Sometimes I get questions about installing a steel door in a home, and I thought I would take this opportunity to clear up a few misconceptions that homeowners have about them. Collected below are typical questions that we receive:
Where would I want to install one?
Steel doors are installed between interior and exterior areas. They are also typically installed between houses and garages. Rarely are they installed in interior-to-interior spaces unless there is a great need for security or fire-block in one of those areas.
Can I have one installed in a residence?
Yes. Even though steel doors are most often associated with institutional applications (stores, schools, etc.), you are starting to see many more residences with them.
Are they made of solid steel?
No. Steel doors are comprised of either a polyurethane or polystyrene core with a steel skin over the top.
A solid steel door would be prohibitively heavy and would most likely tear out the hinges. Steel between 16 and 24 gauge is used for the skin of the door. Also, a wood frame, called a stile, surrounds the perimeter of the door. So, none of the polyurethane or polystyrenes is visible on the edges of the door.
What is the reason for the non-metal core, other than the weight factor?
Remember that steel, and most metals, are remarkably good conductors of heat and cold. This is not something that you want for a door. So the polyurethane or polystyrene cores act as thermal barriers.
In fact, studies show that these man-made materials are 500% better at blocking unwanted heat and cold than are wood doors.
What should I look for when I am buying a steel door?
You want to make sure, for one thing, that the door has all of the cutouts that you want. If you buy a solid door and then later decide that you want a window or a pet door, it is very difficult to cut these through.
At the very least, steel doors will come shipped with a factory-applied primer which is ready for manual painting by brush or spray gun. Others have an additional PVC vinyl layer adhered to the steel skin which gives the door a certain look or color, typically woodgrain. It should be noted that these PVC vinyl layers are hard to paint if you later decide that you want a different color.
Are they the same as fire doors?
Not necessarily. Even a wood door can be rated as a fire door. But steel doors do have a fire rating. Steel doors with a 20 gauge skin may be said to have a 20-minute fire rating. For specifics, consult the fire rating sticker on the door itself.
You should know that most building codes require that a fire-rated door is installed between the house and the garage.
Are there any downsides?
Of course. Steel doors are difficult for the DIY homeowner to install due to their weight--but it can be done. One downside to steel doors is that they do not permit sanding and filling with wood putty in the event of scratches or dents.
If anything, you need to think of steel doors as being cousins to automobile bodies, because the way to fix dents in steel doors is to use auto body filler such as Bondo, and then sand down to a smooth, paintable surface.