Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Replacing the Front Door

When we purchased our current house in 2002 we were extremely happy. The house was our favorite in the neighborhood - we originally found it and met the previous owners while doing our neighborhood power walk (something we used to do several times a week - now were lucky to get one in once per month due to time constraints). During our walks we would go up Eaglerock from the Eastern end, up over the hill then cut over on Northlake Way, pick up Northlake Dr to Summitridge then cut across Archwood to get us back towards the front of the neighborhood (I'm calling the Eastern-most edge along Northcrest the front as that's where the main neighborhood sign is located and I believe that's also considered the main neighborhood entrance). One day we randomly decided to go down a street we hadn't before, Lori Lane. That's when our current house came into view - we were floored!

Through a series of events, we became the owners of our current house and sold our previous on Thornewood to Bo and Rebecca Beaven who I believe are very happy there. If you haven't met them you may occasionally see them walking pretty much the same path we used to walk when we had more time - cute couple. I should also mention for those of you who have alarm systems or are thinking of installing, that Bo's company, Safeguard Protection Systems has become our new monitoring service and it's been a fantastic experience. We were previously with Ackerman and not too happy with the way they handled issues we were having due to a nearby lightening strike - SPS came to the rescue and besides being expert installers, they allowed us to upgrade several of our systems (smoke and fire monitoring with a new sensor, a second keypad and wireless system for the phone so we don't have to worry about a cut line) within a reasonable budget - it was actually less to upgrade with them than it would have been for Ackerman to just fix the old system. But I digress...

When we purchased this home we loved the design elements and materials, we loved the sunk-in living room, the fireplace, the clerestory windows and many of the features. We continue to upgrade the systems and make changes to improve the house, as the downside of purchasing was there were many features that had suffered some neglect due to deferred maintenance (the HVAC and Water Heater come to mind - both now replaced) and one element that had always bugged us - the front door. The door as found on the house was a half-lit (meaning it had a window for half of the surface) solid-core door with two side lights (thin windows on either side). I don't know if that would have bothered us so much, but he panels in the bottom of the door always looked out-of-place on the house. Also, there's a planter to one side of the landing once you walk in (the landing is elevated as the living room is sunk in two steps) that didn't align with the window. From a design perspective it just didn't work.

Door Appearance in 2002
We always knew we would want to replace the door - I'm sure that the original was probably hollow-core and smooth - and knew that there was probably a single light to the left where the planter lines the landing so we were pretty sure we wanted something similar. In all the paperwork we received from the estate we found the original price of the Pella-make door - it was purchased at Home Depot (special order) sometime in the 80's. There was also an interesting sketch - I'm not sure if it was of the original door or what they were looking to get - that showed a french-style double-door opening with left-side light. The panels were shown to be 24" wide each and the knobs where the deep offset, one on each side. It looked wonderful so we went down the trail of using that same plan. The problem was that the original hardware was missing and finding a french-door set with the 5 1/2" offset wasn't very practical (I don't know of any company that's currently making that size, although there are still some old-store-stock sets available - fairly expensive due to rarity). Also the door itself would need to be custom built and the bids to do so started to escalate into the thousands.

Door from December 2004
I had taken a photo in 2002 of the door (it was so I could remember where the lighted balls we hang during the holidays should go) and we used it as a template to explore other possibilities. We would overlay pieces of paper cut into door shapes over the same image, ultimately holding those same templates up in the front yard to see how various designs would look on the house. Using a typical 36" wide door, the side light was the same size as the wall to the left which caused three vertical shapes all about the same size that looked incredibly awkward. The only solution was to widen the door which suddenly made the design workable. The next size up is 42" so we started pricing a wooden, solid core door - my preference was quartersawn beech and my intent was to build the frame myself, ordering the glass and doing all the work. We looked at getting a contractor out and got some bids on building the whole thing - once again in the thousands.

This is where Cindi stepped in and made me see the light - did I really want to continually do maintenance on a wood, natural finish door? At some point everyone ends up either painting or replacing it as it goes through the usual decomposition due to exposure to the elements. Our front door is particularly susceptible as the awning overhead is so high above, providing exceptional exposure to nature. So while pricing out a 42" metal (may has well be metal since it would be painted - it also has the lowest maintenance costs and we wouldn't have to worry about it sagging, warping, etc) door and the glass and materials, we ended up getting a bid on the design directly from a building supply. It ended up costing much less than any of the bids we received, and I pulled the old door and installed the new myself. This is the result...

New door installed 2009
 What you see above is is the new door with just primer in the brick mould. I finished the exterior to be paint-ready - the interior took me an extra year (yea the procrastination bug hit me and I never had time to custom cut the inside trim - quite a bit of work to get it ripped down to size and fitted against the wall). The glass is called something like "rain glass" and has a vertical texture - we wanted something you don't typically see that still obscured the view inside from nosy solicitors, but also let in the maximum amount of light. We had originally talked about painting it red, but it's funny how that color grows on you. I think we like it better the same color as the marble block, but will probably end up painting the door itself a bright color - it's a project for the spring.

Another shot from 2002

Shot from summer of 2010

In all the project was quite do-able. The door was a bear to set - took quite a few tries to get it to balance in the old rough opening. There's been some settling so the opening isn't quite square. Extended frames can be tough even in a square opening - I think I worked on getting this in over the course of several hours while several of my friends came over and made suggestions - it wasn't until everyone left so I could concentrate on the problem that I figured it out and get it in. I was in a wedding the same afternoon so there was a high degree of stress involved into completing the project - at one point I almost gave up and put the old door back in. Just make sure you plan as much as you can, taking lots of measurements and making sketches of everything. Even if you use a contractor it will help you to get on the same page with everyone involved.
I put the old door on Craigslist and managed to sell it for $150 - the buyer was so happy she sent me a photo of my old door installed on her house. I'm so happy it was able to be recycled and recommend that if anyone else does a similar project, you also sell your old door (if it isn't too trashed). It's a karma thing - giving back and not being wasteful.
-- John