You no longer have to put up with a rusty old storm door that bangs shut every time the kids go out. Modern storm doors are stronger, smoother and a heck of a lot more handsome than the doors we grew up with. In fact, installing a new one is one of the least expensive ways to dress up an entry.
Replacing an old one is easier than you might think. Manufacturers have made installation more DIY friendly by providing standard sizes that'll fit almost any door opening and simpler installation kits. Still, you'll find some sticking points. The following step-by-step directions walk you through some tricks and techniques you won't find in any instruction manual.
If you have a hacksaw, screw gun, a short level and a pair of side cutters and two to three hours, you're on your way to saving the cost of a professional installation. Replacing an old storm door or installing a new one is a perfect Saturday morning project, even if you have limited carpentry skills.
To find the size of the storm door you need, simply measure the height and width of the main door. Most front entry doors are 36 in. wide and require a 36-in. storm door.
For this article, we chose a “full-view” storm door. The one we show has removable screen and glass panels that you change each season. The other common type, a “ventilating” storm door, has glass panels that slide open or closed over the screen, much like a double-hung window.
Nearly every storm door sold is reversible. That is, you can install it with the hinge on either side. The manufacturer's directions tell you how to do it. When you buy it, you don't have to specify which way the door must swing.
You typically mount storm doors to the exterior door trim using “Z-bars.” The hinge-side Z-bar may already be screwed to the door (ours was), or you may have to mount it once you determine the door swing direction. On some doors, you'll also have to drill holes for the latch.
Begin the project by folding open the box and removing the glass storm panel. Set it and the screen panel in a safe place out of the wind. Then check for damaged or missing parts by comparing the contents with the parts list in the instruction manual. (Ours had been returned, repackaged and sold as new. One of the parts had already been cut to length and the mounting screws were missing.) Use the cardboard as a work surface to prevent scratching the parts while you work on the door. Your door may come with a protective plastic film. Only peel off those areas needed for installing hardware during installation. That way the door will be protected from scratches. After installation is complete, peel away the plastic.
Determine the door swing. In
general, hinge the storm door on the
same side as the main door. However,
consider these exceptions:
- Adjoining walls. If there's an adjoining wall or rail, it's best to have the door swing against it; otherwise entry can be awkward, especially if you're carrying groceries.
- Electrical. Will the door open against any light fixtures? Will the doorbell or light switch wind up on the latch side where they belong?
- Wind. If there's a strong prevailing wind, it's best to have the door hinge side face the wind direction. That way, sudden gusts can't fling it open and break it.
Why a storm door?
A traditional storm door was a real workhorse. It protected the handsome but vulnerable wooden main door from harsh weather and helped to insulate it.
Today's better insulated and protected main doors have little need for a storm door and are often eliminated from new homes, showing off fancy front doors. However, the “full-view” storm door (like the one we're installing here) still showcases the main door and, when screened, allows you to take advantage of those cooling summer breezes too.
Taking off an old aluminum door is usually just a case of unscrewing the mounting screws on the door, closer and safety chain. But sometimes there's caulk around the frame. You can usually cut through the caulk with a utility knife. But worse yet, you could find old caulk between the frame and the door casing. If so, you'll have to pry the frame away with an old chisel and scrape the trim surfaces clean. A heat gun may help soften the caulk. Get rid of an old door by throwing the glass panel in the trash, and then cut up the aluminum frame and door with a circular saw and a carbide-tipped blade. Toss the pieces into the recycling bin.
Wooden storm doors generally have hinges that are mortised (notched into the wood) and screwed to the door casing. Don't worry about the hinge or latch recesses. When you install your new storm door, they'll be hidden behind the new door frame.
Storm doors hang from the door trim, technically called “exterior casing.” If the door has never had a storm door (as in our situation), you may have to extend the trim between the door and a sidelight (Photo 2). This is the most difficult situation you're likely to encounter. You have to rip a new trim piece to match the thickness of the other trim (usually 1-1/8 in. thick).
If your entry door trim needs paint, do it now. It's a pain in the neck painting around a new door, and you'll have a crisper-looking job.
Manufacturers make storm doors a bit narrower than standard openings to make sure they'll fit. If your opening is typical, you'll have to “fur out” the sides to center the storm door in the opening. You'll nearly always need to install at least one 1/4-in. furring strip (screen molding usually works fine) on the hinge side (Photo 6) and possibly even have to add another one to the latch side (Photo 11). To figure this out, measure the exact width of the opening, that is, the distance between the inside edges of the trim. (Measure at the middle, top and bottom.) The manufacturer's instructions will usually list the minimum width required. Subtract that width from your measurement and make the furring strip thickness along the hinge side about half the difference.
It's important to mount the door tightly to the hinge-side trim. Pry against the latch side to make sure it snugs up tight (Photo 7).
Follow the photos with your instructions for the rest of the installation steps. Door latch and Z-bar systems vary. Cutting the latch-side Z-bar is a bit fussy. The idea is to center it on the latch and lock (Photo 10). Observe where it strikes the sill and cut the bottom at an angle that matches the sill. Then cut the top so it fits against the top Z-bar. Don't worry if the latch and lock bolt end up a bit off-center, as long as they work smoothly.
You may need to chisel out the latch or deadbolt pocket as we show (Photo 11). It all depends on the door latch style.
After installing the door sweep and closers, adjust the closer tension. Begin with the window panel rather than the screen in place. The closers should be set with the door at its heaviest. You may want to reset a gentler setting for the screen panel.
Finally, it's a good idea to save the boxes for the window and screen panel for off-season storage. Under a bed is a great safe storage location.
Dealing With Warped Doors
Storm doors often appear to be warped because they don't rest evenly against the weatherstripping at all corners. However, it's usually the entry door trim that's a bit out of whack. Small gaps may disappear when you install the door closers, especially if your door comes with one for the top and one for the bottom. If that doesn't do the trick, try prying out the Z-bar slightly and slip in a shim to close the gap.
Bigger gaps call for more drastic measures. First loosen all the Z-bar screws and remove the screws at opposite corners of the door. Then slip a shim behind the corner screws, opposite the gap. Tighten the corner screws to see if the gap closes. Try varying sizes of shims until the door closes well. Then slip in progressively smaller shims behind the rest of the screws as you tighten them to taper the gap between the Z-bar and the door casing. Cut off the shims, then caulk the gap and paint it to match.