Windows and Doors

Doors/Hatches

Image of white painted French doors and flagstone patio
Exterior French doors

Doors

The doors in your home are used to close off spaces but allow passage and security. Doors have hinges that allow them to swing open (usually in one direction). They also have knobs or lever-type latches with locks to keep them closed and provide some level of privacy or security.

All exterior doors should be fitted with thresholds and weatherstripping to seal off the outside from the inside. Doors are available in a plethora of styles to meet almost any design taste and are made with all kinds of materials. Exterior products need to be weather and water resistant.

Sizes

Doors can be custom made if needed, but most come in a range of standard sizes that will meet most needs. Standard sizes are described in feet and inches. For instance, the standard height is 6’-8” (80”). I am not sure why 6-8 is the standard height (many professional athletes have wondered also), it just is. I prefer 8’ high specimens and have this size throughout my own home. Apparently enough other folks prefer taller also because all of the major manufacturers now offer 8’ versions of their products. Eight footers look much more to scale in homes with high ceilings.

Standard widths are: 18”, 24” and increase in 2″ increments from there. Most interior (room to room) doors are 30″ x 80″ (762 mm x 2032 mm). The standard width for exterior doors is 36” and wheelchair access units must also have a minimum width of 36”. The standard thickness for most pre-fabricated doors is 1 3/8″ thick (for interior) or 1 3/4″ (for exterior).

Hinges

Normal hinged doors can only swing one direction. Because of this they are also described by their swing direction (right or left). The easiest way to tell if a one is a “right hand” or a “left hand”, is to close it and stand on the side where you can see the hinges. If the hinges are on the right it is a right-hand door and if they are on the left it is a left-hander. Simple as that. The uniform building code (UBC) requires that doors into the garage from the home must be solid core and be fitted with self-closing hinges for fire safety.

Pocket doors have no hinges. They are specially designed with tracks that allow the door to slide into the wall cavity and thus disappear from view entirely when open. Pocket doors are useful in tight spaces where a swinging door is impractical. It is important to remember not to drive nails into the sides of the door pockets.

Another type of sliding door that has become very popular is the barn slider. Barn-type sliders are suspended from tracks that extend out from the wall across the top of the wall opening. The door can then slide across the front of the opening to close or open. Barn sliders don’t seal off openings very tightly, but they look great! Order a barn door hardware kit here.

Image of sliding barn-style door
Sliding barn style door

How they are made and installed

Most doors installed in your home are wood products. They can also be made from plastic, fiberglass, steel or glass. They come in a wide range of quality levels. “Hollow core” are inexpensive and light. “Solid core” are more expensive and heavy. Doors can be purchased as slabs (not hung), or as an assembled unit with frame, door and hinges (pre-hung).

It’s not that easy to install a door. It requires some good carpentry skills that most homeowners do not have. The job is especially taxing if you are hanging the door from scratch and installing the jamb (frame), hinges and hardware separately.

Once installed, fluctuations in humidity from forced air furnaces, showers, and dishwashers may cause wood doors to swell or shrink slightly and require minor adjustments. Building settlement can also affect smooth door operation if the tolerances are tight.

To-Do

  • Keep a spare access key for your home in a lockbox locates somewhere handy on the property in case you lock yourself out by accident.
  • Keep a duplicate privacy lock key for bathrooms where kids cannot reach it in the event someone gets locked in. The top edge of the casing is often a place to keep the key.
  • Avoid the slamming of doors.
  • Do not allow kids to hang from knobs and do not place spreader type work out bars in the door jambs.
  • Learn how to fix a stripped wood screw.

Maintenance

  • 1x per year: Hinges need lubrication at least once a year and the hinge screws need to be kept tight. If a screw becomes stripped in the wood jamb it will need to be repaired. Other hardware, knobs, handles, strikes and locks also need to be lubricated and checked for tightness and smooth operation. Squeaky hinges can be corrected by removing the hinge pin and applying a small amount of silicone lubricant to it. Avoid using oil, as it can gum up or attract dirt. Graphite can create a gray smudge on the door or floor covering beneath the hinge if too much is applied.
  • 2x per year: Doors operate within fairly tight tolerances, so slight movements of the structure can affect the latching mechanism and cause rubbing on frames or floor. This condition will require an adjustment or repair.
  • 1x per year: Inspect exterior finishes on surfaces, jambs and thresholds. For homes with wood exterior doors and thresholds, it is critical to maintain the paint and finishes. Deterioration of the finish coats will quickly lead to structural damage. Panels of wood doors shrink and expand in response to changes in temperature and humidity leaving gaps and bare areas that will need to be touched up with paint or stain.
  • 1x per year: Roller latches located at the top of some doors can accumulate dust that will settle in the rollers causing them to stick. These can be cleaned with compressed air and lubricated with silicone.
  • 1x per year: Lubricate and operate locks. Bathrooms usually have privacy locks. Lubricate door locks with graphite or other waterproof lubricant. Avoid oil, as it will gum up.

Recommendations

I hate to tell you this but for longer life for exterior wood doors (or windows), you must plan to refinish them often. In short amounts of time, tiny cracks develop in the finish. As a result, water and sun can penetrate to the wood surface. Damage will spread quickly and quietly. Stained exterior doors with clear finishes seem to weather faster than painted doors. Wood doors in harsh direct sunlight may require refreshing with a wood preserver as often as every six months. This is a lot of work, but necessary to prevent an expensive one-of-a-kind door from drying and cracking. Again, you must reseal stained exterior doors whenever the finish begins cracking or crazing.

Other door material

Steel is a more durable, energy efficient and secure material for exterior applications. But, I have bad experiences with steel doors getting very hot on the outside if they are exposed to direct sunlight. As a result be cautious about touching them when hot.

Avoid slamming. Slamming doors can damage them, the hardware, the jambs and can even cause cracking in adjoining drywall.

Do not to hang on knobs or place any spreader-type pull-up bars or other equipment in the openings or on the door jambs.

Doors
Quality wood doors, windows and screens

Hatches

Uninhabitable spaces in your home may need to be entered from time to time. These areas must be accessible for inspections and possible repairs. The openings must have certain minimum dimensions. When it comes to access, bigger hatches are better.  Because you may need to get equipment in or out. Hatches cover and close off the access points for crawlspaces, attics, basements and sometimes for roof access.

Hatches should have a cover or door that can be closed and that seals tightly. If the hatch is located within the living space, it should not only be secured tightly, it should be weather-stripped. Because this will prevent air, insects or rodents from entering through the hatch opening. If the hatch is exposed to the elements, it should be water resistant and weather tight. Attic hatches can be fit with pull-down folding ladders which are very handy. Make sure you get one with an insulated door. Order one here.

To-Do

  • Locate and note all your access hatches both in and out, note the locations and inspect the covers for a tight seal.
  • Check each hatch located on the interior of your home to see if there is weatherstripping in place.
Image showing an open floor hatch leading to a crawlspace
Crawlspace hatch
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