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Exterior Doors & Locksets

by Don Vandervort, © HomeTips

Most houses have several different kinds of doors, each designed to serve a particular need. All doors are classified as either exterior or interior models. These two types are differentiated by construction, weathertightness, weight, and related factors that determine whether or not they can survive exposure to the elements.

exterior door typesTypical weathertight exterior doors include the front entry door, back door, French doors, glass sliders, and patio doors. Lighter weight interior doors are used between rooms, on closets, and in similar applications.

A door’s function determines its construction, appearance, and operation. If it’s meant for security, it has very solid, durable construction and highly effective hardware.

If, in addition to providing access, it’s intended to allow in natural light or views, it incorporates glass—a French door or glass slider, for example. If ventilation is important, the door may have a louvered construction or a portion that swings open, like the half-acting Dutch door.

Most doors are designed to look as though they’re made from wood even if they’re not. Non-wood materials such as steel and fiberglass are excellent at simulating the look of wood yet are more affordable, have a greater insulation value, and require far less maintenance.

All-wood doors are made from softwoods or more durable and elegant hardwoods. Fiberglass-composite doors, made from a core of rigid insulation clad with a fiber-reinforced polymer, are often embossed with artificial wood grain so they look like wood.

door construction parts diagramSteel doors, made of heavy-gauge galvanized steel over a core of rigid foam, are strong but do a less convincing impersonation of wood. Their surfaces are typically coated with a polymer or vinyl and are wood grain embossed. You can also buy exterior doors made from solid wood (planks or blocks glued together and sanded), veneer applied over solid wood, or veneer applied over a hollow core.

Standard doors are 6 feet, 8 inches tall and vary in width from narrow 12-inch-wide cupboard doors to 8-foot-wide (or wider) sliders.

Panel doors are made from a framework of stiles and rails that hold wood panels. This construction method is common because it minimizes the effects of wood’s tendency to shrink, warp, and swell with variations in humidity.

Some panel doors have glass lites rather than wood panels. This glass may be clear, beveled, etched, leaded, ornamental, or a type of energy-efficient glazing. Panel doors are referred to by the number of panels they contain.

Flush doors have flat surfaces. With this type of construction, the framing is concealed beneath a veneer surface. Inside may be a solid core of hardwood blocks or particleboard or hollow-core material such as corrugated cardboard.

Flush exterior doors often have a core of solid foam. The face veneers are usually applied in two or more “cross band” layers with the grain running perpendicular to minimize warping.

Exterior doors allow access, provide security, and maintain a comfortable indoor climate. They’re made to be particularly strong, weather resistant, and energy efficient. In addition, a front door is usually designed to project a handsome first impression.     

patio doorsA terrace or patio door is hinged and has glass lites. Hinged glass-lite doors mounted in pairs that swing independently are called French doors.    

exterior sliding doorsExterior sliders have one fixed panel and one panel that glides along top and bottom tracks.

Sliding doors operate easily, seal out the weather well, and admit plenty of light.

Doorknobs & Locksets

Highly visible and used on a daily basis, doorknobs and locksets not only provide the first line of defense against intruders but also are important to a home’s exterior appearance.

In the construction trade, doorknobs are sometimes called locksets. The type on interior doors may be called passage locksets, spring-latch locks, interior knobs, or tubular locks. If one of the knobs has a push-button lock, it’s generally called a privacy lock. This is the type found on bathroom and some bedroom doors.

door locksets parts diagramLocksets for exterior doors may be called entry locksets, keyed locks, or exterior locks. A key-operated lock that has no doorknob or lever is called a deadbolt lock. Entry locksets can be locked or unlocked from both sides of the door, using a key, a button, or a throw latch, depending upon the type.

Lockset bodies are classified as either cylindrical or mortise. Cylindrical locksets have a rounded body designed to fit into intersecting holes bored in a door. Mortise locksets have a large, rectangular body that slides into a mortise cut into a door’s edge. With a mortise set, the knob is generally interconnected with a deadbolt.

The level of security a lockset offers depends on how it’s made. Any type with a key in the knob or handle is only marginally secure—these can be easily foiled by a burglar.

For a significant level of security, a door should have a deadbolt with at least a 1-inch throw (extend a minimum of 1 inch beyond the door’s edge) that is made of case-hardened steel.

For a double-cylinder deadbolt, you must use a key from both sides of the door. This is the safest type to use for doors with windows (or else a burglar can just break the glass and reach in to turn the bolt). When people are in the house, however, the key should be left in the interior lock to provide for quick exit in a fire or other emergency. To get free recommendations for top-rated local contractors, call the most reliable and comprehensive referral service, HomeAdvisor, at 866-350-2983 (toll free).

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