Fenestration Frustration: Common Exterior Door Problems Solved

Knowing and understanding a few common door problems can make quick work of preventing expensive ordeals down the line.

By Stephanie Hell


"Fenestration" means any opening in a structure or building, including doors. Because by definition doors are openings, they receive harsh treatment from the elements while trying to keep them out of your home. Unlike other openings, doors can be in constant movement, and with moving parts encased in wood, small problems with them can become big hassles if not addressed. Knowing and understanding a few common door problems can make quick work of preventing expensive ordeals down the line.


Water/Air Leaks Around Doors

If you’ve got water coming through under a door into the foyer or even the garage, this signals it’s got a clear pathway where there shouldn’t be one. It’s not only important to check the sill, but to also see what’s going on with the perpendicular wood pieces (which is part of the frame) or the jamb. No matter the type of door, whether it’s wood, steel or fiberglass, it’s ensconced in the wood frame (most likely made from untreated pine), and wood sucks up water just as fast as the pile of Shamwows in the laundry room.


There should be caulking where the sill meets the jamb. There should also be caulking on the outside of the sill to stop water from entering. It’s a simple job to remove the old caulking with a screwdriver if it’s weather-worn. It’s important to use exterior caulking for the job. Of course, the sill should be flush with the threshold, so if it’s been bent or damaged from that time you moved the old refrigerator out, it’s a replaceable item. However, this job is better left to a professional since the sill is stapled to the jamb and will need to be cut out.




If you have water or air coming through elsewhere on the door, the first thing to do is check the weather stripping. A simple mistake often made by those who have changed their door color with paint, is not removing the weather stripping first. The weather stripping is simply locked in a groove around the door frame, so there’s no nails or staples to deal with. If the weather stripping is covered with paint in some areas, it dries out the stripping, leaving gaps for the elements to freely enter and costly HVAC comfort to exit. Replacing the weather stripping is most likely the cheapest and easiest job that can be done on any door, and it protects the wood all around the door.




Preventing Wood Rot in Door Jambs

Any door company, contractor, or builder will tell you the problem with which they deal most when it comes to doors is wood rot. And most likely the problem is not the door, but the jamb. Water is one of the powerful forces of nature (Exhibit A: The Grand Canyon), and once the jamb starts drinking in moisture from where the sill is screwed into concrete, it’s like a personal straw for the entire frame of the door. You can easily check with your handy thumbnail by pushing in on the lowest section of the jamb, and if it appears soft, it probably is.


The first 8 or so inches up from the sill is the first to go, so it should be checked often. Remove and replace caulking as needed. You’ll also want to check where the rain is heading in terms of all your exterior doors. If there is an overhang protecting the door, you’re not likely to experience any real danger of rot. If you don’t have an overhang, look at having something installed to deflect the water where it’s not going to quench the thirsty wood. If it’s not one thing, it’s another, so check your sprinkler heads to make sure you’re not inadvertently watering your door jambs twice a week. Wood prefers to keep its rot as a little-known secret and loves to manage it from the inside out. If the rot appears from nowhere, it’s been at work full time for a while. Checking often will lift you up to hero status in your door's history, so be vigilant in protecting that which protects you.


Images used with permission, courtesy of www.bigstock.com and www.dreamstime.com

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