If you’re considering making some updates to boost your home’s curb appeal, don’t forget about your front door. Now, if you’re thinking, “A door is a door! Aren’t they all more or less the same?” let me convince you otherwise.

All doors are not equal. And the wrong door can make your house look off-balance and a little odd. The front door is one of the first things visitors encounter, and it has an important job: keeping intruders (and drafts) out of your house.

If you’re in the market for a new front door, you might be a little overwhelmed by the all the options available to you. To help you focus on the factors that will lead you to the perfect door for your house, we’ve put together five questions to keep in mind as you shop and compare.

Ready to buy a new door? Keep reading! (And scroll to the end for an overview of what you can expect during a typical exterior door installation.) 

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Questions to Ask When Buying a New Front Door

Dark wood Craftsman-style front door surrounded by transom windows and yellow siding1. What style of door do I want?

Front door styles vary almost as much as house architectural styles, so whether you’re looking for a traditional panel door, a solid wood door with an arched top, or a multi-light door, you’ll find something to suit your taste.

Regardless of the door style you settle on, you’ll need to consider three main factors when you choose a new exterior door:

  1. Security
  2. Energy efficiency
  3. Style

Doors function as an entry point, but they should only be accessible to you, your family members, and your guests. Your new front door should be equipped with enough safety features, such as special locks or unexposed hinges, to ensure that you feel comfortable and secure in your home.

A good front door should also protect you from the outside elements and keep you from heating and cooling the great outdoors. For the most energy-efficient doors, look for an ENERGY STAR label, which signifies that the door meets or exceeds standards set by the US Department of Energy.

If security is high on your list of must-haves in a new door, you may want to opt out of doors with lights—either in the door itself or on the side. If your home’s foyer tends to be a little dark, however, sidelights can help brighten things up.

Residential door professionals are well versed in the many style options available to you, so don’t be afraid to ask for advice.

2. Which exterior door materials are best?

Fiberglass, wood, and steel are currently the three most popular door material options, and each one has its own set of benefits and limitations. Your choice of material will likely depend on whether or not your front porch is covered as well as the size of your budget.

Fiberglass doors are energy efficient and low maintenance. Fiberglass doors can be manufactured in almost any color or texture, and they can be painted if your exterior color scheme changes in the future.

Wood doors are beautiful and customizable, but they do require consistent maintenance to protect the wood from the elements. If your front porch is not covered, be sure to also purchase a glass storm door to help prevent the wood door from warping or deteriorating.

Steel doors are cost effective and very durable. Though they don’t come in quite as many texture options as fiberglass doors, steel doors can be painted. Steel doors require less maintenance than wood doors, but because any bare metal will rust, you’ll need to be sure to paint over any scratches or dents.

3. Should the door swing in or out?

Traditionally, most exterior doors swing inward; however, the popularity of outward-swinging doors is on the rise, particularly in hurricane-prone areas. Outward-swinging doors cannot be blown in, so they provide better defense against powerful winds.

But while outward-swinging doors are beneficial in windy climates, they could pose a problem in areas that experience heavy snowfall. Too much snow accumulated in front of the door could prevent you from being able to push the door open from the inside.

A major hesitation that many people have about outward-swinging doors is the security issue that comes with exposed hinges. If an outward-swinging door seems like a good option for your climate, know that advanced hinge technology and construction in recent years have made it nearly impossible for an intruder to remove or damage the hinges on an outward-swinging door. Plus, doors that swing out are incredibly difficult to force or kick in, which adds an extra layer of security.

4. How do I choose the best front door locks for my needs?

A dead bolt is absolutely necessary for ensuring the safety of your home. A dead-locking latch bolt will prevent burglars from being able to open the lock with a credit card. Make sure that both the lock and the strike plate are properly installed—if the strike plate isn’t anchored with the right hardware, your door will not be as secure as you’d like.

Most residential exterior doors are equipped with lock sets bearing a Grade 2 security rating. A Grade 1 rating is commercial duty and the most secure, but it will most likely be much more expensive. Grade 3 locks are simple handle locks and are not suitable for exterior doors.

Lock-and-handle sets come in an array of styles. Ranging anywhere from under $30 to over $300, locks can be totally basic or extremely fancy and high tech. When choosing a style, consider your price range, your safety preferences, and the overall look of your house and door.

5. Will the door come with a warranty?

Types and lengths of warranties vary among manufacturers and installers, so make sure to ask different door installation professionals about warranty options before making any final decisions.

Warranties can cover the costs of a variety of issues and can last anywhere from a number of years to the lifetime of the house. Door installation can be a costly process, and a warranty can prevent you from paying more money for unforeseen complications down the road.

What to Expect During a Door Installation

Two contractors installing a prehung front entry doorPrehung vs. slab doors

Exterior doors come in two forms: prehung and slab.

A prehung door is what you’ve probably seen at your local home improvement store. Prehung doors are already hung in a frame and are designed to be easily (well, relatively speaking) slipped into an existing opening. They come with almost everything needed to finish the installation.

A slab door is just a door—no frame, no spots for hinges, no door knob. This is the most basic (and least expensive) option, and it’s what you’ll most likely need if your door frame has non-standard measurements. A door professional will trim the door as needed and install hardware.

Measurements

A professional door installation will be completed in one day, so don’t worry about having to leave your house wide open overnight. Before the door is ordered, however, your contractor should take lots of measurements. Incorrect measurements can throw off the entire process (and result in you receiving a door that is simply the wrong size), so leave this step to the pros.

The installers will take careful measurements of the existing door. For prehung doors, they’ll also take measurements of the door’s opening with interior and exterior trim removed. When the new door arrives, the installers will remove the old door and prepare the opening for the new door.

Installation

If you’ve purchased a prehung door, the entire door-and-frame unit will be placed in the opening and then secured using caulk, nails, and screws. No house is ever truly square, so the installers will likely need to use shims to make sure that the door fits exactly right. Don’t panic about odd gaps around the door frame at this point—those will be covered with trim.

If you’ve purchased a slab door, your installers will need to do a few test fits to make sure that the door is trimmed correctly and that the hinges are in the right places. In most cases, the existing door frame will stay intact.

Because slab doors are a more customized approach to a new front door, the installers will need to spend time ensuring that the door fits tightly in the frame while still being operational. If there are gaps around the door, you’ll lose energy efficiency. Weather stripping, shims, and adjustments to the frame can help the door fit perfectly.

After the installation

It’s not unusual for doors to fit differently through the year. Weather plays a big part—in the winter, you may find that the cool, dry air makes wood contract, making doors fit more loosely than normal. Conversely, the summer’s hot, humid air will cause wood to swell, and you’ll probably notice some of your doors sticking.

As long as the operation of the doors—and your ability to lock them securely—isn’t affected, these changes aren’t anything to worry about. But if your doors become inoperable or you can no longer lock them, call a door professional for help. A small adjustment might be all you need.

The Bottom Line

Wooden front entry door on a modern-style house with sunset reflected in front window of houseWhile a door may seem like just one small step in the home renovation process, the kind of door you choose will affect the safety, energy efficiency, and appearance of your home as a whole.

As you shop around and talk to professional door installers, keep these important considerations in mind:

  • The style of your home
  • The amount of maintenance you can (and want to) devote to a door
  • Any security concerns
  • Your budget

Above all, be sure to work with a reputable door and window replacement company, like one of our Best Picks. We vet all Best Pick companies on an annual basis for high-quality service and customer satisfaction. We verify state-required licenses and insurance every year, too, so you can rest assured that you’re working with the best of the best.

Your home is your biggest investment, and whether you’re getting a new front door or beginning a much larger renovation, we guarantee that your experience with a Best Pick company will be a stellar one.

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