Here's How: Replace a Front Door
Dear James: I have an old wooden front door with sidelights. The door is in bad shape and leaky, but the sidelights are fine. Is it possible to replace just the door and not the sidelights to save money? -- Noelle S.
Dear Noelle: Front doors with decorative sidelights are very popular today. As you have found, the sidelights, which are fixed in the door opening, experience much less wear and tear than the swinging door itself.
Even though the door looks bad now, inspect the outdoor surface and edges carefully for rot. It may just need some new weatherstripping seals, a coat of paint and perhaps some new hinges. The manufacturer of the door should be able to supply you with replacement seals and hinges. If not, most use standard sizes which you can find at home center stores. This would be your least expensive option.
Unless you posses better than average carpentry skills, it may be difficult to separate the door frame from the fixed sidelights. They are usually sold as single unit and installed as a unit in the door opening. You may also have trouble making adequate space and supporting a new door frame between the existing sidelights.
The decorative glass is often the most expensive part of front doors and sidelights. You might consider install double doors instead of a single door with sidelights. These can look very stylish, and with smaller windows in each door, you will still get plenty natural lighting and perhaps have more privacy and security.
Although it looks as though your door is a perfect fit in the wall opening, there always is a gap all around the door/sidelight frame. The door frame is shimmed in this gap and attached the wall framing in several spots, not continuously. When there are no sidelights, each hinge has an extra long screw which reaches the wall framing. The door molding covers this gap.
There are several purposes for having a gap. It allows you, using the shims, to center and level the door if the house has settled or the wall opening is not true. It also insures the weight of the house is resting on the wall framing and not the door frame. The door itself will shrink and grow with changes in the temperature and humidity level, so it needs a little room to move.
Luckily, single, double and doors with sidelights are usually made in standard sizes. Unless your house is very old, you should be able to find a replacement door/sidelight unit which will fit perfectly in the existing wall opening. When you order a new door, specify the wall opening dimensions, not the door frame dimensions.
Remove the door trim to get access to the gap around the door. If you remove the trim carefully, you may be able to reuse it on the new door. You will be able to find the locations of the nails or screws by looking for the shims. Try to remove the nails or screws from the door frame as they were driven in. If this is a problem, use a reciprocating saw to cut through them.
When you install your new door/sidelight unit, you might want to space it up slightly on a strip made of pressure-treated lumber. This will provide a little more clearance when the door swings open over carpeting or throw rugs.
Send your questions to Here's How, 6906 Royalgreen Dr., Cincinnati, OH 45244 or visit www.dulley.com. To find out more about James Dulley and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.
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