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Exterior Door Buying Guide

Make a great first impression with a beautiful exterior door. Learn the key terms and different materials available to make the best choice for your home.

Exterior door with windows


An inswing (I/S) door

In order to make an informed choice, you need to learn some of the lingo:

Inswing (I/S)
A door that opens in

Outswing (O/S)
A door that opens out

Left Hand
For an I/S door, hinges are on the left. For an O/S door, hinges are on the right (when the door is viewed from the house's exterior).

Right Hand
For an I/S door, hinges are on the right. For an O/S door, hinges are on the left (when the door is viewed from the house's exterior).

A pane of glass in a door

Divided Lite
Panes of glass that are or appear to be divided

Plastic, wooden or metal assembly in a door that gives the appearance of divided lites

Strips for joining segmented glass

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Wood door with stain glass inserts

Steel doors have energy-efficient foam core insulation and are fully weather stripped by the manufacturer. They're highly resistant to shrinking, swelling and warping. Their tough steel construction will withstand years of extreme weather conditions with minimum maintenance. The doors can be purchased with predrilled door knob and lockset holes, making installation even easier. Steel doors come pre-primed and ready to paint.

Fiberglass doors offer the same energy-saving and easy installation qualities as steel doors. They have wood grain texture molded into the door so they give the appearance of a real wood door when painted or stained. Their high-quality composite construction makes these doors resistant to all sorts of weather as well as scratches and dents. They're an excellent choice for extreme climates and high-traffic entrances.

Wood doors offer the most traditional look, while their substantial weight adds a sense of security and sturdiness to your home. These doors may be painted or stained for a natural, warm appearance. Wood doors are usually made using frame and panel construction to counteract the effects of climatic or seasonal changes. Wood species vary from inexpensive composite to fir or walnut.

Good to Know

For maximum savings, look for ENERGY STAR qualified entry doors.


Exterior door with transom

There are plenty of accents available to help you fully customize your entryway to your liking.

All door types are available with decorative glass. While most doors have insulated glass for energy efficiency, others may have beveled, silk-screened or stained glass with genuine brass caming (joining strips for segmented glass). The glass may be one large lite or have a grille that separates the glass into several lites.

Sidelites are available for all types of doors. Use one sidelite on either side of the door or have one on each side.

Transoms are available for all types of doors, in three distinct shapes: arch, ellipse and box.

In-Glass Blinds
Some doors have adjustable blinds made inside the glass pane.

Patio Doors

Patio doors overlooking a pond

Patio doors, including French and sliding glass doors, range from 5 to more than 12 feet in width. The selection of patio doors is as diverse as their sizes:

French doors
French doors are available in the same materials as sliding glass doors and more. They're also available in steel and fiberglass, with the same characteristics as those found in traditional entry doors of the same material. French doors are available with either left- or right-handed inswing (I/S) or outswing (O/S). You can also purchase units where both doors open. These units are available with or without brickmould stops in the center.

Sliding Doors
They're like big picture windows, where the doors are large panes of glass mounted in a frame with rollers. They're manufactured from a variety of materials including:

  • Aluminum
    These are usually the least expensive. Their all-aluminum construction won't rust and is easily maintained.
  • Vinyl
    Vinyl doors are low-maintenance and energy-efficient. The tough vinyl frames are easy to maintain and look new for years. Most vinyl patio doors offer low-emissive, insulated glass and factory-installed weatherstripping for maximum energy efficiency.
  • Wood
    They're normally the highest quality and the most expensive patio doors. Wood patio doors offer the same natural aesthetic qualities as traditional wood doors with the added bonus of a full view through the large pane.
  • Clad-Wood
    These are wooden doors and frames with a vinyl, fiberglass or aluminum coating on the exterior face of the door. The coating serves as an armor to protect the wood from the elements and still allows you to have the look of real wood inside.

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