Renovation Solutions: Tips to selecting a new front door

Published: Friday, April 25 2014 3:25 p.m. MDT

As part of our recent market analysis, we mentioned Remodeling Magazine’s Cost vs. Value report for 2013-2014. The top five national remodeling projects with the highest return on investment for this year are a new front door, a wood deck addition, adding an attic bedroom, garage door replacement and a minor kitchen remodel.

While these projects have a somewhat limited scope individually and are often part of a bigger remodeling project, each has the potential not only to add to the value of the home but also to enhance the experience of living in the home. In the next few columns, we will explore each project in greater detail. This week, let’s talk about the front door.

If you have ever browsed the exterior door section of the home improvement stores, you will see there are a lot of options for front doors. This is just a sliver of the market. There are thousands of options with various styles, materials and colors.

To top it off and make the choice even more difficult, there are even more hardware options for door handles. Basically, there are a lot of great front doors and a lot of great houses, but they don’t all go together. Choosing a door that doesn’t work with your house diminishes the design of both. For example, if you install a lovely Craftsman door in a 1970s rambler, you will see a clash of styles. There is nothing wrong with either the door or the house, but the combination spoils them both.

Therefore, knowing and understanding the style of your house is crucial. Is your home traditional or modern? Is it a fairytale Tudor revival, classic craftsman bungalow, charming Cape Cod or California ranch? These are the common house styles in the Salt Lake valley and you see them often.

You may find that your home wasn’t designed in one clear, distinct style. If that is the case, it most likely has elements of several different styles and you will need to decide which is predominant. Once you have determined the predominant style of your home, the next decision is whether to revive and enhance the door or change it into something else.

A front door will really set the tone and theme for your entire exterior style. Here is where we will say (as we do every week!) that you need to look at the big picture and PLAN AHEAD. Every upgrade or home improvement should reflect the dream — the master plan — for your house. It does not make sense to buy a new front door — no matter how beautiful it is — if it does not match your current or future house style.

There are three general approaches to selecting a front door that works with your house: You can do it yourself and research home styles and architectural styles on your own, you can trust the door salespeople to lead you in the right direction (but note these folks know a lot more about doors than residential architectural styles) or you can hire an independent residential architect or design professional.

Not only is the style of the door a consideration for this project, but the material the door is made out of must also be selected. Wood doors are beautiful works of art, but you must be willing to accept the consequences of the material. Wood is always moving — expanding and contracting hour by hour depending on the temperature, sunlight and humidity it is experiencing. This volatility can lead to swelling, shrinking and even splitting. Of course, if your heart’s desire is a beautifully stained door, wood is your obvious choice.

If you prefer a more stable material, fiberglass may be just the thing. These doors are manufactured to look as much like wood as possible, often featuring a simulated wood grain. However, if you think of a painted door made out of real wood, it has been planed and sanded to a smooth finish before it is painted. Go easy on the fake wood grain options.

Metal or steel doors have the appeal of being strong and damage-resistant, except for one thing: They dent. One dent in the door and no one is going to be fooled into thinking it is wood. Make sure you do your homework on this issue and ask around. Find out what kind of door your friends and family have, and see how they are holding up before you make a final decision.

There is a wide range of costs for front doors. On the lower end, you may just be replacing the door itself into the existing framed opening. This is a much less expensive option than removing the entire framed opening and replacing it with a new door assembly which might include one or two sidelights in addition to the door. Doors can begin at a few hundred dollars; large or elaborate door assemblies range from the thousands of dollars up to $15,000 and beyond.

Widening the opening altogether (if your particular layout allows) for doors with sidelights is a good way to increase the light that comes into your home and to make your home feel more welcome and friendly to arriving guests. Double doors that were once a mark of status are now feeling somewhat dated. It is easy, however, to fill the opening (usually about 6 feet wide) with a door/sidelight combination that can give your home a newer look.

Selecting the front door is not a home improvement that should be taken lightly. While the wrong style of front door can ruin a perfectly good house and have a detrimental effect on looks and value, the correct new front door will have the opposite effect and add bonus points to your curb appeal — and serious dollars to your property’s value.

Ann Robinson and Annie V. Schwemmer are the principal architects and co-founders of a residential architectural firm focused on life-changing remodeling designs at RenovationDesignGroup.com. Send comments or questions to ask@RenovationDesignGroup.com

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