Renovation & Design

This isn't an open-and-shut kind of job

Something that seems as simple as replacing a door can become deceptively complicated

The hallway door leading to Marc’s studio has a custom glass window.

Photos by Marc LaBossiere / Winnipeg Free Press

Marc’s front exterior door after its existing jamb and brick mould was dismantled to remove the rotting wood and replaced with new lumber.

Seen in greater detail is the custom oak door jamb tooled on location for Marc’s oversized studio door.

Marc’s front exterior door after existing jamb and brick mold was dismantled and replicated…retractable screen door installed

Marc’s front exterior door after existing jamb and brick mold was dismantled to remove rot and replicated with new lumber.

Let’s replace a door! It seems simple enough, right?

Of course, it usually isn’t until you’ve already begun the process that you realize how many details you may have overlooked and steps for which you weren’t prepared when undertaking the door replacement task. Whether you’re replacing an interior or exterior door, things can go awry quickly. Success relies upon having a good understanding of the complete process, knowing what measurements are required — and how to get them.

Interior Doors

Interior doors vary in style and size. They are generally a standard height of 80 inches, but come in many widths: 24, 28, 30, 32 and 36 inches. The installation process is independent of these parameters. Before choosing a door, be sure to measure the width of the existing door. If the door is less than 80 inches high, it has likely been cut down to accommodate flooring that may have impeded the door from swinging properly — cutting down the new door may be required. That’s the easy stuff.

For pre-tooled doors, it is imperative that you note the style of hinge, number of hinges and hinge placement of the old door. The distances of the hinges from the top of the door must be recorded and cross-referenced with the hinge placement of the new door. The doorknob measurement from the top of the door should also be noted — although knobs are usually at a standard height, any deviation will impede proper function as the door’s throw latch (bolt) may not line-up with the existing strike plate. As a result, the door will not remain closed.

The easiest way to avoid any of these scenarios is to buy a door and jamb combination. When a door is purchased and the jamb (a term used to describe the door-frame) is included, the hinges, doorknob and strike plate locations are already pre-tooled — the door is usually pre-hung on the jamb, and is sold as a combination package. This, however, creates other types of tasks.

To install a door and jamb combo, the existing casings must first be removed on both sides of the doorway. You will then notice a series of shims (spacers) between the vertical sides of the existing jamb, and the rough opening of the framing. Once the old jamb is removed, begin by securing the hinge side of the new jamb to the framing — be sure it’s level. Level the horizontal top of the jamb and mark this along the rough frame of the unhinged side of the door.

While testing the action of the door by closing it after each step, shim as required to leave an eighth to 3/16ths of an inch gap from top to bottom between the vertical doorknob side of the door and the jamb. Secure the jamb to the rough framing as you go. If level was maintained during each step, the door should operate properly — the throw latch should be centred with the strike plate. As a final step, the trim can then be re-installed on both sides of the doorway.

The latter sounds complicated, I know. But with a bit of patience, it’s not really all that tough to do.

I much prefer a jamb form-fitted to a door — finding a new door to work in an old jamb is often a lot harder than it sounds. During my recording studio build at my house, I took it one more complicated step further — I bought an old, oversized, solid oak door with a decorative glass inlay for the hallway entry which leads to the studio. I spotted it at an antique store for $50 — it had been recycled and I wanted to give it a new home. The rough framing for this odd-sized door was the easy part.

From then on, everything was custom fabricated on site. A wider-than-usual jamb was required to accommodate the two-by-six framing at this opening. Oak was chosen for both the jamb and stop, as well as the decorative trim used to detail the non-door side of the stop. I carefully chiseled the hinge locations on one side of the jamb, after taking detailed measurements of the hinges.

For proper functioning of the door swing, the hinge locations on the jamb were set an eighth to 3/16ths of an inch lower than the measurement on the door, to provide the necessary gap between the top of the door and the lower side of the horizontal jamb top for the door to swing unimpeded. Once the door was fully secured and swinging properly, the strike plate location was also chiseled out on the jamb, so that the door latch would meet the centre of strike plate. That’s a lot of work.

Exterior Doors

Exterior doors are generally 32 or 36 inches wide, and much of the same processes are required to install them. However, because it is crucial that an exterior door seals when shut, I highly recommend eliminating replacement of "just the door" as an option. It can be done, but the results are likely to introduce unwanted air leaks between the new door and the old jamb.

As such, it is always best to replace BOTH the door and the jamb. As detailed in the interior door section, the exterior door and jamb combo will have been pre-tooled to fit precisely as a sealed unit when the door is shut, preventing unnecessary leaks and gaps. With the interior casings removed, the old door should come out with a bit of persuasion, once the fasteners between the rough framing and the old jamb are removed.

The main difference between an interior door and an exterior door is just that — one side of an exterior door faces outside and must endure the elements, as well as keep the elements from entering the house when the door is shut. The part of the door jamb that faces the exterior (called the brick mould) must be properly sealed against the adjacent trim and/or siding of the house. Once the door has been mounted, before the interior casings are re-installed, expandable foam sealant should be used to fill any and all gaps between the new jamb and the rough opening of the framing. This will prevent any air leaks and ensure the longevity of your new door.

I had every intention of replacing my front door a couple of years ago. Although the door itself had been replaced a few weeks after I moved in, the existing frame had recently rotted out near the bottom of the sidelight and its integrity was compromised.

Upon inspecting the existing jamb and brick mold, it became clear that this doorway had been built custom in such a way that removal of the old door and jamb combo would compromise the integrity of existing exterior trim and seemed to be more trouble than it was worth. I decided to dismantle and rebuild the existing jamb and brick mold in lieu of replacing the entire unit — an exact replica was created, trim and all! It was a lot of work, but the results were gratifying.

I’ve since added a retractable screen door, which I love when the weather is warm.

Storm Doors 

Storm doors are generally easy to tackle, and come with easy-to-follow instructions. The jamb provided mounts directly to the surface of your exterior door’s brick mold. Provided you’ve purchased a storm door of proper width, most manufacturers’ kits allow for slight height discrepancies — in other words, the surface mount jambs of a storm door can be altered according to the height requirement of your exterior door jamb, and the sweep at the base of the storm door can then be adjusted to provide a snug fit against the threshold when the door closes.

There are a few other specialized door installation scenarios I haven’t mentioned, simply because they are too lengthy in description and could each be a separate column. For example, picture an interior door slab with glass inlay — no holes cut for the doorknob and latch, no hinge locations chiseled out and no jamb provided. Everything needed to be tooled on site. Imagine the time it takes to complete the process and now multiply this by seven. Clients of mine a few years ago had prepurchased these seven "doors" for their basement renovation.

That was the last time I assumed anything about "doors."


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