Shopping for a home is a lot like online dating. So much rides on that first photo. Whether you’re looking for a potential house or a potential partner, a prospect’s “curb appeal” often determines whether you cross the figurative threshold or swipe left.
I mean, the guy could be the nicest fellow in North America, but if he’s wearing a wife-beater T-shirt, holding a beer, looks like he combed his hair with a hand mixer, and you can see the toilet seat up in the background, that’s a hard pass.
As homes go, the focus of that first photo falls on the front door, which should draw you in. However, many front doors don’t do their homes any such favor.
“So many people buy a home and just live with the door that it comes with, when they could really improve the whole face of their home and make it more of what they want by changing it,” said Jennifer Matson, spokesperson for Jeld-Wen, a leading supplier of doors and windows based in North Carolina.
“Replacing a door is such an easy and relatively inexpensive project compared to most renovations,” she said. “Many studies show that replacing your front door almost always pays for itself. I don’t know why more homeowners don’t do it.”
“I know why,” I told her. “Because most homeowners don’t know where to start. They look online at door options, get overwhelmed, then go play Wordle.”
Matson broke down the process. “Start by asking what you want from your front door,” she said. “Better curb appeal, greater security, improved weatherability, more light or privacy, greater energy efficiency? All that is possible.”
Most people want an exterior door that will keep intruders out, stand up to the elements and look great year-round.
Next, she said, ask if you can get what you want by refinishing the door you have or whether you should replace it. If the underlying door is in good condition, a fresh coat of paint and new hardware can make it look new again. However, if you can see daylight peeking through, if hot or cold air is coming in, if rust or rot is evident, or if you don’t like its looks, a new door may be in order.
If so, here’s what to consider:
CHOOSE YOUR MATERIAL: The most popular front door options are steel, fiberglass and wood. Wood is classic and beloved, but it is the most expensive and will need the most maintenance. Steel is the leading choice because it is the most secure and least expensive. Fiberglass doors are becoming more popular because they offer the low-maintenance and durability of steel and the look of wood.
“A lot is personal preference,” Matson said. “We will always have a subset of buyers who want a steel door no matter what. Others always want wood. Those in the middle choose fiberglass.”
CONSIDER THE PRICE: Steel doors are the least expensive at around $500, not including installation. Fiberglass costs between $500 and $800, and wood doors are the most expensive, costing upward of $1,000. Double doors and custom doors can run several thousand dollars.
In addition to the actual door, you might need a door system, which includes a frame, plus hardware. If so, figure on about $2,000 to $4,000 for a complete system that includes a pre-hung door in its frame.
FACTOR IN YOUR EXPOSURE: Though steel, fiberglass and wood will all work in any climate, expect to repaint or re-stain a wood door more often, especially if you live near the coast, or if your door takes a lot of direct sun and weather.
GLASS OR SOLID: Glass inserts, sidelights and transoms will provide more light and sometimes less privacy. Glass will add expense to any door but may also add interest. About 40% of the doors her company sells have glass, Matson said.
Impact and hurricane-rated glass might also be important options depending on where you live.
TRENDS: Though door trends move slowly, trends exist, Matson said. Today’s homeowners are moving away from oval or arched windows in favor of square and rectangular panes. Fewer are choosing ornate, cut or etched glass, though frosted glass remains popular. A popular door style today is the three-quarter glass door, where the bottom fourth of the door is solid, and the rest is glass.
PAINT OR STAIN?: A wood-stained door is beautiful, classic and the most popular choice, outpacing painted doors 7 to 3, Matson said. However, if your home lends itself to a painted door, that splash of color can deliver a lot of style and personality. Whether you paint or stain, choose a high-gloss sheen meant for exteriors, and apply it to top and bottom edges.
COLOR ME CLASSIC: When choosing a door color, consider the palette of your home, its architecture, your neighborhood and geography. Don’t rely on an online list of the most popular door colors. Look to classics like red, navy or gray, as well as black, which is hot in doors right now. If you live near a coast or in the South, other favorites include yellow, coral and turquoise.
COMMON MISTAKES: “The biggest mistake I see is when someone chooses a door that doesn’t fit their home’s architecture,” Matson said. “For instance, they put an ultra-modern door on a traditional home. That doesn’t mean you can’t update your door, but it still needs to go with the look.”
Another mistake is choosing a color that doesn’t go with your house. Some things, like your favorite shade of purple, should stay indoors.
DON'T DO THIS YOURSELF: A door is only as good as its fit. Unless you are an experienced door hanger, leave this job to the pros. The hinges have to line up just right, the close has to be watertight, with no gaps.
Marni Jameson is the author of six home and lifestyle books. She can be reached at www.marnijameson.com.