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Best Doors and Locks for Exterior EntrancesOctober 6th, 2017 by
You may not want to think about it, but when you’re at home, your front door is all that separates you and your family from the outside world. And if you’ve ever experienced a break-in, you know how tenuous that barrier can feel.
When my home was broken into, I questioned everything in the house—the front door, the French doors that led to our backyard patio, every window in our sunroom, our lazy pups who didn’t make a sound—but the reality is that if someone wants to get into your home, they will find a way.
That being said, you don’t have to make it easy for them.
If you’ve ever wandered through the home remodeling department of your local home improvement store, you’ve probably seen countless front entry doors stacked together or arranged in demo units. All those choices can be a little overwhelming.
Fiberglass or solid wood? Steel or aluminum? Six-panel or sidelights? What about a storm door?
Once you’ve chosen a door, you’ll need to decide on a locking handle and deadbolt. It’s all a lot to consider, but keep reading for the information I’ve compiled to help you choose the best exterior entry door and lock set for your home.
Front Entry Doors
Wood front entry doors are a classic choice, but they are not maintenance-free. Regardless of whether your wooden door is painted or simply stained and sealed, plan on repainting or refinishing it every two to three years to keep the wood in good shape.
A wood front door is probably not a good option for you if your home does not have a covered front porch. Even when protected by paint or sealer, wood will deteriorate in the face of lots of sun, extreme temperatures, and moisture.
If your front porch offers some shelter from the elements, however, consider a wood door as you make your decision. Wood doors are known for their strength and wide range of custom options. A wood door will likely land on the upper range of the price scale.
Fiberglass entry doors are quickly becoming the standard in most newly constructed homes, and for good reason. Fiberglass is a lightweight, strong material that can withstand a lot of tough treatment. Barring constant exposure to extreme weather, a fiberglass door won’t require esthetic maintenance for over a decade.
If energy efficiency is something you’re looking for in a new front door, fiberglass is one of your best options. Fiberglass doors are insulated, so they will do a better job of limiting heat transfer through the seasons, which will have a positive impact on your utility bills.
Fiberglass is also a good choice if you love the look of wood but aren’t comfortable with the higher price point. Because fiberglass can be molded and veneered to mimic different textures, you’ll be able to choose from a wide range of design options.
Steel front entry doors are a great option if you need to stick to a strict budget. Like their fiberglass counterparts, steel doors are strong and very difficult for an intruder to breach, but they typically require esthetic maintenance, such as sealing or painting, much more often.
Similar to fiberglass doors, steel doors do contain insulation, but because steel is a good conductor of energy, heat transfer can be a problem, especially if your front door is not protected by a covered porch. You’ll find a steel door to be quite hot on the surface when it’s positioned in direct sunlight.
Steel doors are easily dented, and those dents are, unfortunately, difficult to fix. Dents can also cause paint to chip and flake, which means that you could end up with rust spots on the door where the metal is unprotected. In these cases, replacing the door is usually the smarter choice.
If, however, you’re looking for a low-cost door for a home with a covered porch (and residents who aren’t likely to be too rough with the door), a steel door could be a great choice.
Aluminum doors are a little less common than steel, fiberglass, and wood, but they can be an excellent option if you’re looking for a metal door that might be a little more durable than a steel door.
Like steel and fiberglass doors, aluminum doors are insulated against extreme cold and heat. If the possibility of a steel door rusting concerns you, consider aluminum—while it may still dent, aluminum doors have a heat-applied finish, which means that the finish will not chip (or rust).
Aluminum doors are costlier than steel doors, but they do carry long warranties—usually a couple of decades.
Storm doors are helpful in a couple of ways: they can extend the life of your door, and they provide additional insulation against very hot and very cold weather. Glass panels for storm doors typically come in single- and double-pane options, similar to your home’s windows.
If you decide to add a storm door to your home’s main entry, here’s the information you’ll need before making a purchase:
- The measurements of the door frame and jamb
- Whether the front door opens to the right or to the left—the storm door will need to open the same way
Storm doors should lock, especially if you plan on replacing the glass panels with screens in warmer weather, but the lock will probably not be as strong as the lock set on your main door.
We’ll go into more detail in the next section, but for now, know that your storm door is unlikely to provide much barrier to intruders.
Lock Grades and Sets
While your door does provide some protection from intruders, the primary security comes from the door’s lock set and the grade of the lock.
For further security, your home’s front door—and any other exterior doors—should have a deadbolt to ensure that someone cannot gain access to the house by simply removing or breaking off the door handle.
Looking at the entry door handlesets at your local home improvement store is a great place to start, but a professional locksmith may be able to offer more guidance and a wider range of products, especially if you’re looking something heavy-duty.
Regardless of whether you consult a pro for advice or turn this into a DIY project, you’ll need to give some thought to the lock’s grade. The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and the Builder Hardware Manufacturers Association (BHMA) use a grading scale of 1, 2, or 3 to indicate the performance of a given piece of hardware:
- Grade 1: Grade 1 hardware and locks are considered commercial grade and are quite sturdy. Because they are costlier than Grade 2 and 3 options, few hardware stores stock them, but locksmiths often do.
- Grade 2: Most of what you’ll find in the lock and handleset section of the home improvement store will be Grade 2. Grade 2 locks are the common grade of lock found on residential exterior doors.
- Grade 3: The only place a grade 3 lock set should be is on an interior door. Grade 3 locks are typically handle locks only and are easily unlocked with a coin, screwdriver, or fingernail.
For residential purposes, a Grade 2 lock and handleset is your best bet. Be mindful when making your purchase, since some products advertise that they contain components that carry a Grade 1 rating or that the lock has Grade 1 features.
These claims are a gimmick. To get the highest quality residential lock, the entire set must carry a Grade 2 rating.
If you purchase an exterior entry door handleset, a deadbolt should be included. If you’re adding a deadbolt to an entry door that doesn’t already have one, however, you’ll need to keep some important pointers in mind.
Like the lock set you choose, the best deadbolt for residential use will carry an overall Grade 2 rating. While you’ll probably come across double-cylinder deadbolts as you shop around, it’s best to stick with a single-cylinder option.
Double-cylinder deadbolts must be opened with a key from both inside and outside the door—this is great for deterring intruders, but incredibly dangerous in an emergency. The more standard deadbolt that only requires a key on the outside is safer.
Here are some other features to look for in a deadbolt:
- Solid brass construction. These deadbolts are a little more expensive, but solid brass is a hard metal and therefore more secure.
- A bolt that extends one full inch into the door jamb. This provides more resistance if an intruder tries to force the door open.
- A bolt with a tamper-proof steel pin in its center. If an intruder tries to cut through the bolt with a power tool or blade, the steel pin in the center of the bolt will spin, making cutting all the way through it virtually impossible.
- A slightly inset housing. A secure deadbolt should sit in the door rather than simply bolting on to the surface. This ensures that a hard upward or downward hit from a blunt object won’t knock the deadbolt off the door.
In most cases, you’ll be able to install or replace a door lock, deadbolt, or handleset on your own. Kits typically include all the hardware you’ll need, and if you have a drill and a couple of screwdrivers, you’ll be in good shape.
If you don’t have the right tools, or if you’d rather leave a task as important as this one to the pros, there is absolutely no shame in calling a locksmith. He or she will be able to get you squared away with no problems.
The Bottom Line
Purchasing the right front entry door and lock set is important. Not only is it a significant financial investment, these parts of your home are vital to the security of you and your family. It’s not something you want to get wrong.
The front door you choose will depend on several factors, such as your budget, the climate, the style of your house, and any HOA restrictions you might encounter. In most cases, however, a fiberglass door is the ideal marriage of cost effectiveness, variety of styles and colors, and energy efficiency.
Choosing a door lock can be overwhelming, but try not to let esthetic factors get in the way of choosing the most secure option. Look for Grade 2 locks and deadbolts first, and then choose the style you like.
Locks and handlesets (and doors, too) are available in a wide range of styles and finishes, but when your security is concerned, prioritize function over form.