How to pick an interior door

There are plenty of choices, but if the budget allows, our handyman suggests getting solid core doors. Postmedia Network

Last week we discussed the advantages of choosing a pre-hung door unit, as opposed to buying the door slab, jamb, hinges and door stop, separately. So, with the “how to” of buying an interior door settled, what style of interior door should a homeowner be looking for?

First, let’s examine basic door composition. Interior doors are composed of two door skins, held together by a pine frame that follows the perimeter of the skin. From this point, the slab will either have a hollow core, whereby the space in between the two door skins is mostly air, along with a honeycomb type of cardboard grid, or the slab will have a solid core, with the core space filled with particle wood matter.

Most doors stocked at your local building supply dealer are of the hollow core variety, mainly because they’re less expensive than their solid core cousins.

Essentially, a pre-hung door costs about 100 bucks, while a pre-hung solid core door will set you back $150. So, you’re paying about 50 per cent more for a solid core slab that looks exactly like the hollow core version.

Still, if you can swing it budget wise, go solid core. In the same way opening the door of a Cadillac provides a better sense of security than that of a Russian Lada, the extra weight of a solid core door simply feels better when you handle it.

Furthermore, a solid core door is significantly more dent resistant, and a much easier repair. Solid core slabs also provide the homeowner with a reliable substrate in which to install a mirror, shoe-rack, or whatever type of racking that could prove handy in a bedroom, closet, or walk-in storage type of area.

However, the solid slabs biggest value, other than it being an effective fire block, is its ability to muffle sound. Basically, whether we’re talking an office or media room, bathroom, laundry room, or bedroom, there isn’t a room in the house that couldn’t benefit from a door that helps either keep the sound in, or sound out. So, for those reasons, consider the solid core option when ordering your interior pre-hung doors.

Next, what door style to pick? Choosing a style or panel design will be entirely in the hands of you or your decorator. The only advice I would give to new home builders and renovators, is to avoid choosing the standard wood grained colonial door. Nothing against the wood grained door, since it’s faithfully served the interior, residential door market for the last 30 years, but . . . it’s done its time, with the smooth finished door being the better choice.

Trending these days are the three and five paneled, embossed doors, which offer a touch of elegance that dates back to what was popular a century ago. Other than simply being an attractive door style, the smooth surface of these interior doors is easier to repair than its woodgrain counterpart, and provides a better match to both casings and baseboards, with its finish perfectly duplicating that of today’s MDF moldings.

Other than deciding on a door style, and whether the slab will have a hollow or solid core, you’ll need to specify four other things when ordering a pre-hung door.

These include door height and width, jamb depth, color of hinges, and door swing. The required door size can be acquired by measuring the existing door slab that you’re replacing, or measuring the rough opening (space into which the pre-hung will be inserted). Determining the jamb depth means measuring the thickness of the wall, while the color of the hinges should match your chosen door knobs. As for swing, it’s either opening to the right, or to the left. Sounds easy, but many an error has been committed when it comes to determining the swing. So, make sure what you perceive as a right or left hand swing, matches that of the salesperson ordering the door.

Good building.

As published by the Standard-Freeholder
Handyman's Hints Standard-Freeholder Cornwall Ontario by Chris Emard

Buying an interior door

Putting in or replacing an interior door? Read our handyman. Postmedia Network

At some point in time, and as a homeowner, or landlord, you’re going to need a new interior door.

The reasons for such a purchase can vary. Mahogany, smooth faced doors, were popular in the 1970’s and 80’s. So, if you’ve recently purchased a home from that era, you may be looking to update that rather plain look to the more in vogue, smooth raised panel door. Other than that, basic roughhousing can also contribute to change. That’s why on those cold winter days, we in the retail building supply biz encourage those parents with small children to have them learn and participate in indoor games using real hockey pucks and baseballs, as opposed to some insulting ‘Nerf’ replica. How a child can hone his stickhandling and shooting skills, or learn how to throw a decent curve ball, using some similar shaped piece of foam, is beyond me. Or sometimes, like Oscar Pistorius, you fear an intruder has occupied your bathroom, providing you with just reason to blast through the door with four rounds of gunfire, only to discover it was actually your supermodel girlfriend brushing her teeth, oops! Hey, it happens.

So, for those reasons, and certainly others, replacing an interior door is sometimes necessary.

First, let’s review a few terms. You have a door “slab”, which refers to the panel that moves, the door “frame”, which holds the door in position, and the “pre-hung” door, which includes both the door, hinges, and the frame, all as one unit. So, if a door has been damaged, or is no longer in style, you have the option of replacing only the slab, or the slab and the frame, which would require you ordering a pre-hung door. Due to the work involved in having to cut out the hinges, drill for the door knob, fitting the door stop and cutting the frame, slabs and frames are rarely ordered separately, since this would require an assembly from scratch by the carpenter. Today, it’s economically more feasible to simply buy a door slab already hung in its frame, hence the term pre-hung. In most circumstances, it’s easier for your finishing carpenter, and certainly the ‘do it yourself’ homeowner, to replace a door slab with a pre-hung door, as opposed to replacing a slab for a slab.

Fitting a new slab door into an older, existing frame will be a painful exercise, due to the purchaser having to cut out the hinges, drill for the knob, then hand plane the door so that it fits into what is often a frame slightly out of square.

What about purchasing a pre-drilled slab that already has the hinges cut out? The chances of the hinge and door knob placement of this new, pre-machined door, matching your 50-year-old frame, is between none and zero. Then you’re left with having to modify either the hinge placement on the door or the frame, using wood fillers to patch up the differences, which will look horrible. Only in the case of the existing casing and frame having extreme, irreplaceable value, should a homeowner pay a finishing carpenter to replace a slab for a slab. Otherwise, order a pre-hung door every time.

When purchasing a pre-hung door, be sure to measure both the width and height of the existing door slab. The door slab sizes in a pre-hung unit range from 12-36 inches wide, in two inch increments, and are a standard 80 inches high. Measuring the height of the door slab you’re replacing is important because door slabs in the olden days were 78 inches high. Plus, and in the case of a basement, or under a stairwell installation, the original door could have been cut down even further to fit an opening.

Can a pre-hung door be cut down to size? It’s not easy, but yes. Best bet when faced with a door slab that’s shorter than 80 inches? Custom order it pre-hung to size.

Good building.

As published by the Standard-Freeholder
Handyman's Hints Standard-Freeholder Cornwall Ontario by Chris Emard

Big Gulp moldings

Unusual and elaborate crown molding is kind of old school, and that can be a good thing. Postmedia Network

Because door and window casings, as well as baseboards, account for about 90 per cent of the finishing trims in a typical home, let’s look at how to effectively choose a casing and baseboard.

First, and not so much a rule, but more of a general recommendation, don’t be shy to go big. In fact, buying casings and baseboards is kind of like ordering popcorn and pop before taking your seat at the movie theatre. A small drink and medium sized bag of popcorn may seem sufficient when presented to you, but once in your seat, the drink’s gone in moments, while the popcorn inevitably gets eaten during the movie prelims, leaving you with nothing but a dry mouth, and un-popped kernels to munch on during the feature film.

Back in the olden days of home building, generally referred to as the frugal 1970’s and 80’s, where disposable incomes were put towards the purchase of polyester leisure suits in anticipation of hitting the discotheque Saturday night, a standard casing of 2-1/8 inches in width, was paired with a very modest 3-1/8 inch tall baseboard. Today, casings are a standard 2-3/4 inches wide, and get combined with a 3-7/8 to 4-1/8 inch baseboard, which seems heavy enough, especially if you’re renovating a 1970’s styled home, or grew up surrounded by those somewhat diminutive 70’s moldings.

Regardless, even though the standard casing and baseboard sizes have gotten larger, people should really be looking to duplicate what was put in the grander homes of the early 1900’s. With casings measuring anywhere from 4-6 inches wide, along with 8-10 inch baseboards, this generation definitely new how to finish a home, and how to dress up for the weekend. Recommendation, go with the ‘Jumbo’ sized bag of popcorn, and two-litre ‘Big Gulp’ every time.

Translated into moldings, custom home builders, as opposed to those building rental units, should consider using at least a 3-1/2 inch casing, along with a 5-1/2 base. Again, when comparing moldings in your local building supply centre, these casings and baseboards may look a little big at first glance, but don’t despair, the hesitancy you’re experiencing is due to your familiarity of being handed a medium bag of corn and small pop since infancy, when you really merited the Jumbo and Big Gulp.

How do you pick a casing and baseboard? These types of moldings form part of a series of either Colonial, Victorian, modern, or Contemporary styles, with casings generally having a matching base to partner up with. So, depending on the home and interior door style, a person would be directed towards one of these particular series of moldings.

Once a style or series of casings and baseboards has been decided on, it’s then time to experiment. Because each series of casings and baseboards will have a number of profiles to choose from, the most effective way of picking one over the other is to have a few chosen baseboards butt up against their matching casings, while both moldings lay on the store’s floor. This way, you can stand back and better evaluate all the pairings. Try to avoid comparing moldings by standing or leaning them up against whatever wall, or racking is available. It’s our experience that when a bunch of casings and trims get leaned up against something, either the moldings or the something gets bumped, with the whole mix toppling over. When things are laid out on the floor, they’ve got nowhere to fall. Laying the casings and baseboards out in this manner also allows you to add a back-band trim (casing enhancing molding), various quarter round moldings, or to mix and match the various styles and sizes, in a much more effective manner.

The only one rule to keep in mind when matching moldings is that the casing must always be thicker than the base, and the base always wider than the casing. Enjoy choosing your Jumbo and Big Gulp moldings.

Good building.

As published by the Standard-Freeholder
Handyman's Hints Standard-Freeholder Cornwall Ontario by Chris Emard

Sway me over to a wider door

Over the last 10 years my elbows have been taking a beating. What seems to be the cause?

Well, I’m not a member of the army reserves, so it’s not due to me having to crawl on all fours during bi-weekly basic training. I don’t play tennis, and I don’t arm wrestle, after being soundly defeated by little Wendy Shulster in the quarterfinals of the 1972 primary school sports activity week. The problem, after further investigating the situation, and studying the effects of time on the human body, has been pinpointed to one specific affliction affecting most of us over the age of 40, that being “sway”.

Basically, if you’re under the age of 40, you probably walk a relatively straight line. Over 40, well, we’re facing two realities. One, we probably wouldn’t fit into our high school gym shorts. And two, with sports injuries, manual labor, or the weight of life having taken its toll, the head movement of the average middle ager as they perform the simple task of walking, is like following the crow’s nest of a sailing ship on a stormy night.

That natural sway that we develop isn’t exactly a handicap, unless of course you’re attempting to move from one room of the home, to the other. Basically, I can’t manage to carry a basket of clothing, move even a light piece of furniture, or carry a burger in one hand, beer in the other, through a standard sized 30 inch doorway, without bumping at least one elbow. Give me more than 40 lbs. to carry, and I end up pin-balling my way through.

Solution? Widen the doorways. Now, I don’t expect those persons in existing homes to start taking a sledge hammer to perfectly good interior doors and frames, unless of course you’re totally fed up with bruised limbs. However, as we progress from those first starter type homes, and look to build for the first time, it might be a good idea to keep our aging lifestyle in mind as we design the floorplan. Or, if your middle-aged income will allow you to begin extensive renovations on an existing home that you’ve come to love, then it’s time to look past the weekly door crasher sale specials on 30 inch pre-hung doors.

Plus, some of our futures will involve walkers and wheelchairs, which for ease of movement, will of course require wider than average doorways.

Is aging all doom and gloom? For the most part, yes. Regardless, if you’re building or renovating at the age of 35-40, and you plan on staying in this home for the next 10-15 years or so, then know this. Even healthy older folk wake up sore in the morning, put on their slippers, then begin that gentle sway as they make their way to the washroom. So, make that passage more manageable by installing a 32-34 inch wide door slab in all bathrooms.

The balance of the home, including bedrooms and office areas, should have minimum 32 inch wide door slabs. Where will the 30 inch and skinnier slab sizes find a home? As linen closets, perhaps.

These wider door dimensions, along with the tendency towards people choosing larger casing moldings, will of course require 2-4 inches more of wall space in order to make it all conform. As a result, be sure to inform your architect, home planner, or whoever’s making the drawings for your new home or addition, of your desire for wider interior slabs.

Wider bedroom doors may not directly affect the structure, but bathroom doors, often found squeezed into a space at the end of a hallway, will certainly require some slight modifications to a general plan. No matter what the delay, it’s much easier, and cheaper, to make changes to a floor plan when it’s on paper, as opposed to after construction begins.

So, do yourself a favor when designing your next home, and widen those doorways.

Good building.

As published by the Standard-Freeholder
Handyman's Hints Standard-Freeholder Cornwall Ontario by Chris Emard

Don’t settle when answer is clear and easy

This week has us examining case #231, titled “In Search of the Skinny Casing”, a tragic story involving a young couple in finishing turmoil.

What’s the problem? Three out of their 10 interior doors, in their newly constructed home, have been framed in a manner that restricts the width of the casing (finish molding surrounding the door).

In each case, the pre-hung doors in question, had been framed about three inches away from the corner of an adjoining wall, leaving barely enough room to fit a standard 2-3/4″ inch wide casing, or at best, a three inch wide casing.

Issue at hand? The young bride had chosen a somewhat higher than average 6-1/2 inch Victorian style baseboard molding. The matching Victorian casing to this baseboard molding is 3-1/2 inches wide.

So, how do you squeeze a 3-1/2 inch casing molding into a 3 inch space, without compromising the look by having to rip the molding down to size? The quick answer is, you can’t.

Plus, a casing molding never looks attractive tight up against a corner wall, and requires at least an inch or two of wall space to look even somewhat presentable. Therefore, in order to properly accommodate this 3-1/2 Victorian casing, we would require at least five inches of wall space.

But we’ve got only three inches. Solution? You shift the doors over the appropriate amount of inches. “But we can’t do that!” was their response.

“The drywall’s just been completed, the first coat of primer is about to be applied, this could mean having to move a light switch or two, so no way, it would cause just too much upheaval” they further stated.

Then, choose a shorter, standard sized baseboard to match the 2-3/4 casing you were forcing yourself to accept, was my suggestion. However, the young lady was adamant she wanted the higher Victorian base.

Then we move the doors, was again my suggestion. It may seem overwhelming at first, but it’s not.

We’re not asking your carpentry crew to raise the roof or dig the basement deeper. The solution to this problem will require three hours of labor and a couple of hundred bucks in material. But, the resulting wider margin will look spectacular.

However, being young people, maybe a little impatient, and perhaps blind to the big picture, they couldn’t get around the notion of sometimes needing to take two steps back, and fix the real issue, in order to get things right and move forward.

So, the search began for a skinny, 2-3/4 or 3 inch casing that would adequately match their extra-large, 6-1/2 inch Victorian base.

On an unrelated note, this couple also confided in me their upcoming vacation plans to search out the Loch Ness monster, visit Santa Claus in the North Pole, and research the mating habits of the Easter Bunny.

The challenge of matching a wide baseboard, with a narrow casing, is that the wider base moldings are often thicker than the standard casings.

When the two moldings meet at the floor, the baseboard ends up protruding past the casing, or being shaved back even to the casing, in order to salvage this non-conforming joint.

Rule #1 in finishing is that the casing must always be thicker than the baseboard. Unfortunately, there’s no salvaging this picture when the opposite happens.

It would be like a mature man tossing on a tank top, tucking it in his cut-off jeans, securing this classical professional midget wrestling look with a belt, then hoping he could save the ensemble by pulling on a pair of knee high socks, then slip into a pair of sandals.

Undaunted by the facts, and determined to keep their 6-1/2 inch baseboard, the couple settled on a 3 inch casing that looked like, with a little imagination, and at a quick glance, just OK.

I hate settling when the answer is clear and easy.

Good building.

As published by the Standard-Freeholder
Handyman's Hints Standard-Freeholder Cornwall Ontario by Chris Emard

Let ‘er slide

We had garden, or regular in-swinging doors, leading onto our back deck once. Once!

Now we have sliding patio doors, and they’re a welcome change.

Generally purchased in either a five or six foot width, the standard white vinyl sliding door has been a staple in new home construction for the past 50 years.

Basically, if you were building a new home or addition, and there was to be a deck attached, in all likelihood there was going to be a sliding patio door involved.

Why was the choice of a patio door such a popular one? Value.

For about half the price of a double door system with full length glass, the standard patio door delivered a full view, clean look, with a simple operating mechanism. Plus, you had the bonus of a sliding screen, making the decision of choosing a patio door over conventional doors a no-brainer.

Downside to these original series patio doors? Unimpressive locking system, with a limited colour selection that included white, white and white.

Then came the garden door, basically a double door, hinged either at the side, or stylishly hinged at the center mullion, with of course the newly designed sliding screen option.

Now home builders were able to have the somewhat classier look of a double door, due to its wider style and rail, with the convenience of a screen to let in that welcomed summer breeze. Further bonuses to choosing a garden door included a basically unlimited choice of door colours, along with a frame colour that would match the windows, should the choice be other than white.

Plus, garden doors could be accessorized with the same type of lockset and deadbolt as the other exterior doors, so there was a consistency factor that made choosing the garden door, even at its elevated price, the better decision.

The downside of a garden door is that it swings inwards. Not a big deal if you’ve got the living room, bedroom, or kitchen space to spare.

However, if things are already a little tight, the person seated closest to the door is certainly in peril of having their afternoon tea tossed onto their lap every time somebody bumps their chair in an attempt to get in or out of the home.

That hasn’t changed, and until the standard butt hinge is replaced, or sees some major metamorphosis in its structure, doors will continue to require space as they swing inward.

What about swinging a door towards the outside? Although possible, it’s not a recommended option. Out-swinging doors take up valuable deck space regardless, and require a deck platform equal in height to the door sill, otherwise they can be a real tripping hazard.

Plus, a strong wind will tear an out-swinging door right out of your fingers, which can certainly damage the slab, and minimally surprise the bejesus out of the first time victim.

Finally, an out swinging door would require an inside sliding screen, which would look odd.

So, why the switch back to the seemingly antiquated, sliding patio door?

Colour, of course. Combo PVC (coloured exterior, white interior) sliding doors have become the new go-to product for home owners requesting their doors match the exterior windows, which have made the switch from white sash and frame, to the more decorative grey and pebble colours.

Black (aluminum) coloured sliding doors are also becoming very popular, due perhaps to the sliding patios narrow style and frame, which appears quite elegant when these thinner lines are inserted into a stone or brick veneer.

Are wood sliding doors available? Absolutely. Aluminum cladding will finish the exterior, with the customer having a variety of choices regarding wood specie and stain colour for the interior.

What if a person fears missing the look of their garden door? Go with the wider style and rail option, which combines the prestige of a garden door with the convenience of a sliding unit.

Good building!

As published by the Standard-Freeholder
Handyman's Hints Standard-Freeholder Cornwall Ontario by Chris Emard