t allow significant amounts of warm air to escape. What’s more, heat is generally lost through air leaks around the door, not through the door itself.
Entry doors are also known as door systems because they come pre-hung in a frame and are often pre-drilled for a knob and deadbolt. Unless a replacement door is part of a larger remodeling project, you may want the new door to be the same size as the old one. Choosing a larger door or adding sidelights means redoing the door framing around the door—a job best left to a contractor. Home centers generally offer installation or referral services. Unless you’re a skilled carpenter, you may also want to hire a pro to install same-size doors.
Keep Yourself and Your Family Safe
It takes a quality door lock to deter burglaries and home invasions. Many crooks kick in doors to get in. But unless your door is hollow, it’s not the door itself that lets burglars in. Our tests with a battering ram have shown little difference in strength among door materials. All eventually failed because the doorjamb split near the lock’s strike plate, though we also found that beefed-up locks and strike plates can greatly increase a door’s kick-in resistance.
Some other ways to strengthen an exterior door: Use a lock with a 1-inch-long deadbolt and a reinforced metal box strike. Use 3-inch-long mounting screws so they lodge in the framing beyond the door jamb. And don’t overlook the door that leads into your house from the garage.
A practical choice for most people. These doors are available with a smooth surface or, more typically, an embossed wood-grain texture. An edge treatment on some makes them look more like real wood.
Pros: Fiberglass doors resist wear and tear better than steel. They can be painted or stained, are moderately priced and dent-resistant, and require little maintenance.
Cons: They can crack under severe impact.
This type of door accounts for about half the market.
Pros: They’re relatively inexpensive and can offer the security and weather resistance of much pricier fiberglass and wood doors. Steel doors require little maintenance—unless dents are a part of your home scenario. They’re energy-efficient, though adding glass panels cuts their insulating value.
Cons: Steel doors didn’t resist weather as well as fiberglass and wood doors in our abuse tests and the laboratory equivalent of torrential rain, strong winds, and a decade of wear and tear. And while they’re typically low-maintenance, dents are hard to fix, and scratches may rust if they aren’t painted promptly.
Provides the high-end look that other materials try to mimic.
Pros: Solid-wood doors were best at resisting wear and tear in our tests. They’re also the least likely to dent, and scratches are easy to repair.
Cons: Wood doors remain relatively expensive. And they require regular painting or varnishing to look their best.