Exterior Doors

Yellow Front Door Solid State Home Inspections

Every time you come and go from your home, you use one of the most amazing yet under-appreciated building materials, the exterior door. Exterior doors are very important to the function of our homes as they provide us and our belongings access to and from the building, provide us with a layer of personal security, and protect us from the outdoor elements.

Styles of Doors

Doors come in many shapes, designs, sizes, and materials. Picking the right door for a given opening has a lot to do with the function of that opening and style choices of the builder or architect. Here are some common styles of doors:

  • Single Door - Common single swinging door available in many widths and styles
  • Double Doors - Two doors installed side by side where one door is commonly latched to the door frame allowing the second door to be used as a conventional single door. The second door can be opened by unlatching it from the frame allowing both doors to open fully for a double wide opening. In some designs of double doors, each door is able to open independently from a centre post in the door system.
  • Sliding Glass Doors - These ‘doors’ are a hybrid of a large window and a door and commonly are used to access patios or yards. They are most commonly found as single sliding doors but can be found in a double opening style for a wide opening.
  • French Doors - French doors are a type of double doors that swing outside rather than inside to give the home the feeling of openness.

Sidelights, Glazing, and Transoms

Many doors incorporate some glass elements in order to increase light into the home, possibly allow the occupant to see who is at the door, and to provide some architectural interest to the home. Stationary vertical windows along the sides of the main door are called ‘sidelights’. If there is a window above the door system, it is called a ‘transom’. Windows built into the door itself are often defined by the amount of area the window covers. Most door windows are allow for 4-6" of door frame all around the door for rigidity of the door system. A ‘half light’ window typically lights the top half of the door down to the handle hardware. A ‘3/4 light’ window extends below the handle hardware, and a full window extends to the bottom of the door. There are many other glass shapes such as crescents or crosses which can be installed in doors for architectural interest. Glazing is an industry term for a glass system.

One disadvantage of glazing in a door system is it creates a security weakness. It is common for break and enter thieves to break a sidelight beside a lock in order to turn the lock from the inside with minimal damage and easy access. Glazing also typically reduces the energy efficiency of a wall or door system as insulation values of the glass system or less than a solid door or wall.

What Makes a Good Door?

A good exterior door needs to provide good access for people and goods, provide some degree of security, and protect us from the elements. Exterior doors are typically made of solid wood, fibreglass, or steel for security. Fibreglass and steel doors are filled with insulation materials which improves the homes energy efficiency better than solid wood doors. Exterior doors should always have deadbolt locks, weather stripping, and be trimmed and caulked to make the door frame install weather tight. 

Interior doors should never be used as exterior doors. Interior doors are typically hollow, uninsulated, and either don’t have deadbolts or the deadbolts are ineffective as the door does not have the strength to provide basic security resistance. 

What About Sliding Doors?

Sliding doors are essentially big sliding windows. The glass in the doors has more in common with window systems than door glazing systems and often the replacement of sliding doors is part of any window replacement project.

Sliding doors do need to be weather tight but this is accomplished through the design of the sliders on the door system and seals along the glass and frame. Doors commonly have one latch at the handle and an additional secondary lock at the foot level for security.

What About Condo Entry Doors?

Condo entry doors that lead to the outdoors should be held to the same standards as any other exterior door as the roles of security, access, and energy efficiency are the same. When access doors go to a heated hallway, there is still a need for security and access. Solid wood doors are more common for condo’s as there is no need for the insulation in a steel or fiberglass door. Another good safety feature for condo hallway doors is an auto closer which can help ensure your common hallway door closes behind you if your hands are full.

What a Home Inspector Looks at with Doors?

Home Inspectors review all exterior doors as part of a standard Home Inspection. Items a home inspector looks for are:

  • Correct door placement - Doors should be raised slightly above the level of the exterior to prevent water ingress. The door system should be weather tight at the exterior.
  • Correct exterior door material - Doors should be solid wood, fibreglass, or steel
  • Handles - These should operate smoothly and easily with the door open or closed and be a type designed for outside use
  • Deadbolts - Deadbolts should be in place and operate smoothly with the door open or closed. Deadbolts should never need a key on the inside as in a fire this could restrict occupants from exiting if the key is not available
    • On Sliding Doors, the primary latch-lock should work and if there is a secondary lock it will also be tested
  • Door Hinges - If door hinges are on the outside of the building, they should be a ‘locking’ hinge to prevent thieves from removing the hinges thereby removing the door and getting access to the home
  • Glazing - Glass around the door should be secure and free of cracks or damage
  • Door viewers - These are excellent for occupant safety to know who is at the door and they should provide a clear view
  • Weather stripping - Doors should have a good seal when closed. This is the most common deficiency for exterior doors.
  • Garage Safety - Doors to Garages need to have an auto-closer for garage safety (see our article here on attached garage safety)

Exterior Door Maintenance

Exterior doors are largely maintenance free but a maintenance check in the fall before winter is important to make sure your door is ready for winter weather. Lubricate the door hinges and hardware with a product like WD-40, ensure the weather stripping is correctly sealing the door, and check that the door is operating smoothly when temperatures change, the door may bind more than in warmer weather.  A good handyman can help you get a door out of adjustment back to closing properly.

Final Thoughts

A well installed and maintained exterior door will save you money on heating costs, give your family some personal security, and make your life easier as you come and go from your home. As always, if you are in the process of buying a new house or condo, call your local Home Inspector to give you the confidence that your doors and home are safe and solid.

By James Bell - Owner/Operator of Solid State Inspections Inc.