Sizing up storm doors

A variety of options to meet ventilation and budget needs
By James Dulley
Sizing up storm doors

This storm door has a retractable insect screen. This operating system includes a concealed screen that rolls up and out of sight when it’s not in use.

Even though a door is a relatively small area, it can lose a significant amount of energy. Even insulated doors typically have some glass, which has lower insulation value. An inadequate weather stripping around doors will allow air to leak through.

Adding storm doors can certainly improve the energy efficiency of almost any house, but they are not designed to correct efficiency problems of an old, warped primary door. Before buying anything new, make sure your primary doors are as airtight as possible.

If possible, purchase replacement weather stripping for your existing doors from the original manufacturer. If you can’t find it, most home improvement stores sell many styles of generic weather stripping that should fit. Pry off the old door molding, fill any gaps around the framing with non-expanding foam insulation, and caulk around the door frame.

The quality of the storm door construction is important for a nice appearance, long life, and security. It must withstand a lot of abuse, so don’t just pick the cheapest one. From strictly an energy efficiency standpoint, though, the most important factors are the dead air space between the storm and primary doors and how well wind is blocked.

Affordable DIY project

Buying an aluminum storm door and installing it yourself is the typical low-cost option. They’re very lightweight and made to fit standard-sized openings, so installing one is a simple do-it-yourself project.

When you see the door on display attached to a wooden frame at the store, the aluminum frame will feel very strong. When you open the box at home, you may find the unattached aluminum frame strips are somewhat flexible. Be careful not to kink them during handling. Apply a generous bead of caulk on the back of the aluminum frame when screwing it to the door frame.

Screens for fresh air

If you plan to use natural ventilation during the summer, a self-storing triple-track storm/screen door is your most convenient option. The screen panel has its own vertical track in the door, so it never has to be removed. At the end of winter, just slide one of the glass panels down and slide the screen panel up for ventilation.

A fairly new design of storm/screen door uses a spring-mounted roll-up retractable screen built into the door. When you are ready for ventilation, just lower the glass and pull the screen down as far as you wish. This design is attractive because the screen is hidden during winter without having to remove and store the screen panels.

Upscale choices

If you can afford it, some very attractive all-wood frame (made with mortise and tenon joints) storm/screen doors are available. These are strong and secure but do require regular wood maintenance. For added security, ornate wrought iron storm doors are available with actual deadbolts and very tough, break-in resistant stainless steel screens

 

About the Author

James Dulley is an engineer and syndicated columnist for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association. www.dulley.com

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