Your Door to Savings: New Exterior Doors Cut Energy Costs

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by Don Vandervort- HomeTips.com; September 15, 2010

Tired of having a shabby old door as the gateway to your home? Upgrading a home’s exterior doors can be money well spent, especially if you take advantage of this year’s tax credits and rebates for energy-efficient improvements. But to be sure that you are not wasting money or making the wrong choices, you have to understand the range of options and the benefits that new doors can provide…

TAX BREAKS AND PROTECTION

Old or poorly made doors can be a significant source of energy loss during heating and air-conditioning seasons… or an easy point of entry for burglars. Also, the front door is the first part of the home that visitors see up close, and it creates a lasting first impression. That’s particularly important for people selling homes in this buyer’s market.

Some states and utilities have their own rebate programs covering energy-efficient doors as well. The U.S. Department of Energy’s Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency can help locate any such programs in your area (www.dsireusa.org).

ENTRY DOORS

Entry doors, including front doors, traditionally have been made from wood or steel, but today the best choice often is fiberglass. Fiberglass-composite doors are the most energy-efficient option and are most likely to qualify for the tax credit. They simulate the desirable look of wood but are much more durable and require less maintenance than real wood. Prices start at $300, but models that qualify for the tax credit often cost $600 to $1,000.

Examples: Top-quality brand names include Jeld-Wen (800-535-3936, www.Jeld-Wen.com)… Masonite (800-663-3667, www.Masonite.com)… Pella (800-374-4758, www.Pella.com)… Plastpro (800-779-0561, www.PlastProInc.com)… and Therma-Tru (800-843-7628, www.ThermaTru.com). Ask about warranty length before considering other brands — the length of an entry door’s warranty often indicates its quality. The best usually come with limited lifetime warranties.

Other options…

Steel doors are a reasonable option if budget or security is the top priority. Steel doors start at less than $200. They’re low-maintenance, durable and sturdier than wood or fiberglass against storms and burglars, particularly when equipped with dead bolts.

Many steel doors, though often Energy Star-rated, are not energy-efficient enough to qualify for the tax credit. They may be good choices when a painted finish is desired and security is a higher priority than appearance. They are popular as side or back doors that guests rarely see.

The thickness of a door’s steel is one way to judge its quality — 24-gauge or 25-gauge steel is typical, but lower numbers, such as 22-gauge, are thicker and more dent resistant. If a steel door features a wood-grain pattern, the level of realism of that pattern often is another indication of its overall quality.

Wood doors may be appropriate if nothing short of the hominess of real wood will do and the door is well-protected from sun and rain. Wood doors are too energy-inefficient to qualify for the tax credit… they require lots of maintenance… and they can warp, crack, rot or degrade, particularly if exposed directly to rain or more than a few hours of direct sunlight per day. They’re expensive, too — hardwood doors can cost thousands.

If you must have real wood, consider doors with engineered-wood cores and hardwood veneers. These are less likely to warp than solid-wood doors and often are less expensive as well. Make sure that the veneer is at least 1/16-inch thick. Even engineered wood doors are not energy-efficient enough to qualify for the tax credit, however.

Prehung Doors

Entry doors often can be purchased on their own… prehung on frames… or as part of an “entry system” that includes door, frame, sidelights and perhaps a transom. Buying a door alone is cheapest, but marrying a replacement door to an existing frame is almost certain to result in more drafts, higher energy bills and a less solid overall feel. Replacing the entire entry system usually results in a tighter, more energy-efficient entrance.

Prehung doors may cost $100 to $200 more than doors alone. They usually require professional installation, which typically adds several hundred dollars to the bottom line. Entry systems, which can cost well into the thousands with installation costs reaching into four figures, also may be fully eligible for the tax credit.

Helpful: Confirm what hardware is included in the price before buying any door or entry system.

STORM DOORS

Storm doors provide an additional insulating barrier between your home and outdoor temperatures, blocking drafts and lowering heating and cooling bills, particularly when the entry door is old and inefficient. Most storm doors feature glass panes that can be replaced by screens, allowing a breeze that can substitute for air-conditioning on warm-but-not-hot days. Some modern storm doors even have built-in pull-down screen systems, greatly simplifying the chore of replacing their windows with screens.

Although storm doors can qualify for the tax credit, the ones that do are not always worth their cost. If you have a modern, energy-efficient entry door, the additional energy savings provided by a storm door will be minimal. If you have an attractive front door, you might not want to conceal it behind a storm door. Also, if an entryway is in direct sunlight for more than a few hours each day, the space between the storm door and the entry door might become very hot, speeding the deterioration of the entry door, particularly if that door is wood.

Most storm-door frames have an outer shell of either aluminum or vinyl clad over wood or an insulating foam core. Vinyl does not look quite as sturdy as aluminum, but it is cheaper, more scratch-resistant and more energy-efficient. The single best indication of a storm door’s quality is how the door feels in your hand in the showroom. The handle, the hardware that holds the door to the frame, and the door itself should seem solid and substantial when the door is opened and closed.

Storm doors typically are sold prehung on frames, and installation can be a do-it-yourself project. Quality storm doors can cost anywhere from $79 to $450. The high end of that price range often provides additional features, nicer hardware and perhaps more energy-efficient glass, but not necessarily a substantial upgrade in the quality of the door itself.

Examples: Storm doors are sold under many brand names, but most actually are made by Larson Manufacturing (800-352-3360, www.LarsonDoors.com)… Pella (800-328-6596, www.Pella.com)… or Andersen (800-777-3626, www.EmcoDoors.com). These are the most reliable manufacturers.

Warning: While long warranties are an important gauge of quality with entry doors, they aren’t always with storm doors. There often are exclusions and conditions hidden in the fine print of storm-door warranties that render the warranties virtually worthless.

SLIDING-GLASS DOORS

If your current sliding-glass door is more than 15 years old, replacing it could significantly improve your home’s energy-efficiency — sliding doors that lack modern high-efficiency glass are a major source of residential energy loss. New doors also are likely to have advanced sliding hardware, which creates a tight seal around the door’s edge without making the door difficult to open. Test a few doors in showrooms to confirm that they feel tight, yet slide easily.

Examples: Jeld-Wen/Windowmaster (800-251-9001, www.Jeld-Wen.com/windowmaster)… Milgard (800-645-4273, www.Milgard.com)… Pella (800-374-4758, www.Pella.com)… and Superior Windows & Doors (800-800-3306, www.Superior-Windows.com) all make quality vinyl sliding doors.

Alternative: Wood-framed sliding-glass doors are popular for their natural beauty and, if clad on the outside with aluminum or vinyl, can be durable and energy-efficient.


Bottom Line/Personal interviewed Don Vandervort, a home-improvement expert based in Glendale, California, who is founder of the home-improvement Web site HomeTips.com. He is author of more than 30 books on home improvement, including The Home Problem Solver (Perseus). www.HomeTips.com

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