Hanging a door successfully depends as much on the opening as it does on the door. If the opening isn't level, plumb, square, and parallel, there's no way to hang a level, plumb, square door in it. Don't assume that, because the existing door works well, a new door also will fit the opening. A door and its opening grow old together; the warps in one often compensate for those in the other. Check the opening carefully, as described below. Anything out of square, plumb, or level may mean trouble, as does any binding or rubbing. Ask a carpenter or a home center or lumberyard salesperson for advice. It may be better to install a prehung door, or you may choose to refinish and repair the existing door.

Analyzing problems in an old door:

Check the header to see if it's level.

Check the top corners of the opening to see if they're square.

Look for gaps to see if the door fits its frame.

Check both jambs with a level to see if they’re plumb. Measure from jamb to jamb at the top, middle, and bottom of the door to see if the opening is consistent.

On the left and right sides of the door, check the wall with a level to see if both sides are plumb.

Check to see if the door swings freely.

Door basics

When the time comes to replace an old door, you’ll have a choice between a prehung door and what manufacturers call a “slab” door. A prehung door comes attached to hinges and a doorjamb; a slab comes with nothing. Neither includes the doorknob and lockset. To install a prehung door, you’ll take out the trim and jamb as well as the existing door, and then nail the prehung jamb and door in place. Once everything’s ready, add some new trim and you’re finished.

Prehung doors sound like a bit of work, but then so is most home improvement. The fact is, hanging a slab door is about as fussy as it gets. Given the choice, most carpenters would prefer working with a prehung door, even though they’re perfectly capable of hanging a slab. Follow their lead. The detail work has already been done at the factory. Prehung and slab doors both come in a variety of styles, some of which are shown here.

Common Door Styles

INSULATED EXTERIOR DOORS keep out cold the way old-style wooden doors never could. This "oak" door is really a wood composite with foam insulation inside. The glass in both doors is double-layered to reduce heat loss.

INTERIOR HOLLOW-CORE PREHUNG DOORS have a contemporary look and are available in many stock sizes. Hollow-core doors are lightweight and inexpensive. Six-panel doors (not shown) offer a more traditional look.

DECORATIVE STORM DOORS can improve the security, energy efficiency, and appearance of your entry. A storm door prolongs the life of an expensive entry door by protecting it from the elements.

A SLIDING PATIO DOORS offer good visibility and lighting. Because they slide on tracks and require no floor space for opening, sliding doors are ideal for cramped spaces where swinging doors do not fit.

HINGED PATIO OR INTERIOR DOORS have an elegant appearance. Weather tight models are used to join indoor and outdoor living areas, while indoor models are used to link two rooms. Because these doors open on hinges, your room design must allow space for them to swing.

Locksets and latches

Locksets and latches fall into three basic types: passage locksets, which may include a lock but which principally serve as a mechanism to hold the door shut; entry locksets, which include a keyed security lock; and security or dead-bolt locks, which offer a more secure barrier to unauthorized entry but do not include a knob or latch mechanism.

While most modern locksets are more or less interchangeable within their basic types, older passage locksets used a mortise that may not accept a new lock. If you can’t repair an older lockset, check the fit of a new one, and if necessary, look for a reproduction. If neither works, you may have to replace the whole door. Backset is the distance from the center of the doorknob spindle to the edge of the door. The backset on some, but not all, locksets is adjustable. Be sure to buy your replacement with the same backset as the previous unit.

LOCKSETS OPERATE BY EXTENDING THE LATCH BOLT INTO ASTRIKE PLATE set in the door frame. The Latch bolt is moved back and forth by a spindle or connecting rod operated by a thumb latch, handle, or keyed cylinder. If the doorknob or key binds when turned, the problem usually lies in the spindle and latch bolt mechanism. Cleaning and lubricating the moving parts will correct most problems. A sliding latch bolt (shown above) allows the door to be pushed shut; it can lock automatically, depending on how you set the lock mechanism. A dead bolt, shown below on the security lock, must always be opened and closed with a key or handle.

Types of locksets:

OLDER PASSAGE LOCKSETS are easily cleaned and lubricated by loosening the handle setscrew and removing the handles and spindle. Loosen the faceplate screws and pry the lockset from the door. Remove the lockset cover, lubricate the parts, and then reassemble the unit.

MODERN PASSAGE LOCKSETS usually need little maintenance. If necessary, they're cleaned and lubricated by releasing the spring catch and connecting screws, and removing the handles. Remove the faceplate and latch bolt, lubricate the parts, and reassemble.

SECURITY LOCKS, like passage locksets, should be relatively trouble-free. If they need maintenance, remove the connecting screws and cylinders. Remove the faceplate and latch bolt. Lubricate the components and reassemble.

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