For years, wood entry doors were really the only choice, but with innovations in the past 30 years, steel and fiberglass entry doors have become real contenders with evolved designs and added performance value. Choosing between these three options is an important decision with long-term consequences. Architects, builders, manufacturers, and homeowners can all agree on at least one thing in the design and building process: wanting to choose products that will last to avoid expensive replacements. Let’s take a side-by-side look at these three common entry door materials and see how they stack up.
Wood doors are known for their beauty and character, with a variety of different tree species and grains to choose from. Their deep, rich, natural color often makes them attractive to buyers. They are available in several stile configurations and sizes (and not only in standard sizes; wood doors are more easily customized in width and height compared to steel and fiberglass doors). In addition, they can either be painted or stained to one’s liking.
However, when it comes to choosing wood doors for an entry, this material is less energy-efficient than either steel or fiberglass, increasing long-term energy costs. They also come with a higher-than-average purchase price compared to fiberglass or steel.
Wood doors also require more maintenance than steel or fiberglass doors. Much like a wood deck or outdoor furniture, too much sun and heat can cause fading, splitting, or checking, and the material can warp and rot when exposed to cold temperatures, rain, or humidity. A wood entry door is also more likely to be damaged by windborne debris during high-velocity windstorms, and therefore is less structurally sound. All of these factors increase the likelihood of callbacks and replacements.
Steel entry doors are a budget-friendly option, especially considering that their insulated foam interior does a much better job providing structural support and conserving energy than their wood counterparts.
However, steel entry doors can result in just as many callbacks and replacements as wood. Steel is easily damaged, whether that means small dings and dents from everyday use, or rust and corrosion thanks to rain or other extreme weather conditions. The only way to deal with these eyesores and structural compromises tends to be a full replacement.
What’s particularly bothersome about steel entry doors is how they can be damaged during installation and construction; they don’t stand up well to the abuse generated on the jobsites prior to project completion. Not to mention, even if a steel door is in perfect shape, the innovation is not quite there yet in terms of beautiful designs that can compete with the look of wood or fiberglass.
Additionally, steel doors are not as easily customized to fit unique size constraints as wood doors.
Fiberglass entry doors combine many of the pros of wood and steel materials. With some innovation, these doors are now available with the look, feel, and beauty of real wood doors. The added benefit is a high-density, polyurethane, insulated foam core like that of steel doors- so they are more energy-efficient to help maintain temperature and a comfortable environment indoors.
A fiberglass door with a smooth, paintable skin and Shaker-style panel details, from Plastpro’s Craftsman Series. Click to enlarge
The composite stile and rail, exterior material, and dense, foam core allow these doors to pass through almost all extreme weather relatively unscathed, if they are designed and constructed correctly. Compared to both the average wood and steel door, fiberglass doors have higher impact resistance—they are not easily dinged, and they resist damage from water and other environmental elements they are exposed to. With all of this added endurance, they require less maintenance than wood or steel doors.
A fiberglass door, combining a fir wood grain skin and direct glazed glass for a high-end design, courtesy of Plastpro’s Nova Series.
A fiberglass door will need fewer callbacks, and is less likely to require replacement in comparison with wood and steel. This also makes fiberglass a great choice from a sustainability standpoint: With proper care and maintenance, they should last decades with minimal effort. Additionally, the manufacturing process has a lesser impact on the environment than wood or steel.
As previously mentioned, fiberglass doors are not as easily customized in height and width as wood entry doors.
Additionally, a door that is indistinguishable from the look of wood, with many of the same benefits as steel, naturally comes at a cost. On average, fiberglass entry doors will cost less than wood but more than steel doors. They may be worth the investment due to the combination of their beauty, design, and function, especially when the savings on energy and replacement costs are considered.
It might sound a little too good to be true, and with some brands that is certainly the case. There have been some complaints about fiberglass doors failing because they still had exposed wood components that weren’t properly cared for—leading to rotting, warping, and therefore having to replace the whole door. When choosing a fiberglass door, look for brands that sell fiberglass doors with a completely composite exterior, as well as a complementary composite door frame, to make sure you can fully experience the benefits of an all-composite entry unit for your construction project.
In conclusion, there could be several reasons for a homeowner or builder to choose any of these materials for an entry door, but fiberglass doors have steadily gained in today’s market. This is not only because of their beauty, but also the value they bring in comparison to wood and steel. Also, you are less likely to replace a quality fiberglass door compared to wood and steel, and they offer long-term benefits such as energy-efficiency and durability. If you have not looked into using a fiberglass door in the past, you may be surprised to see they have come along way in their design features compared to wood. Whether you are doing a home remodel or creating a new home, there is a fiberglass door suitable for every design.