Do It Yourself Energy Efficiency Projects: Your Home’s Thermal Envelope (Part 6): Presenting The Doors!

By Vernon Trollinger, February 2, 2010, Energy Efficiency, Home Improvement

There are a few things you can do around your home to save money during the remaining winter months and the hot summer. Basically, you need to air seal your home's "thermal envelope"; the sum total of the home's insulation systems including walls, ceilings, foundation, floors, windows, and doors. These work more effectively with good, tight fits that seal-out the weather, moisture, and air. 

By having a tight seal, the less energy you waste or lose by exchanging it too often with the air outside. 

You might believe that work I describe below is beyond your ability. Never fear, these are easy tasks for any average person. Make sure you have a good set of tools. Plus, you might want to look at the Federal Energy Efficiency Tax Credit and save on your taxes, too.

Presenting The Doors!

We all want our doors to be attractive, secure, and weather proof. Like windows, when they are properly installed and kept in good condition, they can save you energy and money. If your door is hard to close or open, moves the whole door frame when you open or close the door, rattles when it is closed, or you see daylight and feel a draft coming from around it, then your door needs work. 

When a door doesn't close correctly, it obviously fails to seal. If your exterior door is difficult to open or close, look for something caught in the door or if something is sticking out from the door frame, such as a screw head not fully tightened against the hinge. Next, determine with a carpenter's level whether the door is hanging plumb (straight up and down) and if the door jambs are parallel to each other. Sometimes, a screw head not tightened into the hinge can prevent a door from closing properly and over time deform and loosen the door frame or the door. Also, check to see if any hinges move toward or away from the door jamb or if they wiggle. Hinges should be tightly fastened to the door and the door jamb with no other movement except at the hinge joint. 

Once I lived in an old house and the back door was hard to close because the whole frame moved with it. It was one of those things I kept putting off to fix. Then one night, I pulled the door shut so hard that the entire door and door frame came off from the wall of the house. I tacked it back in place for the night but the next morning, I settled down to repair it. The original nails had rusted down to the thickness of thread.  Meanwhile, the wooden shims that kept the door seated properly had rotted because moisture got inside the door frame.

If your door frame moves when you open or close the door, don't delay repairing it like I did. Fix it now.

First, remove the casing from both the inside of the door and the exterior. Be careful – often in older homes, door casing and other moldings are unique or are no longer available. Sharp-edged casing pry bars are perfect for this. With a little patience and care, you can remove the casing without damaging it too much. A putty knife and a claw hammer are also useful. Again, be patient and careful – you are disassembling not destroying. 

After you remove the casing, look for any damage to the wood making up the door frame; such rot or splitting. If the wood is damaged, you might need to replace it.  Check to see if the shims are in place and intact. If everything looks right, check the frame to see if it is plumb. Add shims as needed and check that the door opens and closes correctly. Usually, it is easier to tack a scrap 1"x 2" across the door when it's closed to seat the door frame properly. When it's plumb and shimmed, carefully nail the frame into place. Next, vacuum debris from the area and seal up seams and gaps with either caulk or expanding foam. Re-fasten the casing and cover up the old nail holes with color-matched wood putty. 

If you can close a tissue in your door and then pull it out easily or if your door rattles from noise or the wind, it means it's just not sealing snuggly. The easiest starting place to for this fix is to add weather stripping. Usually, doors made over the past 25 years have had weather stripping built onto them. But being a door is rough work. Over time, the weather stripping gets stripped from the door. In some cases, the same weather stripping types are still used by the door manufacturer and can be easily replaced. Usually with much older homes, it's not the case. You'll be either replacing worn-out weather stripping someone else applied, or you'll be putting on brand new. 

First, measure the gap between the door surface and the door jamb at several places. Add about 1/16 of an inch to this measurement and this will give you a rough thickness of the self-adhesive foam or felt you will need to apply. Typically, I apply the foam stripping to the door jamb. Since the door jamb doesn't go anywhere there's less of a chance for something bumping against it and tearing off the foam. The door, on the other hand, is meant to move and will encounter all sort of things in its travels. As mentioned, you want the door to close firmly. Be sure to buy more foam than you will need so you can add and adjust the foam until you have a good seal. 

If your door is in too bad of condition to repair, then it really is no longer a matter of weatherization but security. Seriously consider replacing it. Residential exterior doors come in three standard widths: 30, 32, and 36 inches. 

Generally, the most insulating material for an exterior door is wood because it doesn't conduct heat as easily as metal, vinyl, or fiberglass. That being said, most inexpensive wooden doors don't fare well over time. They wear quickly in the areas that have the most contact (door handles and foot area), their mounting screws can loosen or tear, and depending on the harshness of the weather they can dry out and split. Steel doors provide better security and stand up to wear but they conduct heat. Wood-core steel doors and foam core doors last longer, are stronger, and better insulated. Fiberglass doors usually are the most strong, durable, and well insulating but tend to be more expensive. 

Door Sweeps and Door Jambs with Vinyl Weather-stripping

A door's most drafty area is along the bottom where it meets the door threshold. Most thresholds are aluminum or wooden ridges that meet the bottom of the door and form a seal. However, since the door is constantly being opened and the threshold is being stepped on, the factory-installed weatherization can wear out quickly. It can be easily replaced with a self-adhesive vinyl strip that attaches to the interior side of the door and hangs down from the bottom edge.

There is another kind of door sweep that uses multiple vinyl strips to block drafts. Somewhat more expensive, but it slips on over the bottom edge of the door and is held on with screws. 

One product I have used with great success is pvc door jamb with built-in vinyl weather stripping. Mounted on the outside of your door, these door jambs can either replace your existing jambs or slide over them. The vinyl weather-stripping can be pushed up snugly against the door to keep out drafts when the door is closed. Use a circular miter saw to make the proper angled cuts so they can be mounted attractively in place. When they are in position, they can be quickly nailed or screwed into place and then painted. While I like these, there are many other similar kits that might be more suitable for your particular job. 

Visit the Bounce Energy Education Center&#01
60;for more tips on saving energy. 

Stay tuned for next time: Throwing in the Towel: The Laundry Center
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