Doors That Score High in Energy Efficiency and Good Looks

A wall made by sticking different shapes and colors of rock together. The doors are standing on a metal frame beside three small windows arranged vertically.

Today's entry doors come in a variety of styles, finishes and materials. This one, from Kolbe Windows and Doors, is even eco-friendly.

An entry door is your home’s opening statement — and a big contributor to the curb appeal of your house.

It’s the first thing your guests see when they visit and the last thing they notice as it hits them on the way out.

It says a lot about your style. Entry doors are also a significant element in the fight to keep your home warm in winter and cool in summer.

There are hundreds of entrance door products and styles available. Not to mention the nearly unlimited variety of panel designs; rectangular, radius or geometric transoms and companion sidelite configurations; grille patterns and decorative, clear or privacy glass selections.

This multitude of options can dramatically change the look and energy characteristics of your home. So, how do you go about scoring an entry door that provides high energy efficiency and the aesthetic appeal that does your home proud?

The first step is to do your homework on the Internet, advises Lance Premeau, product and market manager for Kolbe Windows and Doors. Most manufacturers have a wealth of information on their website. Kolbe’s, for example, has an intuitive search engine that helps you pick a product line and type of glass. The website for Simpson Door Company includes a “test drive” app that allows you to upload a photo of the front of your house and then dub in any of the firm’s door products to see how they would look on your home.

Select a material, pick a style

The first decision is selecting the door material. Do you want wood, fiberglass or steel? Each offers varying advantages.

“Real wood doors offer a higher level of detail in the panels and you have a wide choice of grains and colors,” says Craig Weaver, product manager at Jeld-Wen Windows and Doors. “Fiberglass doors give you the look of wood but without the maintenance. Insulation is better and the door won’t dent, crack, or split. Steel is an economical choice. A steel door is more affordable but you can get as many glass options as with a fiberglass door.”

Next, do you want a solid door or glass at the entrance? “Most home owners want to bring more light into their homes,” adds Weaver. “Doors with glass inserts, sidelites and transoms are a good way to do this and designs have been coordinated so that all components work together. Consumers can choose sidelites with quarter view, half view or full view.”

According to Brad Loveless, marketing and product development manager for Simpson Door Company, the look of entry doors is simplifying. “There is less decoration on the door, less raised molding and a cleaner or more contemporary look,” he says.

But the use of glass, he adds, is now more prominent than ever. This has fostered an increased emphasis on the use of insulating glass and less emphasis on decorative glass. The trend is toward simpler sidelites and transom designs and greater use of obscure or privacy glass.

While the size of the door tends to match the size of the home, there is a definite trend to larger doors, which complements today’s higher volume ceilings and improves accessibility.

However, the trend to taller doors is somewhat regional, according to Weaver. Eight-foot doors are more often seen in Florida, Texas and the Southwest. Weaver also points to a shift away from six-panel door styles and an increase in two-panel and craftsman designs. “The six panel door is still king,” he says, “but now people are looking for something different. We’re seeing tremendous growth in different door styles, such as the craftsman style and two-panel designs, either square top or arched top.”

As for wood species, Loveless says that the popularity of specific woods tends to be regional. ”People prefer woods sourced in their area. Overall, far and away the most popular wood for entry doors is Douglas Fir, followed by Western Hemlock, Knotty Adler and Sapele Mahogany.”

Check for certification, quality

Labels indicating Energy Star and NFRC (National Fenestration Rating Council) certifications are an obvious indication of a door’s energy efficiency. An Energy Star label documents the door’s U-Factor and Solar Heat Gain Coefficient (SHGC). NFRC is a national rating system for the energy performance of fenestration products.

After checking that the door you select sports the certification labels, make sure that it also meets the requirements for the energy tax credit, which has been extended to the end of 2013.

But the story on a door’s quality construction and energy efficiency goes beyond the rating systems. The majority of heat loss occurs around the door rather than through the door. So check on the quality of the door’s construction, weather-stripping, water barrier and threshold systems.

Here, again, Premeau recommends looking to manufacturer websites. “Many will have quality features and energy values for all their products that have been tested. Our website search engine allows you to search by energy performance and directs you to products that meet those performance thresholds.”

Kolbe’s aluminum-clad doors feature multi-point locking hardware that enhance security and also improve performance by providing additional points that seal the door against air, water and structural intrusion. Kolbe also boasts a weeping-sill system for inswing doors that has been certified for high-design pressure ratings.

Therma-Tru offers a fiberglass door upgrade, the Tru-Defense Door System, that maximizes the seal between the door and the frame to keep out wind and rain. Weather-stripping, corner seal pad, door bottom sweep and profiled sill are all engineered to work together. A kerf-applied door bottom provides a tight seal by mating with the door’s composite bottom end rails. A composite adjustable sill allows for an air-tight seal to prevent moisture damage and adjustable hinges provide for an accurate fit.

Clad wood doors from the Simpson Door Company feature WaterBarrier technology that combines a medium density overlay with PVC glazing bead and bar components. The company’s UltraBlock technology is a composite block in the bottom of the door stiles to prevent water infiltration.

Proper installation is vital, says Jeld-Wen’s Weaver. He suggests asking your installer or home builder what their standard installation practice is to prevent water and air intrusion. Do they use pans? Flashing? Is it installed plumb? If it’s new construction, does the builder incorporate the house wrap into the door installation to keep air and water out? If the product does not have an adjustable threshold, plan on regularly adding a new sweep to seal out rain and drafts.

Best bet, says Weaver, choose a pre-hung door system. “When the frame is factory-built around the door, you have the proper weatherstripping and the sill can be adjusted for a tight fit against the door,” he explains. “Pre-hung doors are also easier to install correctly.”

Depending on where your home is located, impact certification and Design Pressure (DP) ratings may also be of major concern. “Design pressure ratings,” says Weaver, “are primarily a concern in coastal areas, but we’re also seeing increase use, and in some cases new code requirements, for impact certification in tornado areas.”

Finally, score points if the entry door you choose is environmentally friendly. Are the materials the door is constructed of locally sourced? Does it make use of recycled content? If wood, is it from managed forests? Is the wood certified by the Sustainable Forestry Initiative? Does the construction encapsulate wood preservatives to reduce emissions of formaldehyde? Are low-VOC-emitting primers and adhesives used? Is the door prefinished so that VOCs won’t be released at the home by a job site painter?

Don’t forget, Premeau advises, that material durability and finish longevity are also elements of sustainability and indicators of construction quality. So, remember to check the warranty.

Roy Diez is a freelance writer and marketing professional specializing in the architectural, building and construction industry. He is a former editor-in-chief of Professional Builder magazine.

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