Restoration Guide: Windows and Door Frames

Barbara Marquand

Editor's Note: This is article 7 of 12 in Chapter 4: The Windows and Doors Guide of Old House Web Restoration Guide. This guide was developed and edited for old homes from original materials in the U.S. Housing and Urban Development Rehab Guide.


Innovations in doors have opened up with advances in window technology. This section of the Old House Web Restoration Guide discusses the improvements in the four main categories of doors encountered in a home restoration project--primary entry, garage and bulkhead, storm, and interior doors--and covers the considerations for repair and replacement.

Section 1--Primary Entrance Doors

Traditionally made from wood, doors now are also available in fiberglass, steel, and carbon. Fiberglass is as strong as aluminum and can be clad with a wood veneer to provide an attractive, traditional look. Or it can be covered with a vinyl film that can be stained and textured to look like wood grain.

Advances have also been made in wood doors. New units featuring fiberboard cores or finger-jointed stock and new protective finishes make these doors more energy efficient, secure, and durable. Rigid insulated cores made from polystyrene and polyurethane provide great insulation.

Window technology innovations have led to energy-efficiency improvements for doors with large glazing areas. New locking systems, reinforced frames, and tracks provide improved security.

Partial replacement units are relatively easy to install and provide the benefits of a new door at a lower cost than replacing an entire door unit. However, total replacement provides the greatest number of options in terms of style and design, so it might be the best way to go for your home renovation project, despite the extra expense.

Here's a look at three partial replacement options for home restoration:

  • A knock-down or prefit door comes as separate jamb and head pieces with attached casings that lock together.
  • An insert door is pre-hung in a narrow frame and can be inserted into an existing frame.
  • A split-jamb door is delivered in two pieces that fit together. One half includes the pre-hung door, and the other half has the casing.

1.1: Repairs Using Traditional Materials

You can repair a door in the same way you would repair a window frame. (See the chapter on window frames for more information.) This is a low-cost alternative, but door repair isn't as easy as it sounds, so unless you really know what you're doing, the end product might not be worth your effort. Consider replacing components before you get out your tool belt.

1.2: New Door Slab

You can improve the appearance and performance of your door by replacing the slab and weatherstripping, as long as the frame is square and in good shape. (Go to section 11 of the Windows & Doors volume to get more details on weatherstripping.) Keep in mind, though, that a pre-assembled unit ensures better security and fire resistance and won't cost much more than a standalone slab.

1.3: Secondary Frame Door

This type of replacement comes with a secondary frame that fits within your door's existing frame. The choice preserves the interior casings and provides the opportunity to improve security and performance. However, secondary frame doors reduce opening size, which might be against building codes, and adjacent framing must be in good condition for this alternative to work.

1.4: New Pre-hung Door

A pre-hung door comes with all the components for improving performance and is relatively easy to install. Beware, though, that all the parts might not be manufactured by the same company. Find out what components will be used in the assembly, and make sure they all meet your standards and come with warranties.

Section 2--Bulkhead and Garage Doors

Garage door mechanisms have improved over the years, making them safer and more secure. (No more pinched fingers between sections!) Redesigned spring sections provide easier movement, and a cable prevents broken springs from flying. Reinforced steel tracks and panel girders, meanwhile, protect against failure in high winds. Electronics have also improved. New automatic devices use different codes each time they operate to thwart tech-savvy crooks. And door controls include mechanisms to reverse automatically if they detect objects or, more critically, small children in the way.

Old bulkhead doors were made of wood and thus vulnerable to rot. Steel doors came along as a better alternative, but they are subject to rust. The newer, hinged, fiberglass doors address the downsides of both wood and steel.

2.1: Garage and Bulkhead Door Repair

Assess and address the cause of damage before you attempt a repair. See the window frame section for information about traditional repair methods.

2.2: Garage and Bulkhead Door Replacement

Replacement doors provide better security, convenience, and durability, thanks to the new materials and technology used in today's doors. However, new doors might not be available in the exact size or style to match your old house.

Section 3--Screen and Storm Doors

Adding a storm door is an inexpensive way to boost energy efficiency. Strength and durability are essential. Storm doors made with aluminum and aluminum clad material are popular because they're strong and hold up well compared to vinyl and wood. The space between the storm door and the primary door provides insulation, which makes up for aluminum's poor thermal quality. However, heat and moisture can get trapped in that space, which can damage the primary door's finish and weatherstripping. You might need to choose a ventilated storm door to preserve the warranty on your primary door. Combination storm doors include glass and screen panels that can be switched out according to the seasons, and screen inserts are available for most storm doors.

3.1: Storm Door Repair

Storm doors take a lot of abuse, so they often require maintenance and small repairs, such as adjusting the latch or fixing a screen. (See the chapter on weatherstripping for information on replacing that component.) But consider replacing a warped wooden storm door, which clearly has outlasted its usefulness.

3.2: Storm Door Replacement

You can find a wide variety of storm door styles. New storm doors provide better security and are more durable than ever before. But if you're embarking on a preservation project, bear in mind that you'll pay a premium to replicate an old storm door style.

Section 4--Doors Inside Your Home

Your home's interior doors help define spaces, shut out noise from TVs and noisy kids and--if they incorporate glass--allow light to shine through rooms.

You can choose from a variety of operating styles and construction methods. Hollow-core flush panel doors are the most common for inside the home because they don't cost much and they're easy to build. But they also don't insulate well for sound, so if you're looking for a door to reduce noise, go with a solid core style.

4.1: Interior Door Repair

You can repair blemishes easily, but you might need to call in an expert to fix a door that's out of alignment.

4.2: Replace Interior Doors

Replacing an interior door makes sense if you want to add light or improve privacy or ventilation. Consider fiberglass or re-engineered wood when you go shopping. Think twice, though, about replacing interior doors in an old house. Old interior doors were often custom made and might be difficult and costly to replicate. Replacing them also could impair the trim.

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