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Screen Scoop

My old back-screen door doesn’t fit well and lets in mosquitoes. Also, I would like screens over the front door, but most screen doors are ugly. What options do I have?—Jean D.

Improving ventilation instead of continuously using air conditioning can lower your utility bills and often improve indoor air quality.

Another advantage of screens is you can install special sun-control screening. This fiberglass screening is easy to see through and it provides ventilation, but it can block up to 70 percent of the sun’s heat. During the winter, the screen slows down the direct force of winter winds and reduces the outdoor air infiltration through your doors.

You have three basic options for adding screening over your doors: make your own screen panels, install decorative screen doors, or install retractable screens that disappear.

Several companies offer do-it-yourself screen framing kits that you can size to your existing door.

Installing a new screen door is effective, but expensive. You might get by with a moderately priced (several hundred dollars) door for the back. For the front, a more decorative high-quality screen door can cost $500 or more with installation. Better screen doors often also offer the options of sun control or super-strong pet resistant panels.

A more reasonably priced option is adding retractable screens over your front and back doors. I installed a kit over double front doors in my home. When the screens are retracted, they are out of sight and out of the way. Many models have a lifetime warranty on everything except the screening fabric itself.

Most retractable screen systems operate in a similar manner. You attach a narrow tubular housing (cassette) vertically on the door frame and a latching channel on the other side. One small aluminum track is attached horizontally to the floor and one to the top of the door opening. A magnetic latch is built into the latching channel.

When you open your door for ventilation, pull the handle on the edge of the screen, which is coiled up in the cassette. It unrolls from the cassette and latches on the other side with the magnetic latch. There is slight spring tension on the screening to keep it taut and attractive. On the do-it-yourself kits, the tension is adjustable.

There are quality differences among the various designs available. Replacement screening kits are available because any screen will wear out over time. Look for a long warranty. Since retractable screens can be mounted inside or outside the primary door where they are exposed to the weather, stainless steel hardware and aluminum extrusions are a definite plus.

Some kits use ball bearings in the cassette and pile lining in the grooves for smooth operation. Double-latching magnets provide a sealed edge when closed. Durable reinforcing strips along the edge of the screen can increase its life substantially.

There are somewhat similar designs of retractable screens for windows. These kits use a screen that automatically covers the window when you open it, and retracts again when you close the window. This is effective for solar heating because the glass is not covered with screen when you desire the sun’s heat. Larger dealer-installed, motorized retractable screens are available to cover an entire balcony or porch.

If you want to work bug-free and cool in your garage or want to use it as a screened-in “porch,” install a garage door screen kit. The kits are available for doors up to 20 feet wide and 8 feet high, and have a walk-through Velcro sealed door in the center.

Write for Utility Bills Update No. 813, guide of 12 screen kits and manufacturers. Include $3.00, a business-size SASE, and Update number. Mail requests and questions to James Dulley, Kentucky Living, 6906 Royalgreen Drive, Cincinnati, OH 45244. Go to www.dulley.com to instantly download.

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