One of the most important choices you will make when adding or replacing a front door is what materials it will be made of, since this will affect price, durability, and appearance.
Wood is the traditional material for front entryways, and the most common. Wood is attractive, durable, versatile, and available in a variety of types including oak, cherry, pine, fir, mahogany, maple and walnut. Wooden front doors can be purchased finished or unfinished for painting or staining. Most older double front doors are made of wood or wood laminate. Many show the wear and tear that can occur after years of use and/ or exposure to water, such as warping, cracking, rot, and delamination.
Modern door construction does address some of these durability issues. Some stock wood doors are laminated over a core of engineered wood, which increases durability by decreasing warping. Some door panels are also laminates, but the core is insulation material, increasing the door’s insulation or “R” value. Painted doors should have a high gloss finish and natural or stained wood should have a clear finish such as polyurethane.
Solid wood front doors are expensive. A basic door (slab) can cost $350 to $400 unfinished, $600-$800 if finished, and hardwoods are more expensive than softer woods like pine. Complete prehung door systems include the door already in the frame, hardware, weather stripping and side lites (windows). They can cost $1500 – $4000 depending on wood type, style, and panel thickness. While glass front doors with thicker and wider rails (horizontal panels) and stiles (vertical panels) and intricate carvings and moldings are more expensive, these details generally indicate higher quality. Laminate doors are cheaper, starting at around $200. Quality laminate front doors will have furniture grade veneers that are at least 1/16th inch thick. Remember that wood doors will need regular maintenance with painting or varnishing to maintain their high-end look.
If you are chiefly concerned about security, a steel door may be you best choice. Steel front doors can be similar in style to, and hung in place of, a wooden front door. Another option is to place a steel security storm door in front of your front door. Steel won’t warp or crack but is prone to dents and dings; these sometimes can be repaired with an autobody repair kit. Steel is also prone to scratches, which can cause rust if not painted.
Steel front doors have a steel skin over wood or steel frames, and have foam insulation inside. High end doors have 24 or thicker gauge skins over steel. The surface can be smooth or have a wood pattern; however, make sure the pattern is similar to real wood – horizontal “grain” on the rails and vertical on the stiles. Doors with a polyester finish will need periodic painting. Some have a vinyl coating similar to vinyl windows. More expensive doors may have a wood laminate or wood fiber coating. Like standard storm front doors, steel security storm doors have screens and glass that can be removed, but are made of steel bars and scrollwork, and take single or double cylinder deadbolts.
Steel entry doors are usually less expensive than wood, starting at about $150. However, high end prehung systems and security storm doors can be as expensive as wooden ones. This is because door hardware and accessories are similarly priced, regardless of the material that the door is made of. Most exterior front doors come prehung, but if your door is a DIY project, and you are hanging just the slab, be sure the attached hinges or pre drilled holes on the door match your existing frame.
Aluminum is used to make oak front doors, which are also metal outside and insulation inside. Aluminum’s baked on enamel finishes never need painting, don’t rust, and come in both wood grain and a variety of colors. Aluminum entry doors are generally sold custom built through dealers, but are expensive, starting at about $600.
The cost of fiberglass front doors cost is between that of wood and steel. They are durable and dent resistant, although they may crack under severe stress. Fiberglass doors are energy efficient, although like wood and steel, efficiency is reduced if glass panels are added. They can be smooth, or made to look like wood. While they are very low maintenance, custom front doors are not entirely maintenance free. After years of use, the finish can wear, but cleaners and finishing kits are available. Single slabs start at about $200, but a full prehung system can also cost up $4,000. And like steel doors, be sure embossed wood grain runs in the right directions, and that pre-drilled holes match your frame.