Skip to main content

External Doors: A Buyer's Guide

Contemporary oversized yellow front external door
(Image credit: Urban Front)

Buying the right external door can have a great impact on how your house is presented (especially one on the front). They influence first impressions and initial kerb appeal so it’s essential to do a little research into external doors and know what to consider before buying.

There’s a lot to consider and what should be a fairly simple job can become quite daunting when you begin researching different options. The advice below will help guide those who are looking for a new external door through comparing the differences in material, thermal efficiency, security and, of course, budget. These factors should all inform the decision once you’ve chosen an external door design that suits the rest of the house.

What is an External Door?

An external door is quite simply a door which goes on the outside of a house. As the barriers between your home and the outside world, external doors provide privacy and a sense of security and, as such, their practical — just as much as their aesthetic — attributes need to be thought through.

Front door styles have come on leaps and bounds in the last decade, both in terms of the way they look, but also the protection they offer and the energy-efficiency standards they reach.

Where an external door is positioned might affect what design you choose:

  • front doors with panels of glazing work well when they lead right into a dark hallway
  • for a door on the side, a stable door which can open the top and bottom independently could work best
  • and while the modern style for the rear of the house is to include sliding or bifold doors, including a separate ‘master’ door to match is a more practical way to enter the house in the winter.

Contemporary timber front external door

Choosing the right front door is an easy yet effective way to enhance how your home looks. This contemporary oversized door is from Urban Front. (Image credit: Urban Front)

What is the Best Material for an External Door?

The most popular material for external doors, timber can be the cheapest to buy off-the-shelf but are also prone to twisting and warping over time.

  • Hardwood doors are just as likely as softwood doors to move, but a reasonable compromise for those who want something better is to choose hemlock, a durable North American softwood particularly well suited to doors
  • Capable of outperforming hardwoods, Accoya heated timber, a process developed in Holland, and is usually finger-jointed which makes it more suitable for painting than staining
  • Laminated or stabilised timbers (usually oak), which consists of small sections glued together, are also available.

As with most house fixtures, cost of an external door is, in the majority, dependent on the spec and quality desired. Solid timber doors can cost between £300 and £500, but some bespoke or high quality examples can reach up to £1,400+.

PVCu traditionally costs around 20% less than solid timber doors, while composite doors can be tougher on the purse strings due to their superior build structure with the average price landing at around £750.

Traditional timber front external door

Howdens‘ Dordogne in Oak would be a classic addition to any home. (Image credit: Howdens)

Aluminium is widely used for sliding patio doors but the frames conduct a lot of heat so they’re not ideal, though the channels are relatively small.

They are available in great swathes of RAL colours and sometimes metallic finishes for a truly personalised and individual aesthetic. Aluminium doors are a light-weight option and are great for contemporary homes that are not looking for a ‘timber-effect’ finish. 

Although PVCu (sometimes written as uPVC) tends to be the cheapest alternative to solid timber doors, there is very little inherent strength in their make up.

The doors are built around a steel frame and invariably come with a multipoint locking which is necessary because of the material’s innate flimsiness.

Traditional white external door

The timber-effect of Evolution‘s front doors provides a traditional finish to this Georgian home. (Image credit: Evolution)

Non-timber external door materials tend to be more expensive, but they offer the benefit of dimensional stability. 

  • External doors made of steel are primarily used in social housing in the UK but are more popular in North America. However, steel tends to have an aura of security around it which is perhaps unjustified, since a door is no stronger than its frame (usually softwood). Steel takes paint well but is susceptible to bodywork damage.
  • A realistic woodgrain can be achieved by using GRP (glass-reinforced plastic), also referred to as fibreglass. It can also match other joinery by using a stain.

As PVCu and GRP are cladding materials, they require a subframe of timber or steel and are therefore referred to as composite doors. A big advantage of choosing a composite door is that the thermal characteristics can be improved by packing the hollow core with insulation. 

How Much Does a Front Door Cost?

One thing to remember is that advertised front doors costs usually don’t include installation, delivery, hinges, disposal of an old door and sometimes VAT. This means a composite front door with a £450 price attached could end up costing more in the region of £1,000. Doors with side windows and panels tend to cost more to be installed.

When narrowing down different products, try to get at least three quotes from different suppliers to see the differences in what’s included and what is not to get an accurate cost average.

If you’re confident in measuring up skills, employing a local tradesperson to fit an external door (or fitting it DIY) can save money, but runs the risk of a low standard of finish and incorrect measurements.

Contemporary triple glazed external door

Green Building Store‘s Performance range features triple glazing and dual compression seals for long-term airtightness. They cost from £800 – £1,550 (Image credit: Green Building Store)

How do I Choose an External Door?

Of course when choosing between wooden, plastic or aluminium front doors, cost will be a huge influence, but getting the style of door right is just as important when thinking about kerb appeal.

For older homes, timber is a sympathetic choice and might complement overall aesthetic of the property than, say, plastic. If your home is Georgian or Victorian, it could pay to research a good match for the period — for instance, late Georgian homes added fan lights where those earlier in the period completely filled the doorway with solid wood.

Combining a contemporary home with sleek aluminium front door is a great choice as the vast array of colours provides amazing opportunity to get a little creative. Flush doors are also increasingly popular to achieve a sleek and polished finish to contemporary styles.

Keeping Homes Safe: Security in External Doors

External doors are the interface between the inside and outside worlds. They have to perform two distinct and contradictory functions: they have to be easy to get through for residents and guests but secure against unwanted visitors.

Generally, we have two separate locks on our front door:

  • The mortice deadlock sit inside the door housing and needs to be key-operated from inside and out.
  • A night or rim latch (still referred to as a ‘Yale’) can be hand-operated from the inside to facilitate escape in the event of a fire but are less secure than mortice locks as they can be forced open.

Traditional blue external door

Howdens’ doors are certified Secured By Design. (Image credit: Howdens)

Although it’s not essential to have two separate locks, it does form part of the NHBC recommendations for new homes and as such has been widely adopted by insurance companies. The deadlock should be five lever and should ideally meet the BS3621 standard.

Other features regarded as good security in front doors include fitting a door chain and, on solid doors, a viewer.

Security Standards

There is an enhanced security standard, PAS 24, which is only available on factory-built doorsets. Houses that meet the Secured by Design standard set by the police also need to meet the PAS 24 standard.

This includes subjecting the doorset to a three-minute attack using a selection of hammers, crowbars and drills.

If you want to incorporate some smart technology in your door security, then considering items like a smart doorbell can be a sensible move.

(Check out the best deals on smart doorbells on RealHomes.com).

Contemporary black external door

Kloeber‘s FunkyFront range has Part M compliant thresholds suitable for disabled access, low U values, great air tightness ratings, BSI and Secured by Design certification. (Image credit: Kloeber)

Front doors are required to have a level threshold as Part M of the England & Wales Building Regulations so that wheelchair users can come in and out of the house without having to go over a step. Scotland and Northern Ireland have similar regulations in place.

However, this doesn’t have to mean the threshold is at the front door, sometimes it’s more convenient to use another external door instead. Renovations and extensions to existing homes do not have to comply with Part M.

Normally, a level threshold is one that has a lip of no more than 15mm. The doors themselves do not have to be altered in any way. However there is a requirement that the Part M compliant door should be at least 838mm (2’9”) wide.

The frame around the door should also be Part M compliant (less than 15mm). There should also be no step either inside or outside the door.

A common way to design this is to have a ramped approach to the door. Alternatively, have a sunken matwell inside the door so that people coming into the house can wipe their feet.

With a reasonable amount of forethought, it’s possible to create a level threshold without it being intrusive in any way.

Contemporary green external door

Origin’s front doors have a 20 year guarantee (Image credit: Origin)

If a house is over two storeys fire doors will need to be considered. Half-hour fire doors are required to be fitted to habitable rooms leading off the main corridor and lading areas. However, fire doors do not have to look ugly. There are now plenty of companies offering complementary fire door ranges alongside their standard internal doors.