How to replace your front door

10 smart moves to get top value

Replacing your front door is the most valuable home improvement you can make, according to Remodeling Magazine.

While the average return on home improvements is just 60.6%, you’ll recoup 85.6% of what you pay when you replace your front door, the magazine says.

You'll improve your home's look and boost energy efficiency by cutting heating and cooling costs.

Do the job right, and you may even have an easier time selling your home.

“You can spend $20,000 to $50,000 on kitchen and bath remodels, but if people don’t like the door, they may not come inside,” says real estate broker Bruce Ailion of RE/MAX Greater Atlanta.

The magazine's Cost vs. Value Report 2013 says a midrange steel door is priced around $1,100. But you can find value in a door that costs just a couple of hundred dollars.

No matter what your budget is, you’ll want to make sure you spend your money wisely.

Our 10 smart moves will help you get the best value from a front door replacement project.

Signs you need a new door

Repair or replace? It's an important consideration, particularly if you like the door you have.

Door repair costs typically range from $87 to $259, depending on door type, materials used and the type of damage, according to home improvement service Redbeacon, a Home Depot subsidiary.

"Painting, staining, adjusting and refinishing are easy fixes, although sometimes they are not cheaper than a new front door," says Jerry Grodesky, managing broker of Farm and Lake Houses Real Estate in Illinois. "If you have to do more than that to your door, I'd get a new one."

If the bottom or top of your door is not in contact with the weather stripping; if you can see light through the top, bottom or sides of the door; or if you can slide a dollar bill under the door from the outside with no resistance, then hot or cold air is getting in from the outside and escaping from the inside.

A new door can solve these problems.

Metal, fiberglass or wood?

You've made the decision to buy a new door. Now you need to decide what kind to buy.

Price, maintenance requirements and longevity will vary based on what material is used to construct your door. In general, metal and fiberglass are more durable than wood.

"Metal doors that need to be painted on-site are typically the most affordable in the short-term, but the sealants are sloppy and it is hard to get a good paint job on-site. It's an extra cost, too," says Mark Clement, a licensed contractor in Pennsylvania and host of the MyFixitUpLife home improvement radio show.

Metal doors require maintenance, too.

"Fiberglass doors tend to be on the higher end when you buy them, but their paybacks over the long haul are well worth the up-front costs," he says. "They’re more energy-efficient than wood and require less maintenance, and can be factory-finished."

Wood doors are typically in the middle for long-term value, Clement says.

They can require repainting and refinishing, and are subject to warping, rotting and cracking.

A well-maintained door can last decades.

Complement your home

Your front door is more than just the entrance to your home. It's also a style statement.

But you’ll elevate your home’s curb appeal when you match your front door to your home, says Emily Belyea, marketing coordinator of Austin, Texas-based online retailer Crestview Doors.

Pay attention to period details, such as matching a 1950s-style door with a 1950s ranch-style home, she says. Match the design, color and quality of the front door with your home’s exterior color scheme.

The front door is part of a home’s exterior features and must be congruent to give the home a seamless look, says Charlotte, N.C.-based designer DeAnna Radaj, owner of Bante Design.

Then add your own personal touch, like painting the door a bright color, to give your home character and charm, says Belyea.

Avoid black, dark blue and dark green, as your door will look like a black hole, says Radaj.

Older homes can be tricky

On older homes, the front door is usually not a stock size that can be picked up at a big-box store and installed. A replacement door must be custom made, and it will be expensive.

Stock doors are 80-inches high, 1¾-inches thick, and 30-, 32- or 36-inches wide.

You may get more value from repairing or painting your front door instead of replacing it.

If replacement is a must, some cities have locations where you can find recycled and repurposed doors, says real estate broker Bruce Ailion.

Hiring a competent carpenter to help you get a correct fit if you’re not doing a standard frame-and-door installation is a must, he adds.

"Putting in a custom door and getting it to fit right is no simple task," he says.

Solid vs. glass-insert

You'll also need to choose between a solid door and one that includes glass in the design.

Older homes often have a solid door, and the entry is dark as a result, says real estate broker Bruce Ailion.

A design that includes glass "updates and modernizes the home and brings light inside, creating a more spacious look to the entry and perhaps living room," Ailion says.

However, if affordability is your top priority, a solid door often makes more sense.

Solid wood or steel doors give homeowners the most bang for their buck, says designer DeAnna Radaj, and these doors can still have attractive architectural details.

Solid doors also can provide better security than some glass-insert doors.

And while some people think an additional metal security door is an eyesore, Radaj says the added safety they provide can help add value to your home.

When you need a storm door

The lower the door’s energy efficiency and the more maintenance-prone it is, the more likely you’ll want a second barrier like a storm door to slow air movement.

Most of our experts don't recommend storm doors, saying that many people don’t like the inconvenience of two doors.

But you might want one to prolong your door’s life if you live in a harsh climate. All-glass styles keep your attractive front door visible.

And some storm doors can help keep the sun’s heat out in the summer or help a home retain its heat in the winter.

Storm doors with screens allow for air movement and bug protection when you keep the front door open, says real estate broker Jerry Grodesky.

"Of course, putting a cheap screen or storm door on will affect the perceived value of a beautiful front door, so be careful of your choices," he says.

Save at a builder outlet

One way to save money on a front door replacement is by shopping around.

Your options include overstocks, returns, last year’s models and blemished units that can be fixed but not sold as first run. It’s possible to save 50% or more by shopping at builders outlets.

But be careful where you compromise.

"We recommend avoiding bargain shopping," says contractor Mark Clement. He suggests homeowners get the most door they can for their budget.

Door prices can start around $200 and climb into the thousands for elaborate and custom doors. Door costs can vary significantly based on your choices.

In addition to the choice of fiberglass, wood or steel, price depends on if it is a single or double door and if it has glass panels or sidelights. Wood doors come in solid and veneer designs.

Buy quality hardware

If you’re going to spend the money on a new door, don’t skimp on the finishing touches.

Buy good hardware or your expensive new door may look cheap.

Bargain hardware also has a shorter life and breaks more easily, while solid brass lasts a long time, Ailion says. It can be polished and, if lacquered, can be refinished.

Try out models in the store.

"If it seems flimsy there, it won’t last during normal usage or inclement conditions," real estate broker Jerry Grodesky says. "Mid-priced items and up seem to be better values."

In addition to appearance, quality hardware provides your home with security. A solid door isn’t enough to stop a break-in.

You’ll want a deadbolt lock that has at least a 1-inch bolt. Deadbolts that carry the American National Standards Institute’s Grade 1 rating are the strongest. If you can’t find one, Grade 2 is also acceptable.

In addition, a four-screw strike box and a faceplate with 3-inch wood screws provides more door jamb strength than a basic deadbolt strike plate.

Don’t overlook the exterior

Whether it’s a friend coming to visit or a potential buyer coming for a showing, people can observe a lot in the 30 seconds while they stand on your front porch waiting for someone to answer the door.

A torn screen door, a nonworking doorbell or peeling paint will make a bad impression, especially when you’re showing your home.

When a buyer spots these small problems off the bat, they’ll begin the home tour looking for other issues throughout the home, says real estate broker Jerry Grodesky.

"Fixing areas at the front door will allow the buyers to start off on a positive note, and homeowners will have better showings. This project is well worth the expense," he says.

DIY or hire a pro?

Besides the door itself, installation is another significant cost. It could cost you hundreds or thousands of dollars

You might be tempted to do the job yourself to save money, but should you?

“Replacing a door and having it fit right is much more complex a process than it would appear to be,” says real estate broker Bruce Ailion.

Watching carpenters remove the old door, then fit and adjust the new door correctly, is a bit like watching brain surgery, he says. Usually, it is not simply a matter of taking off the old door and putting in a new one.

You’ll need to be strong enough to handle the heavy door. You need good measuring and leveling skills and basic carpentry skills.

Hiring a professional will ensure that your door closes correctly and doesn’t have air leakage, Grodesky says.