Just about every front and back door has a crack where the bottom of the door meets the threshold. There may be more cracks all the way around these exterior doors, where they meet and close against the vertical and horizontal sides of the door jamb/stop assemblies. Warm air in winter and cold air in summer (if there is air conditioning) escapes through these cracks driving up your heating and cooling bills. Let’s take a closer look at this gap and cost effective ways to do something about it.
Becoming Aware Of The 4 Square Inch Hole Punched Through The Exterior Wall Of Your Home.
Would you ever ask someone to drill a 4 square inch hole through the first floor exterior wall of your home and let it remain unplugged? Of course not. Yet by ignoring a 1/16” crack at the bottom of your front and back doors, that’s what you’re doing….allowing the equivalent of a 2” by 2” hole in your exterior wall to remain open to the outside all year round. Skeptical? Consider the arithmetic.
The typical exterior door is 3 feet wide. Multiply that by 1/16” (the size of a potential air gap at the bottom of your door, and you get 2 1/8 square inches. Multiply that by 2 – for 2 doors front and back – and you get around 4 square inches. That’s right….4 square inches! When it’s freezing outside, do you think much heat will escape through a hole that size? Play around with the numbers and you get the picture. Even if the gap beneath your entry doors is only 1/32”, you’re still allowing a hole through the exterior wall of your home that is roughly 2 ¼ square inches (for example, 2 inches wide by 1 inch high) to remain unplugged. And this doesn’t even factor in the air gaps around the other sides of the doors!
Cost Effective Ways To Plug The Gaps
The most cost effective way to plug the air gaps around exterior doors is to install a good door sweep (with good defined as aesthetically attractive with durable, flexible, multiple and replaceable rubber fin sweeps) at the bottom of the door and good weatherstripping (with good defined as easily installed and durable) around the other sides. “Good” sweeps and weatherstripping tend to be available in higher end lumber yards or online, not at big box or local hardware stores. For each door, expect to spend around $30 for a good door sweep and around $65 for good weatherstripping material.
Sure, you can buy this material for less. But it probably won’t be “good” as defined above. After shopping around, you’ll know good when you see it. When you think you’ve found good, double check with an experienced installer. For example, some good and reasonably priced systems using copper or neoprene materials may be cost prohibitive to install and don’t adapt well to the inevitable settling or warping of the door assembly. The “good” material in this latter example when combined with the labor cost may result in an installation that is not so good overall. That’s because it’s not cost effective and won’t adapt flexibly to changing field conditions over time. With weatherstripping, as with all construction materials, the old platitude usually applies when considered from your perspective as buyer: not all that glitters is gold (or gold saved).
How The Weatherstripping Works
A weatherstripping product we like and use a lot consists of a 1.25” wide by 3/8” thick wood clamshell or colonial profile trim piece, often primed and needing paint, married to a piece of flexible v-shaped foam rubber onto which a door closes. To understand the marriage of foam to wood, take a look at the photo below showing the back side of the trim piece. The flexible v-shaped piece of durable foam rubber is stapled onto a dado with an interlocking groove. When the wood portion of this trim assembly is nailed to the door jamb the foam portion of the weatherstripping is locked into place preventing slippage.
One way to visualize this weatherstripping in context (ie. nailed to your door jambs) is to consider the photos immediately below. When the existing stop is replaced (simulated in photos by taping the weatherstripping to the existing door stop), the door will close against a flexible piece of foam that is part of a new wood door stop, instead of up against a 100% wood only stop, which is often the existing condition. The foam component of the new trim piece will help to close up any gaps and seal the inside air from the outside when the door is closed.
We like the dimensions of this product because it’s small enough to tuck into tight spots and not interfere with handset operations and pedestrian movements. The necessity to paint the wood portion of the weatherstripping is desirable because you can match the color of the existing door jambs, blending it in so it doesn’t stick out like a sore thumb. It’s cost effective because it can be installed faster and with less fuss than most alternatives. It will last longer than most alternatives. If your door moves, shifts or warps in the future (a certainty if your doors are wood) the flexible and accordion like nature of the foam component is self adjusting and therefore forgiving, adapting to and sealing future door shifts or warps under ¼” or so. If the door movement over time is greater than ¼”, the weatherstripping door stop can easily be “un-nailed” and adjusted or relocated slightly. This adaptive reuse feature contributes to its cost effectiveness.
Greenwich, CT: How A $600 Weatherstripping Job Saved A Celebrity $10,000.
About 10 years ago we were contacted by a homeowner in Greenwich, Connecticut to render a third opinion and related pricing on what was initially described to us as a front door framing repair issue. During our first visit on site, we confirmed what the owner had told us over the phone…. that the front door did not work. It no longer fit properly into its opening and could not be locked. But we were puzzled as to why the builders and carpenters preceding us had recommended that the owner reframe the front of the house and replace the door, at prices ranging from $6,000 to $10,000. There was no ambiguity about the abnormally large gaps between the door itself and the surrounding door jambs. And the gaps on one side certainly did prevent closure on the opposite side of the door. But the house was relatively new, under 3 years old, and the front door had only started to malfunction after about the first 2 years. Why were the diagnoses so bleak and the recommended surgery so radical?
As we dug a little deeper, more was revealed sporadically. The father of the household, a celebrity all star on a prominent professional basketball team, was away for long periods of time while on the road. His wife, with whom we were dealing, was a genuinely nice stay at home mom with three adorable children in elementary school. Her father, a minister, was helping her with some of the home maintenance chores, including the front door problem, while her husband was away for extended periods. The wife shared that her father’s strengths were in realms other than those related to the doors, which was why she was soliciting other opinions and had reached out to us. While the solutions tendered by others would definitely work, we felt it would be worthwhile to explore other potential solutions.
After inspecting the cellar foundation and framing below the front door and abutting surfaces and neighboring windows on all floors for about 20 feet in all directions, we could find nothing wrong with the basic structure of the home in the immediate vicinity of the door. And the rough opening of the door checked out for level, plumb and square. No problems there. But when we placed a 6 foot level on the front face of the door itself, we discovered that the top half of the door had warped and twisted slightly from the midpoint to the top. Warping was the main culprit. If you imagined that the door was a person, a person with formerly ramrod straight posture was now bending slightly from the waist up. Once we completed our measurements and discovered that the solid wood door was 42” wide by 86” high (which is 6” wider and higher than the norm), with intricate millwork and carvings, the warping was no longer a surprise. This was a big chunk of wood that was likely to warp, bow, bend and twist with changing relative humidity patterns, both indoors and outdoors, during four tumultuous New England weather seasons each year. It took a year or two for the wood to move and stabilize into a problematic shape. And there were a number of ways to deal with it. The owner didn’t want to part with the door. It was almost brand new. She liked it. The carvings were custom and original. And there were significant financial implications from replacement. She indicated that the original material cost of the door alone was in the neighborhood of $4,500.
The fix was to do some minor planing and sanding adjustments to door and jamb sections followed by installation of the weatherstripping product described above. Gaps of 2/8 to5/8 of an inch were covered up by (i) the v-shaped foam and (ii) creative positioning of the integral wood trim portion of the weatherstripping. Following minor adjustments to the door hardware – including hinges, handles and locksets – and paint touch up the overall fix was invisible to the naked eye. Reframing and replacement were not necessary. An expense of up to $10,000 was avoided. The result was almost as good as new. And the total cost to the homeowner was around $600.
Adding A New Storm Door: Not Critical For Air Sealing. A Nice Amenity When Appropriate.
Sometimes our clients ask us to install a new storm door, thinking that this will help to air seal their home and make it more comfortable. To those clients with those motivations, we advise “don’t count on it”. Storm doors may or may not improve the air sealing around your exterior doors. It’s a toss up and usually a function of how meticulous the installer is and how well the storm door is manufactured. There are a lot of places for air to escape through and around a storm door, even a good one.
For those with air sealing and draft reduction motivations, we always recommend weatherstripping and door sweeps first. These will always perform better and cost less than a storm door for draft reduction effectiveness. For air sealing purposes, a new storm door is not necessary if the “non-storm door” is weatherstripped well.
Another compelling fact: some exterior door manufacturers specifically prohibit the installation of a storm door around their exterior doors. So we advise caution before purchasing a storm door. If you install one around a steel or fiberglass one, for example, you may void the steel or fiberglass door manufacturer’s warranty. If you install one around a wood door, be alert to factors that might be created by the storm door leading to premature deterioration or decay of the wood door, such as condensation or overheating.
If your exterior doors pass muster and a storm door is appropriate, here are some features our clients have appreciated from their new storm doors:
- The convenience of a combination sliding screen and glass assembly. Some storm doors combine the screen and glass assemblies so you never have to struggle with changing out the screen or glass when the seasons change. No more pains in the neck. When the seasons change, you simply roll the combination glass/screen panel up or down within the door assembly in a manner analogous to rolling a window shade up or down. Easy!
- The ability to open a solid door and view more of the outside through the storm door window (s) while being protected from the elements, bugs, and critters.
- The ability to open the main door assembly and allow (i) more natural light to enter through the storm door area when it’s glass and (ii) more air and cross ventilation through the storm door area when it’s a screen.
- When the lower half of the storm door is permanently glass or metal, avoiding the destruction of screening on the lower half by pesky pet paws.
- The ability of the storm door to protect the underlying main door assembly from the elements, particularly when there is no roof overhang directly above.
Assembled below are photos of storm door installations completed by Connolly Construction during the summer of 2014 on a range of homes built over the past 250 years:
- Westport, CT: 18th Century Structure.
- Westport, CT: 18th Century Structure.
- Westport, CT: 19th Century Structure.
- Rowayton, CT: 1978 Colonial.