I want to replace my old, warped, wood front door. I am looking for one with a natural wood finish, but without all the maintenance. Is an insulated stainable fiberglass door as efficient as a wood door?—Mike R.
Real wood doors are probably the most attractive, but require regular maintenance. Unless you maintain it properly, the finish may eventually break down and the door will begin to absorb and lose moisture with seasonal changes. When this happens, it may warp and allow air leakage. Also, solid wood is a good insulator, but not as good as a foam core.
You have two basic efficient front-door options that simulate the appearance of real stained wood without the regular maintenance required. These are insulated fiberglass and insulated stainable steel doors. Both of these will be more energy efficient over the long term than a typical wood front door. The amount of regular maintenance required is minimal.
Insulated stainable steel doors are sometimes the most energy efficient overall because they can use refrigerator-type magnetic weatherstripping. Even if the weatherstripping begins to wear a bit over time, the magnetic attraction holds it tightly against the steel door skins. As the temperature changes, steel also expands and contracts less than fiberglass, which eliminates bowing. A final advantage of steel is the security it provides against break-ins.
When it is new, fiberglass door weatherstripping seals almost as well as magnetic seals on steel doors. Most fiberglass doors use a flexible or compression type of seal. Some are foam-filled with a durable exterior covering to increase the durability.
Since you seem to be most concerned about the appearance, an insulated, stainable fiberglass door would likely be your best choice. The stainable finish on a steel door looks good, but the deep graining in the skin on a fiberglass door is more realistic. When it is stained, it is difficult to distinguish from wood. Several fiberglass door manufacturers offer a limited lifetime warranty.
All the major fiberglass door manufacturers offer complete staining kits. Practice first, because staining properly is an art. If the finish dulls over time, just apply another clear top coat.
The actual design of most insulated fiberglass doors is similar. The fiberglass skins are separated by wood rails and stiles that provide strength around the edges. Fibertec uses a strong fiberglass inner framing instead of wood for additional durability. Once the door is completed, its interior cavity is filled with polyurethane foam insulation. As it is injected into the door cavity, the foam expands inside the door to eliminate any open interior voids.
Most people prefer some type of glass in a front door. Adding it can sometimes more than double the price of the door. No matter what type of door glass you select, it reduces the overall insulation value of the entire door, as well as its security. Select an insulated door with as little glass as possible. If you want glass, be sure to order low-e double panes as the minimum quality for efficiency.
Clear triple-pane and spectrally selective glass is also available. The latter controls the type of light that gets through. Most decorative glass is actually triple panes with the decorative pane in the center. The center decorative pane is often made of tough plastic. This is efficient by creating two insulating air gaps and it improves security.
The following companies offer fiberglass entry doors: Fibertec Windows, (888) 232-4956, www.fibertec.com; Peachtree Doors, (888) 888-3814, www.peachtreedoor.com; Pella, (800) 547-3552, www.pella.com; Perma-Door/Taylor, (800) 248-3600, www.perma-door.com; and Therma-Tru, (800) 843-7628, www.thermatru.com.