Chetan Hira, owner of Artistic Iron in Westminster, Colo., says that most customers want an extra exterior door for one of two reasons. “They are worried about people breaking in, or, if they aren’t worried about security, they want to allow for fresh air and ventilation, but still have a locked front door.”
To get started, find a door specialist. Look for a company that walks you through the process, from the initial consultation to post-installation. Get recommendations from friends and neighbors, read reviews and confirm that the company is licensed, bonded and insured, says Joe LeVecchi, co-owner of Exterior Medics, an exterior remodeling company in Springfield, Va.
Typically, a company will come to your home, assess your needs, show you options for colors and styles, take measurements and quote a price for the door and the installation. Take your time during the interview to ensure you get what you want.
Ask whether the company does the installation or outsources to subcontractors. And be sure to determine whether the doors are manufactured in-house or elsewhere. If it’s the latter, ask where. “Because we specialize in installation, we partner with outside manufacturers. But all of our doors are made in the U.S., so if anything goes wrong, we can get it replaced right away,” LeVecchi says.
Also consider these factors to find the door that best meets your needs.
Custom or off-the-shelf. Hira says a custom door is built to within 1/16 of an inch of your door opening. Standard models, on the other hand, come in about three or four sizes; installers tweak the door to make it fit the door frame.
Steel vs. aluminum. Although you can find aluminum- and steel-frame options at home improvement centers, all custom fabricated doors are steel-based. Experts say steel is the way to go, especially for a security door. In climates with a high salt content, though, aluminum has an edge, because it doesn’t rust, says Paula McKain, sales manager for First Impression Ironworks in Gilbert, Ariz. Steel grades are measured in gauge. The smaller the gauge, the thicker the steel, so 22 gauge is easier to bend or dent. Look for 14- to 16-gauge hollow tubing for the main door components, and around an 11 gauge for the frame, Hira says. (Solid steel bars would make the door so heavy that you couldn’t easily open or close it.)
Hardware. Custom doors come with brand-name hardware, including locks and handle sets, which can make it easier to find replacement parts. Also, ask what type of hinges will be used; for instance, a barrel hinge is sturdier and can bear more weight than an H-hinge.
Finish. Almost all security storm doors are finished with a powder coat rather than paint. According to McKain, manufacturers clean the steel, hang it on a rack, spray on a powdery substance (the spray comes in a variety of colors), then bake the door to harden and cure the finish. “Powder coating is incredibly durable, resistant to weather and preferable to paint,” she says. If it’s properly applied, the powder coating should last about 15 to 20 years.
Cost. Prices for doors vary based on where you live, upgrades such as arches or digital locks, and whether there are iron fabricators in the area or whether the doors have to be shipped in. Bottom line: The higher the quality and the more complicated the design, the higher the price. A basic, lightweight aluminum storm door with screen panels from a home improvement store may be found for as little as $300 or less; a standard-size steel version would be about $400 to $500. These doors don’t include hardware or installation, so factor in at least another $250 to $350. Because security doors contain more steel, expect to pay more for one. An off-the-shelf model is about $600 to $1,000. One customized specifically for your home can run about $2,000 to $3,000. Yes, that’s a heftier price tag, but custom doors purchased through a specialist typically include installation.
Minutiae. Small things can make a big difference. For example, for the clips that secure the glass or a screen panel to the door, you want metal. Over time, plastic ones can become brittle and may break. Some fabricators skip clips altogether and use removable screws to secure panels. Also pay attention to weatherstripping. Thin stripping makes for a poor seal, so make sure your installer is using a product thick enough to keep out the cold or heat. McKain says that, in places with intense heat, such as Arizona, a vinyl-coated weatherstrip is preferred over foam, because it’s less likely to degrade.
Warranty. Hira, whose company not only fabricates, but also powder-coats in-house, says a good door warranty from the fabricator and/or installer should cover at least five years for anything that breaks or for structural defects. Moving parts such as handles and locks should be covered by a one-year manufacturer’s warranty. You may also want to ask about a finish warranty in case it flakes or peels.
Maintenance. A well-constructed door doesn’t need much maintenance. Once a year, you may want to lubricate the hinges. Spray a product such as WD-40 on a soft cloth and wipe them down.
Denver-based writer Laura Daily specializes in consumer advocacy and travel strategies. Find her at dailywriter.net.