Like the cover of a book, your home’s exterior establishes the trend for what’s inside. So, if it’s time to upgrade your exterior doors, this DIY guide can help you complete a new exterior door installation that better complements your home’s perfect siding, accentuated trim color, lavish landscape layout, and decorative lighting! And nothing improves curb appeal quite like a stunning new front door.
Updating your exterior doors can take many forms. Painting the door a bold color or adding new hardware can help make a statement. Even replacing a solid-state door with a door that has large glass panes or a window can give the entry a classic, vibrant look. Yet, replacing your old door with a new door offers more than just window dressing to your home.
A new exterior door can make your home more energy efficient and add more security and safety. If your door is drafty, sticks when closed, or is simply weathered and weak, all these elements can play a part in the functionality and security of your door and home. So, when considering updates to your exterior doors, think beyond the visual.
Learning how to install exterior doors is something every DIYer can do. In many ways, exterior door installation is like interior door replacement, but this project requires a heavier focus on sealing the door from the outside elements. Whether you’re interested in making some improvements for your own enjoyment or looking to sell, exterior door replacement is an easy and budget-friendly way to make your house pop!
Replacing Your Home’s Entry Door
Types of Exterior Doors
The first type of exterior door is a prehung door, which comes already mounted into a frame. Yes, it comes with the frame and the whole thing is installed at once. So, no worries about learning how to install a door frame all on your own if your current frame is damaged and old. However, while this sounds great and simpler, installing a prehung door means you’ll have a larger hole in your home. So, plan to get this job done within a day.
The next type of exterior door installation is the door only. It is as simple as lifting it off the hinges and swapping out the old door for the new door. However, if the house and frame have distorted with age, then readjusting the frame and making cuts to the door could make the job more laborious.
Plumb and Level Definitions
When you see or hear the terms “level” and “plumb,” they basically mean the same thing: to level. When you need to measure the “level,” it is the horizontal measure like when you make sure a shelf is straight. The “plumb” is the vertical measure for doors, walls, and posts to ensure those are vertically straight. Combined, these measurements will help make your new door as straight as possible.
Installing a Prehung Door
Regardless of which style of door you are replacing, start by removing the storm door (if you have one) for ease of access to the area. They are usually held in place by screws, so use a drill and unscrew the hinge screws. It is best practice to have someone hold the door as you extract the screws.
Another obstacle may be your doorbell. Some doorbells have the wiring run through the doorframe and are connected to the outside frame. Remove the doorbell assembly before starting your new exterior door installation, then follow these steps:
- Begin the exterior door removal by scoring along the exterior trim with a utility knife, then pry it off with a hammer or pry bar. You can throw away or recycle the old trim, as new exterior doors have the exterior trim already attached.
- Next, you will want to remove all hardware from the door frame, including the door. With the aid of a helper or props, remove the hinge pins and take the old door off the hinges. Unscrew the strike plate from the frame.
- Slide a reciprocating saw and blade between the door frame and house frame to saw off the screws or nails holding the frame in place. Try not to force the cuts as the saw will do the work for you. Forcing the cuts or going too quickly could damage your rough opening.
- Once cut, the door frame should come free if you gently push the top of the jamb outward. Do not worry if the jambs stick a little at the bottom when you’re pushing, as old sealant may hold on strong.
Installing a New Exterior Door
Before installing the new exterior door, the subfloor needs to be level. Check that the subfloor is level, and the rough opening is square. If the opening is not square, insert shims to square it up, then attach them to the existing frame with screws.
It’s important for the entire interior frame to be secured into the opening with screws and shims. Shims not only keep the frame straight but also help when screwing to the frame. Make sure that you can still fit the new prehung door in the opening before moving on.
To prevent water from entering under your front door, install a sill pan or flashing tape to the bottom sill opening. Some sills can be purchased as a kit that comes in three pieces to fit the sill, two corner pieces, and a middle piece to lay over the two corner pieces in the sill.
Pro tip: For a true DIY experience, a sill pan can be created by bending sheet metal and fitting it into the opening.
Once you’re ready to install your new door, follow these steps:
- Set the corner pieces on the sill, then place the middle piece over the top. Make the proper adjustments with a hacksaw if any pieces are too wide. If the fit looks good, lift the middle piece and apply PVC cement where the middle piece overlaps on top of the corner pieces. Press pieces together for a few minutes to form a strong bond, so you can lift this sill out of the opening.
- When the sill pan is bonded, pull it out and apply three center beads of caulk in the opening. Set the pan in place and press down to bond. Use caulk to seal along the back, edges, and seams of the sill pan.
If you prefer to use flashing tape to protect the sill, install it in sections, being sure to always overlap the flashing tape in a way that water will run. Apply the first pieces of tape to the bottom sill. More than one piece is okay to use. After the bottom of the frame opening is covered, mount a few pieces about six inches up the sides of the opening.
- If you have a doorbell, now is the time to drill a hole for the doorbell wires. Remove the transport plugs and drill a hole at a height tall enough for the wires to hang out through the hole a few inches.
- Before setting the door in the opening, apply a bead of caulk to the back of the door. Apply only to both door sides and the top. Bring the bottom of the door into the opening and angle the top into place. If you drilled for a doorbell, feed the doorbell wires through the hole.
- Place more shims around the frame where there is heavy usage: above the three hinges, latch side (top, middle, and bottom), and behind the strike plate. Once all shims are set, secure the hinge side. Check the rough opening to ensure it is centered, level, and plumb. Drill all pilot holes for the hinges and drive screws partially in. At the top of each hinge, place shims above the top screw. Go on the outside of the door and finish driving in the screws.
- While standing outside, close the door and check where the frame’s weatherstripping meets the door. It should be equal all around the door. Best practice is to adjust the latch side of the door if adjustments are needed.
- Next, check the frame for plumb on the latch side. Shim above the screws when it looks good and screw at the top and bottom. At this time, partially drive in the middle screw only. With the door fully closed, shim above the middle screw and behind the strike plate. Secure in the last screw and fasten the strike plate in place.
Installing the Sill Cap
Next, install the sill cap, which must be snug against the door bottom. You can test this out by placing the sill cap in place. Lay a piece of paper over the sill and close the door. The paper should pull out with a little resistance and shouldn’t tear. If it does tear or does not have any resistance, adjust the cap screws to raise or lower the cap. Apply caulk to the corners along the edges of the cap.
Most doors come with self-stick corner pads (foam insulators that help bridge gaps between existing door seals) which could be installed at this point. However, the door opening could be constricted with the extra thickness of the pads. If so, don’t install the pads and seal the corners of the cap.
Finishing Touches for Your Entry Door Installation
With the frame all good to go, install the deadbolt and lockset per manufacturer instructions, then check the operation of the door and adjust as needed. Snap the excess shims off or cut them with an oscillating saw. The key is to have them flush with or below the door frame.
Use spray foam or blanket insulation to insulate around the frame. Be careful with spray foam, as applying too much can push out against the frame. After the insulation is set, mount the interior trim and seal along the interior and exterior edges with caulk.
Finally, break out the colors and paint your new exterior door and frame. Most doors come pre-primed and ready to paint, unless you buy word door you intend to stain. You can paint the door while it’s on the hinges or take it off and paint it on sawhorses.
Replacing Other Exterior Doors Around Your Home
Any exterior door can be replaced in your home without removing the jamb provided the jamb is in good shape and not warped with age. You just need the same size door to start, then cut out the hinge mortise, and set up the new hardware. There is no need for special tools; you can cut the hinge mortise with a chisel and a hammer.
The following steps will guide you in the exterior door installation process.
Remove the Old Door from the Jamb
With your exterior door open, use a drill or a cordless gun to undo the hinges from the doorjamb hinges. You want to leave the hinges on the door for proper measurement. Place the door with the exterior side down, across two sawhorses, and remove the doorknob and any extra hardware.
With the exterior side down, overlay the new door on top of the old door. Make sure the doors are flush with each other, lining up the perimeter of each door. Use a pencil to mark on the new door the positions of all the old door’s hinges. Unscrew and remove the old hinges from the door. You can reuse these old hinges or opt to throw them away.
Quick tip: Another way to dispose of old hinges and hardware is to donate them to Habitat for Humanity. They try to repurpose these items in every manner acceptable.
Outlining and Sizing Your Exterior Door
Take both doors off the sawhorses. With the hinge side upward facing, stand the new door on its side. If you need stability, hand clamp the door to a table leg or one of the sawhorses.
Evenly align a hinge on the door between one of the pencil lines. Trace the hinge plate to mark the full outline of the hinge. Use a utility knife to cut around your markings going no deeper than 1/8 of an inch to create the mortise.
Use a chisel with the bevel side up and rock the chisel into the pre-cut lines. Drop the angle of the chisel to be almost horizontal with the side of the door. Begin to push the chisel and slide back and forth across the grain to chip away the wood. Again, try to go no deeper than 1/8 of an inch.
Pro tip: Use a small hammer to tap on the back of the chisel to help with the mortises.
Reinstalling Hinges on the New Exterior Door
Install the hinge into the cut-out mortises on the new door. You may have to adjust the mortise cuts if the hinges do not sit flat or fit within the mortise. The hinges need to fit snug and flat into the mortises.
Once the hinges fit perfectly in the mortises, secure each hinge to the new door using screws. Position the new exterior door in place on the old jamb with the aid of a helper or props. Screw each hinge onto the jamb. Assemble the doorknob on the new door. If you are installing a new doorknob, replace the jamb strike plate if the new one does not line up and latch on the old one.
Close the door and ensure everything looks aligned. Also, check the exterior door weatherstripping for proper seals along the sides and top of the jamb/door. If those are weathered, then it is the perfect time to reinstall a new weatherstripping run. Once those are done, you can shut the door on your first DIY exterior door installation!
Making Exterior Doors Energy Efficient
Doubling down on caulk and weatherstripping are the first steps in making your exterior door more energy efficient. Sealing up exterior doors should cost you under $75, if you buy the caulk and weatherstripping, and do the work yourself. Caulk is used all over the home and is a big part of exterior door installation as it helps seal gaps between the doorframe and the wall.
Weatherstripping is another step to stop gaps and drafts between the door and the doorframe. The material used in weatherstripping is a compressible foam or rubber strip which compresses to the tightest seal possible when the door is closed. For a chic, historic look, weatherstripping comes in brass strips with matching trim nails, but this type of weatherstripping is more difficult to install.
Also, the gap at the bottom of the door will allow drafts in as well, so it is best to install door sweeps at the bottom. These sweeps come in rubber or bristled material and are installed on the interior side of the door. Another way to fill the gap is with a threshold that has a flexible rubber center bulb, which fills between the threshold and the door’s bottom.
If your exterior doors have glass panes, be sure to properly secure the glass to prevent energy loss. Make sure that any glass in your door is properly secured with wood trim or window glaze around the perimeter of the glass. Not only does this lock the glass into place, but it holds back drafts and other weatherly elements.
Storm doors are another way to mitigate energy loss by providing an extra barrier for air to travel through. Storm doors are not always necessary nor cost-effective depending on the make of your door or the climate in which you live. Thick wood doors come well insulated already and adding a storm may not be necessary. If you live in a colder climate or have an exterior door with glass panels, then a storm door could be what you need.
Contact First American Home Warranty
First American home warranty plans can give homeowners the protection and peace of mind they need, so they can focus on other things, like energy efficient home improvements! With home warranty coverage, many of your home systems and appliances can be repaired or replaced if they fail. Contact us today to get a quote.