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Swift: Don't be a knob because door installation isn't an open-and-shut case

After hearing how new exterior doors on her house would boost her home value, Tammy Swift hired a handyman to install new doors. But she also learned that, regardless of what Dionne Warwick says, a chair may still be a chair, but a door is rarely just a door.

Tammy Swift online column sig revised 3-16-21.jpg

When you become a homeowner, you learn that you took a lot of things for granted from when you were just a tenant.

Like the fact that a sump pump is much more important than window boxes, regardless of how charming they look. Or that certain projects are best left to professionals, such as tree surgery or getting rid of hornet’s nests.

Never was I more mindful of this until a few weeks ago, when I hired a handyman to replace my exterior doors.

The doors on my home were original to the 1997 construction. They provided about as much protection from the elements as, say, a good-quality aluminum foil.

On top of that, I kept hearing home-improvement experts say one of the quickest and most effective ways to boost the curb appeal of your home is to install a new door. One study claimed that new doors could add as much as $24,000 to your home's value . (As a completely unrelated coincidence, this study was published by a company that manufactures doors.)


So it all sounds so simple, right? You replace an old door with a same-size new model and all is well, correct?

What I somehow managed to ignore is that, regardless of what Dionne Warwick tries to tell me, a chair may still be a chair, but a door is rarely just a door.

This seemingly basic architectural feature is not an open-and-shut case. It is actually a completely baffling and complex “system." It is outfitted with a dozen galligiwidgets and important yooboohoodles, which will require making more decisions than was required to buy your last car.

Case in point: the humble door frame.

Now, if like me, you have naively assumed you will need a standard 4 9/16 frame, you are so very wrong, my friend. You COULD need a 6 9/16 frame, so don’t embarrass yourself by marching to the door store and announcing that you need the 4 9/16 version. The clerk will lose all respect for you if you have to go slinking back and saying: “Um, actually I tried using my wife’s sewing tape instead of a proper construction measuring tape and the cat stepped on it while I was trying to read it and I guess I actually need a 6 9/16 frame.”

In that moment, the store clerk will immediately understand that you do not use Bob Vila-sanctioned construction methods and that you — unlike your great-great-great-grandfather Jebediah Jehoshaphat Swift — did not build your own home from scratch using nothing more than river mud, cottonwood saplings and the pelts of coyotes you killed with your bare hands after they raided the hen house.


Now, I know what you're thinking: "I can't stand the suspense, Tammy. What are your thoughts on brickmould? What should I do about the BRICKMOULD ?!" Although I respect everyone's right to choose, I do believe brickmould is important. It serves as a vital aesthetic barrier between siding and frame. I mean, do you really want your door frames hanging out there, half-naked, like a washed-up '70s cocktail waitress?

From here, we are simply opening the door to a labyrinth of other decisions you must make. Did you know a door threshold is different from a door sill? Or that you can choose between installing a sad, low-rent aluminum sill or a super-deluxe bronze sill like I assume Jay-Z installed before paying his butler to carry Beyonce over it on their wedding day?

Not to mention the all-important “articulating” feature. A well-articulated sill will automatically adjust to reduce pesky door gaps beneath the door. That means it can block out door drafts, snow, ants, muskrats and extremely tiny door-to-door salesmen. It is simply the rage in door sills, so don’t be sill-y.

Other burning questions might be:

Should my brickmould be in PVC, stain-grain or finger-joint pine ? What is finger-joint pine and why does it sound vaguely illegal? Are all the cool doors wearing kickplates this year? Or: Does a door "mullion" mean it's business in front, party in the back?


As a side note, do not be embarrassed if you have to search online for answers to your most pressing door questions. I was unable to stump the Googleologists with even my most idiotic door-related queries, including, “Is a song written about a door called a door jamb?,” “Why wasn’t the revolving door simply called a door-nado?” or “Which door material has t he worst U value: hollow-core or graham crackers?”

Speaking of which, one question to settle right now is whether your door should swing to the left or the right. It is especially important to know this so that you don’t have a screen door that swings one way and a main door that swings another as if you’re trying to re-create some kind of Corn Maze of the Damned. Also, if the door salesman says, “Which way do you swing?,” you know he’s asking a legitimate question and isn’t simply being fresh.

But be patient. When all is said and done, you will have a beautiful new door with perfectly sized jambs, beauteous brickmould, magnificently articulate sills, the perfect frame and a nicely synchronized swing.

Don’t knock it.

Now let's jamb.

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