It is easy to dream about home improvement projects. I do it all the time. Brick fireplace, new front door, backyard deck, cathedral ceiling in the living room. Um… better scratch that last one. I would have to build a whole new house to get that. Come to think of it, lots of home improvement projects go a bit over the top. It is easy to get carried away when you are dreaming home improvement.
But there is one area in home improvement that almost always pays for itself five to ten times over. Anything you do to improve your home’s entrance area is golden. Nothing adds more curb appeal and value than the perfect new front door. So if you decide that your front door isn’t all that it could be replacing it is almost always a great home improvement project.
Advance planning is crucial when you decide to put in a new front door. The first thing you need to plan is how far you want to go with it. There are basically three levels you can take with a project like this.
The first and most basic would be to simply replace the current door slab with a new one. You would reuse most of the old hardware including the door handle, hinges, frame and trim. It sounds simple but it isn’t. The alignment and precision required to hang a new front door in an old frame is usually beyond the skill level of the weekend do-it-yourselfer. Cutting into the new door for the hinges, door handle and lockset requires precision and sometimes you need special tools. You can trim a new wooden door to fit but you can’t with a fiberglass or steel door. If you pay a contractor or carpenter to have the new door installed from the ground up it is usually expensive. Hanging a new front door from scratch is simply not an entry-level carpentry skill.
Because of this problem more and more new doors are being sold pre-hung. What this means is the door slab, frame and hinges are sold as a single unit. All of the precision alignment and most of the cutting required to install the new front door are already done for you. You can get most pre-hung doors with door handle and locksets already installed as well. The advantages of buying a new front door this way are almost always worth the added cost. You still need to shim and level a pre-hung door but this is by far the easiest and most cost effective way to replace your current front door. If you go this route make sure you measure the height, width and thickness of your old door so you get the same size with the new door. My advice, always get a pre-hung door for any exterior door you replace. You will be glad you did.
The third way you could take would be to install a new front door with sidelights on one or both sides of the door. You may even decide to go with a double door front entrance. In this case you will undoubtedly need to increase the width of the door area by cutting into the sides of your house where the current door is located. You may even have to make the opening taller. Most single doors are a standard height of 6’8″ but higher end double doors or sidelight door groupings often go to 7′ high. In either case you should consult with a professional contractor if your plans involve cutting into the existing structure of your home.
Whichever of these three ways you go it is important that your new door match the style of your house. I saw a beautiful Art Nouveau door the other day. It was truly a work of art and will someday enhance the front of someone’s home. But it would not look right on the front of my 2-story Colonial. It would ruin the look completely. To help avoid this kind of style clash, take a picture of the front of your house and another of just the old front door. Take these pictures with you as a reference as you look at new doors. The pictures will help you and the contractor make the perfect choice matching your new door to your house.