Choosing an energy-efficient front door

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The carpenters at Sheep Dog Hollow, the hundred-year-old house we're renovating, have been busy preparing the frame of the old house for its new windows and doors.

We’ve already chosen our windows, opting for Andersen windows with High Performance Low E glass. Not only are they energy efficient and qualify for a tax credit, but they’re self-cleaning on the outside.

Now it’s time to tackle the front door. The carpenters need the specs to frame a rough opening.

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You’d think with an elegant old farmhouse, the obvious choice would be a heavy, antique wooden door found at a restoration yard and lovingly restored. That’s exactly what Martin had in mind. Me, too, until I started researching their energy efficiency.

It turns out, according to the US Department of Energy, exterior doors “can contribute significantly to air leakage in a home — as well as some heat transfer — if it's old, not properly installed, and/or not properly air sealed. This can result in energy losses.”

With a geothermal heating/cooling system, and a big investment in energy-efficient windows, the last thing we want is a leaky front door.

My next stop was the Make Your Home Energy Efficient website, which has a nice tutorial on the different energy efficient options:

Three very common energy efficient materials are wood, steel and fiberglass. Wood itself is an excellent insulation. Steel and fiberglass doors have an insulating foam material inside making them Energy Efficient.
Wood Doors are beautiful but are susceptible to weather damage and are fairly expensive.
Steel Doors are strong, affordable and resist warping.
Fiberglass Doors are more expensive than steel, less expensive than wood and are resistant to warping, denting and rusting.

The last thing I wanted in our restored old house was a fiberglass or steel door. But, alas, education can often change one’s mind. Off we then went to the House of Doors, a local store that specializes in doors of all kinds and colors.

There, Larry Frenette recommended a fiberglass door – if we were really serious about energy efficiency.

“They’re four times as energy efficient as a wood door,” he said. “This door has a fiberglass shell with a foam insulation, which is what gives it energy efficiency.”

Fiberglass glass doors are less expensive than wood, at least in general.

I turned to Martin. “I guess we have to make a trade-off, sacrifice a beautiful old door for energy efficiency.”

“The trade-off is you give up beauty for ugly,” Martin grumbled.

“I don’t think you’ll notice a difference once it’s painted – it’s got a wood grain,” I said. Larry gave us a fiberglass sample that we could paint to see how authentic it would look.

We checked back with our carpenters, who assured us that if we bought a basic door, they could frame it in with an elegant header and lots of lovely old molding.

OK. So I was sold and Martin grudgingly agreed. We went for the fiberglass door – hoping against hope that indeed, with elegant carpentry surrounding it, no one will notice. Except the tax man, of course. This door, like the windows, qualifies for a federal tax credit.

Next: Choosing a green roof.

Editor’s note: Alexandra Marks blogs twice a week about her green and budget-friendly restoration of a 1902 farmhouse in Connecticut. See a photo gallery of the early days of the project by clicking here. You can read all she’s written about the project so far by clicking here and then looking for Sheep Dog Hollow under Topics on the right side of the page.

You’ll find numerous articles about the environment at the Monitor’s main environment page. Also, check out our Bright Green blog archive and our RSS feed.

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