External doors influence first impressions and initial kerb appeal. They make a great impact on how your house is presented and choosing the right front door is deciding how you want the home beyond to be viewed.
Take the time to consider 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.
The barriers between your home and the outside world, external doors provide privacy and a sense of security. As such, their practical — just as much as their aesthetic — attributes need to be thought through.
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.
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 generally offered in a great swathe of RAL colour options and sometimes metallic finishes. They are a light-weight option and are great for contemporary homes that are not looking for a ‘timber-effect’ finish.
PVCu External Doors
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.
Other Popular Materials for External Doors
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
Composite External Doors
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 do External Doors Cost?
As with most house fixtures, this is, in the majority, dependent on the spec and quality desired. PVCu traditionally costs around 20% less than solid timber doors, while composite doors can be tougher on the purse strings due to their build structure.
One thing to remember is that advertised front doors costs usually don’t include installation, delivery, hinges 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.
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.
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 fivelever 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.
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.
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.
Level Thresholds for External Doors
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.
External Fire Doors
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.