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Recommendations for Budget-Friendly High-Performance Exterior Doors

NICK KEENAN | Posted in Green Products and Materials on

I’m working on a house where I need to put in an exterior door and I’d like to put in something with good energy performance. Other than that it’s a side door that you can’t see from the street so it doesn’t have to be anything fancy, although I’d like it to feel decent, not like something that’s going to fall apart in your hands. Just a solid door with no window.

I looked at the Energy Star ratings as a place to start. For a solid door they require a U-Value of 0.17, which is R6. Since exterior doors are standardized at 1-3/4″ I don’t think anything will be over about R-8. So it seems like the sealing is what I should really focus on.  The Energy Star standard for air leakage is 0.5/CFM per square foot. A standard height 36″ door is 20 square feet so that’s 10 CFM.  Maybe I’m being picky, but that strikes me as a perceptible airflow. I haven’t been able to see what pressure they test at.

I can get a no-frills Energy Star door at a big box store starting around $250. Where it gets tough is if I want something better than that. Air leakage ratings doesn’t seem like something door manufacturers are particularly proud of.

One thought is to get a no-frills door and then upgrade the weather sealing. But even there I don’t see quantitative figures with weather sealing. Every manufacturer just says theirs is the best.

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  1. creativedestruction | | #1

    I've had this same burning question for awhile now, to no avail. You'd think at least one manufacturer in North America would introduce a second set of gasketing with multi-point latch...

    Best I've seen to this point comes from the big window manufactures. Marvin, Pella, etc. Not affordable. Better tighter multi-latch hardware though. But always a single lame gasket holding on by a hope and a prayer.

  2. Expert Member
    NICK KEENAN | | #2

    Something I've read -- maybe here -- is that doors have a peculiar distribution scheme. Manufacturers ship door blanks to regional distributors, and the distributor cuts them to size and frames and trims them. Then they are sold through retail outlets. So while the manufacturer is the one whose name is on the product, they aren't the ones who actually do the assembly.

  3. user-5946022 | | #3

    Jeld Wen doors can be ordered with three point locks.

    1. beedigs | | #4

      do u know how much they typically cost?

    2. Expert Member
      NICK KEENAN | | #12

      See my posts #2 and #9. The locking hardware isn't installed by the manufacturer but by the distributor. The name on the door isn't the company that does the final assembly. What's frustrating is that the distributors are shadowy figures.

  4. user-2310254 | | #5

    There was a recent thread on this topic, but I can't find it. However, I did copy the door links into a note file. Here it is:

    This manufacturers are make a range of exterior doors for the construction industry. FWIW. Most are available at the big box stores with starting prices of a few hundred dollars. Better quality doors seem to be at least a couple of thousand. (The Intus door for my last build was about $2,500. But Intus no longer sells to the custom residential market.) Side lights and better locking mechanisms add cost, of course.

    For an explainer on this topic and why you might want to source the door from a supply company, you might want to check out this Matt Risinger video:

    1. Expert Member
      NICK KEENAN | | #9

      The Risinger video confirms what I said in #2, that distributors receive door slabs from the manufacturers and it's the distributor that manufactures the frame and the installs the weather sealing. It seems to me that unless the slab is absolutely terrible it's going to be air-tight, and that the door-frame intersection is where the action is. And that's not even done by the company that has their name on the door.

    2. Expert Member
      NICK KEENAN | | #10

      I watched the whole Risinger video. I want my hour back!

      It highlights the informational problem that I'm running into. There was a whole lot of information about the appearance of doors, but virtually nothing about performance.

      1. beedigs | | #11

        lol...what i do is listen to these videos at 1.5x-2x speed to cut the time spent listening...

        kidding aside, do hope you find the answers you seek...i can totally relate...

        if i have some capital to do a start-up, this high-performance door niche might be a good start-up :D

  5. walta100 | | #6

    If I had it to do over I would not pick ThermaTru again without storm doors they could not keep the rain out of the house but that do manage to keep the wind from blowing thru.


    1. beedigs | | #13

      what would be a good alternative? i have Thermatru doors quoted for the 2 doors leading into the backyard...

      1. andy_ | | #17

        Shelter them. An overhang above the door will do wonders at improving not only its service life but also performance.

  6. Sofiane | | #7

    Where are you located?

    There are decently priced exterior doors from Novatech here in Eastern Canada. They also have factories in the USA according to their website. I recently purchased a 6 panel door for a bit more than 1000$ CAD from one of their retailers - they don’t sell directly to consumers. (R value of 7, cannot remember the air infiltration rate, but I’m pretty sure it was below the Energy star guidelines)

    They have even better sealed and insulated doors for about 50-100% more depending on whether you want glazing or not, but the lead time right now is really long. I can only find the Canadian version of the website:

  7. charlie_sullivan | | #8

    It seems like in the US, the only thing you can do better than the base level for a reasonable price is to get multi-point latching doors. I recently noticed that one of mind triple point doors was nonetheless leaking at the corner, and looked to see if I could adjust it. I learned that they are two grades of triple-point latches, tongue type and roller type, with the tongue type generally not being adjustable and roller type being adjustable. I'm not sure how easy it is to specify the roller type when you order a door, but I wish I had done so.

    I also have previously opted for Jeld-Wen doors because they have Neopor graphite EPS insulation, with known low GWP, in contrast to many which might use HFCs. Now Clopay doors say that they have no HFCs and comply with HFC regulations in states that have led on that, and it's likely many others are transitioning as well. But I would stick to those two or ask the manufacturer if you want to consider another brand.

  8. cold_feet | | #14

    Zola is an American company selling European windows and doors. Might be worth checking out.

    One of their reps was on The Building Science Podcast (9/23/2020, "Through The Looking Glass of High Performance Windows"). He talked about measuring air infiltration on the podcast and how their numbers beat the well known American companies.

    1. beedigs | | #15

      too bad they have a $35k minimum quota for you to even get an order in..they seem to have a good product $$$

  9. Expert Member
    NICK KEENAN | | #16

    I'm flashing back to a conversation I had with an architect a couple of years ago, and he said, "you don't want to buy a door from a window company." I wish I had asked him what he meant. It's certainly true that there are companies that primarily make doors, and companies that make windows that also make doors.

    I wonder if the window companies have a different distribution model.

    1. charlie_sullivan | | #18

      With the window companies, there are also two companies inolved: the IGU manufacturer (Cardinal or Guardian), and the window company (Anderson, Marvin, Loewen, etc.). Unlike the door company where the slab is the branded product marketed to consumers and the less well known step is the company that assembles them into pre-hung assemblies, in he case of windows, it's the IGU maker that is unseen by consumers, and the window company ships to the local building supply house or direct to the job site.

      I think that if you want a door that is mostly glass, you should buy from a window company, whereas if you want it mostly solid, you should buy from a door company. The better window companies make really nice doors, but you can usually only get them mostly glass.

  10. BozemanSustainabuild | | #19

    We have Installed alot of "energy star" rated doors. Along with alot of high end passive house style doors. My favorite bang for the buck door is Provia doors. It's a great mix of affordable and performances.

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