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Opening Doors To Savings

My house has an old wood front door and a steel back door. I don’t want the expense of replacing them, but I want to make them more airtight and efficient. What can I do myself to improve them?—Johnny W.

Doors can be significant areas of energy loss. Many homes have a front door, a back door, and a door from an attached garage. When you total the perimeter length of the doors, you can see how poor-fitting weatherstripping can be a major factor. Front doors and back doors also often have windows with low insulation value.

Before attempting any improvements, inspect each door. If the wood is deteriorated or warped, there is not much you can do but replace it. Steel or fiberglass doors seldom warp, so they generally can be repaired and upgraded.

To test for air leaks, on a windy day hold a stick of lighted incense near the weatherstripping and move it around the door perimeter. The trail of smoke will indicate leaky areas. They may be in just a couple of spots so you will not have to replace all the weatherstripping.

Push on the door with your hand to force it to close tighter and then check with the incense again. The striker plate in the door frame can get worn over time. If you are lucky, the only problem is that the door is not closing tightly enough to create a good seal.

The easiest solution to this problem is to remove the old striker plate in the door frame and install an adjustable one. There are two basic designs. One design (Door-Tite) is a die-cast plate with staggered teeth cast into the hole area. Another design (Mag Security) uses a two-piece striker plate.

If the doors are old, it would be wise to replace the threshold seal, and perhaps the entire threshold, under the door. Most newer doors have the weatherstripping seal attached to the door bottom, but with some older ones the seal is in the threshold on the floor. This can get damaged and crushed after years of foot traffic.

Most thresholds are adjustable. There are usually three or four screws that allow you to move the section immediately under the door up or down. Adjust the threshold up a little to see if that reduces the draft.

If you choose to install a new efficient threshold seal, you will have to remove the door from the hinges. The new seal will likely be thicker, so you will have to saw a thin strip off the door bottom for clearance. For a steel door, consider installing an automatic door bottom seal, which moves down to touch the threshold just as the door closes.

Old worn hinges can also cause sealing problems. These allow the door to hang crooked so the weatherstripping will not seal well. Most home center stores carry an array of hinge sizes.

The glass in doors is the lowest insulation component. Make a storm pane, using clear acrylic plastic, to cover the glass in the door. This will almost double the insulation value and protect the decorative glass from the weather.

If you can easily remove the door molding, check to see if there is insulation in the gap around the door frame. If you find none, spray expanding foam insulation in the gap. Wait until it fully expands and hardens before replacing the molding. Use low-expansion foam, NOT high-expansion foam because it could damage the door.

The following companies offer door improvement products: Door-Tite, (513) 891-0210, www.oikos.com; Mag Security, (800) 950-9058, www.magsecurity.com; M-D Building Products, (800) 654-8454, www.mdteam.com; Pemko Manufacturing, (800) 283-9988, www.pemko.com; and Thermwell, (800) 526-5265, www.frostking.com.

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