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Renovation & Design

French doors open up brand new world

Replacing odd-sized doors can present challenges

Photos by Marc LaBossiere / Winnipeg Free Press

Matching casing was mitered along the perimeter of the new door unit’s jamb, and a decorative wooden trim was affixed along the base of the door’s threshold adjacent the flooring.

Once the rough opening was widened, the exposed stud on one side was repositioned, inset within the drywall and stucco which had been cut away to accommodate the dimensions of the new door jamb.

Photos by Marc LaBossiere / Winnipeg Free Press

Brickmold mitered at the upper corners (above) was used to finish the edge adjacent the existing stucco. Matching casing was mitered along the perimeter of the new door unit’s jamb, and a decorative wooden trim was affixed (above right). Once the rough opening was widened, the exposed stud on one side was repositioned, inset within the drywall and stucco (below).

For those who don’t necessarily aspire to have sliding patio doors as a gateway to the deck, French doors may be the way to go.

Although some exterior French door units offer a faux side (one side opens, and the other remains static, primarily for additional natural light), the French doors installed at a residence in Stonewall offer dual-side opening, whereby both the primary and secondary doors swing outward onto the deck. Prepping the rough opening proved to be the most challenging step.

It was a two fold weekend of projects at Cindy and Marc Thorarinson’s home in Stonewall in the fall of 2017. After completing a decorative privacy fence along the east-side property line of the front yard, I refocused my energies toward the main task at hand — replacing the dilapidated set of doors that lead to the back-balcony deck, from the couple’s dining room.

Marc had pre-purchased a beautiful double French, pre-hung door unit. It was my job to make sure it fit, and ensure the finishing work (brickmold on the exterior, casings along the interior) properly showcased the French doors once installed.

The old doors didn’t take long to remove — each door was first removed at the hinges, and the old jamb was cut out in section, to expedite the prep process.

Once the old unit was fully detached and ready for disposal, I noted the precise measurements of the existing rough opening. Generally, there should be at least a half-inch of gap on either side of a door jamb, and between a half or three-quarters of an inch gap above the jamb to ensure a successful pre-hung exterior door installation. With proper gaps along the perimeter of the rough opening, the door/jamb unit can then be easily negotiated into the opening, shimmed to level on all sides, fastened along the vertical sides and sufficiently insulated prior to affixing the casings and brickmold, inside and out respectively.

Unfortunately, the old door unit was slightly smaller than the new unit, which essentially meant a more invasive prep was required. To accomplish this, both the width and height of the rough opening needed to be adjusted — nearly two inches of additional width was required, and roughly one inch of height to provide the necessary gaps along the jamb’s perimeter. One of the vertical sides of the rough opening was retained, while the opposing side was cut away by two inches. First two inches of drywall were removed along the area inside the house, and the stucco on the exterior was then cut away with a masonry blade. This revealed the problem studs, which were cut top and bottom with a reciprocating saw and refastened inset within the newly cut drywall and stucco. A similar process was achieved along the header of the doorway, until the desired rough opening dimensions were achieved.

With the help of Marc, the new double French door unit was set into position as a dry run, to ensure a proper fit and level. After verification, silicone was applied to the rough opening at the threshold, onto which the base of the new jamb will rest. Vertical level was configured with shims, and secured into place using four-inch construction screws along both vertical sides of the jamb. Because the double door unit is over six feet wide, I thought it prudent to also secure the top of the jamb to the header above, to prevent any unwanted motion in the middle of the unit, where both doors meet. Spray foam insulation was then used to fill the remaining gaps along the outer perimeter of the jamb. The doorknob and deadbolt were installed. After slight adjustments were made to ensure smooth operation of both doors, brickmold was affixed along the exterior perimeter, caulked accordingly along the edges to fill any small gaps between the stucco and the brickmold. To complete the interior, casing that matches the trim of the house was mitered to fit along the top and sides of the doorway, and a narrow decorative wooden trim was fastened at the base of the French door threshold adjacent the flooring, proving to be the final touch that completed the project.

When installing new doors, the accuracy of the rough opening’s measurements often determines the ease or complexity of the installation process. In a perfect world, doors are all standard sizes and are swapped with relative ease. Such was not the case in this instance. The old double doors were an odd width, and shorter than today’s standard height. And although a new, narrower unit would seemingly be an easier choice, other esthetic hurdles quickly present themselves — adding drywall along one side of the interior (which includes mudding and paint) to cover up the void of a narrower door, and stucco on the exterior (which rarely ever blends properly). Although choosing a slightly bigger door unit did entail quite a few extra steps, it ultimately offered the easiest path to a successful install. A beautiful and classy upgrade to the back balcony-deck access, achieved all in one day.

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