Q: My partner and I are looking to replace our front door. It’s original to the 50-year-old home we just purchased, but it seems like all the warm air is escaping through it. Are some doors better at keeping in the heat?

A: There are a few easy structural fixes that can help decrease heat loss, such as replacing weather stripping or adjusting the surface of your door threshold. However, because your door is original to the home, you may want to replace it with something more up to date and energy efficient.

With proper care and maintenance, a well-made door should last a lifetime. But many homeowners will upgrade their doors to meet the latest design trends or improve performance.

Today, most front doors are made with fiberglass, wood or steel. Here is a brief overview of each material to help you decide what’s best for your home.

Fiberglass

A fiberglass front door is your best bet for peak energy efficiency. Fiberglass doors have an exceptionally insulating polyurethane foam core that provides a high R-value. The R-value is a standard measure of insulation effectiveness; higher numbers mean better insulation. Most fiberglass doors without windows fall in the R-5 to R-6 range — a significantly higher R-value than wood.

As far as appearance goes, fiberglass doors offer a variety of woodgrain textures and stains that are often indistinguishable from wood. You can also opt for a smooth fiberglass door finish painted in the color of your choice. Either way, these doors require very little maintenance and there is no risk of warp, rot or rust.

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High-quality fiberglass door systems can be costly, but long lifespans and energy-saving benefits are worth the price. Many fiberglass door systems meet Energy Star requirements — a nice incentive during tax season. We always recommend Therma-Tru Doors — the brand that pioneered fiberglass door design — but there are many other brands to choose from.

Wood

Nothing compares to a wood door when it comes to natural beauty. Because wood is an organic material, it requires diligent care and maintenance. Without it, wood doors can become warped, misshapen or discolored.

Though it has natural insulating properties, wood can’t compete with fiberglass or steel doors, which often have up to four times the R-value. However, R-values increase with the thickness of any material, so look for a thicker, solid-core wooden door for better insulation.

Handcrafted doors that are well-constructed with premium lumber and a thick veneer will provide improved resistance to wear and tear. Check out companies like Rogue Valley Door that offer handcrafted, regionally-sourced options.

Steel

Today’s steel doors offer a cost-conscious front door option that is built to last. Steel doors are a common choice among homeowners due to their price point, strength and insulation. Offered in contemporary and traditional styles, steel doors are easy to paint and finish.

Steel doors have a similar R-value to fiberglass, which reduces heat transference and keeps energy costs down. Unfortunately, steel doors tend to be less weather-resistant and more prone to rust, dents and scratches.

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When you find a door that you like, check to see it’s certified by the National Fenestration Rating Council. The group’s labels help break down energy performance ratings in multiple categories.

Keep in mind that adding glass, also known as lites, to your front door will reduce its R-value. If glass is part of your door design, make sure it has a low-emissivity (Low-E) coating with double- or triple-pane insulation.

Also, make sure the door seal is not allowing air to escape. Most heat loss occurs around the door due to improper installation or worn-down weather stripping.

 

Aaron Sluder of OrePac Building Products is a member of the Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties (MBAKS). If you have a home improvement, remodeling or residential homebuilding question you’d like answered by one of MBAKS’s nearly 2,800 members, write to homework@mbaks.com.