Dear Jim: I want to replace my old warped wood front door. I am looking for one with a natural wood finish, but without all the maintenance. Is an insulated stainable fiberglass door as efficient as a wood door? - Mike R.
Dear Mike: Real wood doors are probably the most attractive of all, but as you found, they require regular maintenance. Unless you maintain it properly, the finish may eventually break down and the door will begin to absorb and lose moisture with seasonal changes. When this happens, it may warp and allow air leakage. Also, solid wood is a good insulator, but not as good an insulator as a foam core.
You have two basic efficient front-door options that simulate the appearance of real stained wood without the regular maintenance required. These are insulated fiberglass and insulated stainable steel doors. Both of these will be more energy efficient over the long-term than a typical wood front door. The amount of regular maintenance required is minimal.
Insulated stainable steel doors are sometimes the most energy efficient overall because they can use refrigerator-type magnetic weather stripping. Even if the weather stripping begins to wear a bit over time, the magnetic attraction holds it tightly against the steel door skins. As the temperature changes, steel also expands and contracts less than fiberglass, which eliminates bowing. A final advantage of steel is the security it provides against break-ins.
When it is new, fiberglass door weather stripping seals almost as well magnetic seals on steel doors. Most fiberglass doors use a flexible or compression type of seal. Some are foam-filled with a durable exterior covering to increase the durability. Fiberglass doors are often designed with removable weather stripping to help the staining and finishing of the door. This also makes it simple to replace the weather stripping if it gets damaged. Replacement weather stripping is relatively inexpensive.
Since you seem to be most concerned about the appearance, an insulated, stainable fiberglass door would likely be your best choice. The stainable finish on a steel door looks good, but the deep graining in the skin on a fiberglass door is more realistic. When it is stained, it is difficult to distinguish from wood. Several fiberglass door manufacturers offer a limited lifetime warranty.
The surface of a fiberglass door is stained similarly to a real wood door. Unless you actually touch a properly stained fiberglass door and feel how lightweight it is, you would think it is real wood.
All of the major fiberglass door manufacturers offer complete staining kits. The typical wood colors are available. These kits include cans of the stain and the top coat, a brush, rag, bottle of cleaner, gloves, and several pieces of fiberglass on which to practice the application procedure. Practice first, because doing it properly is an art. If the finish dulls over time, just apply another clear top coat.
The actual design of most insulated fiberglass doors is similar. The fiberglass skins are separated by wood rails and stiles that provide strength around the edges. Fibertec uses a strong fiberglass inner framing instead of wood for additional durability. Once the door is completed, its interior cavity is filled with polyurethane foam insulation. As it is injected into the door cavity, the foam expands inside the door to eliminate any open interior voids.
Most people prefer some type of glass in a front door. Adding it can sometimes more than double the price of the door. No matter what type of door glass you select, it reduces the overall insulation value of the entire door, as well as its security. Select an insulated door with as little glass as possible. If you want glass, be sure to order low-e double panes as the minimum quality for efficiency.
Clear triple-pane and spectrally selective glass is also available. The latter controls the type of light that gets through. Most decorative glass -- beveled, etched or leaded -- is actually triple panes with the decorative pane in the center. The center decorative pane is often made of tough plastic. This is efficient by creating two insulating air gaps and it improves security.
The following companies offer fiberglass entry doors: Fibertec Windows, 888-232-4956, www.fibertec.com; Peachtree Doors, 888-888-3814, www.peachtreedoor.com; Pella, 800-547-3552, www.pella.com; Perma-Door/Taylor, 800-248-3600, www.perma-door.com; and Therma-Tru, 800-843-7628, www.thermatru.com.
Send your inquiries to James Dulley, Illinois Country Living, 6906 Royalgreen Dr., Cincinnati, OH 45244 or visit www.dulley.com.