Replacing Your Front Door
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Replacing Your Front Door

How to replace either your front door leaf or the entire front door. Tools that are required and installation steps.

The first thing people see when they come to your house is your front door. If the door has seen better days, you want to repair or replace it. Not only will this improve the look of your home, it will also increase the value and you can save money if the door has lost its weather tight function. Most doors can be patched, painted, and have a new lockset installed to improve the look, but if it’s a metal door that is warped or dented, or a wood door that is cracked and has loose panels, you should think about replacement.

There are two paths you can take, the first is replacing the door leaf and the other is installing a new pre-hung unit that comes complete with the jambs and threshold. Obviously replacing the door leaf is the easiest, but you may need to mortise the hinges on the new leaf to match the existing layout. This does require a little skill with a hammer and chisel, but if you are patient, any homeowner can accomplish it. This is where we will begin.

Replacing a Door Leaf

The tools required are a flat or Phillips head screwdriver to remove the hinges, a hammer, wood chisel, preferably ¾ inch, tape measure and ruler, combination square, a utility knife, nail set, flat bar, cordless drill with 1/8 inch drill bit and Phillips screw bit.

Before ordering the door make sure that is the correct size. Metal and fiberglass doors are standard sizes, but older wood doors may differ by as much as ¾ of an inch. If you need to trim door a door’s length, you can use a circular saw with a new carbide blade. I wouldn’t recommend a do-it-yourselfer to use a saw to trim the width; you should either plane it down or hire a professional to do this for you. You can also take it to a custom lumber mill or a place that makes cabinetry to trim it down for you. They will make sure that the cut is perfectly straight; they can also mortise the hinges for you as well.

Remove the lockset from the existing door. Remove the hinge pins from the door using a nail set or flat screwdriver. Tap the nail set into the hole on the bottom of the hinge to pop the pin out slightly, and then use the flat screwdriver to lever out the rest of the way. Remove the hinges from the old door with appropriate screwdriver. If the hinges are worn or loose, replace them with ones of a similar style. There are either 3 ½ or 4 inch, round or square edge. Round edge hinges are a modern invention to accommodate the use of a router, while square edge hinges are found on older doors that were mortised by hand.

Lay the new door and old along side one another and mark the location of the hinges. Note: The hinge does not go through the face of the door. Make sure when marking the door you allow for this and make sure that the door is facing the correct way before mortising out for the hinges. The hinge knuckles will point into your foyer.

If you are keeping the hinges, mark each leaf so that the pairs are mounted together on the new door

Make sure that the hinge leaf is flush with the edge of the door

Use a combination square, measuring tape, and ruler to mark off the hinge location. Use a utility knife to deeply score the wood to prevent the wood from tearing out when chiseling. Make shallow cuts as deep as the hinge leaf is thick and about 1/4" apart in the marked area. Tap the chisel lightly for better control of the cuts.

Remove the wood you have cut away. A sharp chisel will make this job go much faster, easier and a lot safer. After you have made the recess to the proper depth and smoothed it with the chisel, you are ready to mount the hinge.

Mortising the hinges

Lift the door into place and tap the hinge pins into the knuckles. Close the door to make sure that it swings freely and that there is enough clearance. Replace the lockset. Inspect the weatherstripping and replace any that is missing or misaligned.

Installing a Pre-Hung Door

Additional Tools: Circular Saw, hand saw, and 4-foot level

One of the more challenging projects, but you won’t have to install hinges as everything is ready to go. The first task is ordering the correct door for your rough opening. Remove the casing on the inside of the door jamb to measure the opening from hinge to latch side and from the floor to the head. Older doors will have a very thick wood threshold and in most cases the floor joists will have been notched to accommodate the door. You will need to fill in this area with pressure treated lumber to bring it flush to the sub-floor. You won’t know exactly what size lumber you will need until the door is removed, but you should have a 2 by 6 or 8, a 2 by 4, and some ½ and ¾ inch plywood to make up the difference. You will also need a circular saw to cut wood to length and you may also have to rip the pieces down to the correct width. A hand saw may be required to notch out the new piece around existing framing in the corners. Check the sill for any rot, especially if the door is not covered by a porch or canopy. Replace any rotted wood as needed. Screw or nail the boards in place.

Before installing the door, purchase some coiled aluminum flashing and place this on the bottom of the threshold to form a pan. Bend down the front lip about a ½ inch to cover the exterior sheathing. Also, bend the back up about a ¼ inch to just below the finished floor. Caulk the corners and in the middle of the pan to form a watertight seal once the door is set in place.

Typically new door come with one screw removed in each hinge to allow for longer screws to be installed to attach the jamb to the framing of the house. Use 3 inch screws that match the color of the hinge screws, usually brass, and pre-drill the holes before screwing them in place. Check to make sure that the door is plumb before setting all the screws. Use wood shims behind the location of the screws to prevent the door jamb from being pulled in too tight. The latch side can be screwed in place by removing the weatherstripping, pre-drilling and countersinking holes for the screw heads. Putty, sand and paint before reinstalling the weatherstripping. Do not use any fasteners on the head of the unit. Adjust the threshold and install a lockset.

If your door has side-lights, you will need help removing and installing the new unit. Double check all the dimensions before ordering. You may have to order a slightly smaller door and pack out the rough opening with plywood. Usually the difference in the size will not be more than 2 inches and you can have ½ inch gap on either side. Make sure you pack out each side equally so that the new door is centered in the opening. The only trick with installing a door with one or two sidelights is that you will have to screw in the bottom and top corners of the sidelight into the sill plate and header. This would be the spot where the sidelight meet the door jamb on one or both sides. Pre-drill the holes and fill with wood putty when finished. Screw in the side of the sidelight jamb on the exterior and putty and paint. You can also order the door with a 2 by 4 or 2 by 6 inch stiffener in between the door jamb and sidelight for added strength. This will reduce the size of the sidelight by 1 ½ to 3 inches depending on the number of sidelights.

After completing the installation, paint or stain your new door to become the talk of the town, or block.

Photos Courtesy of ACE Hardware

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