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Entry doors must be tough enough to withstand wind, rain, scorching sun, and would-be intruders, yet handsome enough to make a good first impression. Even if the old door frame is fine, the wall studs it's nailed to can bow and settle out of square. However, these kits slightly reduce the original opening, they're available in only a few sizes, and they can't be installed over rotted jambs. A third option is to have a local woodworker or millwork shop build a wood door according to your specifications.

Natural-finish stock and custom wood doors come in oak, cherry, walnut, mahogany, maple, fir, and pine. You'll also find paint-grade doors in several softwood varieties, such as pine and western hemlock.

Companies such as Lamson-Taylor, Pella, and Simpson discourage bowing and warping by laminating two pieces of wood to create the stiles and rails. Figure on about $2,000 to $4,000 for a complete system that includes a prehung door in its frame, hinges, locksets, sidelights, and weatherstripping.

When shopping for prefinished wood doors, look for durable stains and clear finishes, such as polyurethane.

As a rule, the more intricate the carvings and moldings, and the thicker and wider the stiles and rails, the better the door.

Steel units are stronger than wood or fiberglass doors, and they won't crack or warp. Any dents or dings on these doors can be pulled and puttied with an auto-body repair kit.

Most steel doors are coated with a baked-on polyester finish that requires periodic repainting. Premium versions get a vinyl coating similar to the one on vinyl-clad windows for greater weather resistance. Also, if you choose an embossed wood grain, make sure it runs horizontally on the rails and vertically on the stiles. Fiberglass-composite doors are tough and maintenance-free, and are a smart choice for harsh or humid climates.

Beneath their molded surface is a framework of wooden stiles and rails, including wood edges for the lockset. But because installation affects longevity, these lengthy warranties usually come only on complete entry systems that include the frame.

As with steel doors, make sure that the embossed wood-grain pattern runs horizontally on the rails and vertically on the stiles, like real wood grain. Aluminum doors, like steel units, use an insulation core covered by a metal skin.

Unlike other door systems, however, aluminum versions are sold exclusively through dealers.

The doors in the Armaclad line from Hess Manufacturing, for example, come in dozens of styles and colors, with smooth or wood-grain finishes.

Aluminum doors have a baked-on enamel finish, so they never need painting and won't rust — which explains the 20-year warranties that are common. At prices that start at about $600, aluminum doors are the most expensive choice after solid wood.

Whether you buy the door by itself or the entire door-and-frame system, keep these shopping tips in mind: Check that the weatherstripping seals properly and that the threshold interlocks with the bottom edge of the door.

Decorative windows with real lead or brass caming cost more than ones with the fake stuff.

This prevents outside cold and heat from being conducted through the skin and frame, and frost from forming on the inside surface.

Picking the right front door will pay off in smoother operation, less maintenance, and added energy savings.

Chautauqua Woods Custom Doors
Chautauqua Woods Custom Doors
Cambria Door From Simpson Contains Leaded Glass
Cambria Door From Simpson Contains Leaded Glass
Sta-Tru Line Steel Entry Doors From Stanley
Sta-Tru Line Steel Entry Doors From Stanley

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