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Question DetailsAsked on 10/26/2016

how to polyethylene bulkhead cellar doors compare with steel and wood?

I am replacing old steel bulkhead cellar doors and would like to know which is the most favorable option, steel, polyethylene or wood.

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Wood of course has rot and periodic painting problems - especially if not totally treated wood or marine plywood. And of course not totally watertight no matter how made, so definitely out if in a situation where they will ever be expected to hold back flood waters.


Poly is light and cheaper by a good bit and can be transported and installed by one person - but susceptible to breakage if struck or door is dropped closed in cold weather, though there are a few high-end HDPE ones (high density polyethylene - the very tough "softer" black plastic used for mining and water utility pipes) that largely eliminate the brittle issue but are close to steel cost). Plastic also tends to warp in hot sun conditions, which can make them not fit tightly, letting snakes and insects and other vermin in - and of course water if exterior water level comes up. Also not as strong if ever inundated with water or kids/whoever takes to sitting on them. Also have a tendency in some brands for hinges to crack/tear the plastic because they did not reinforce the hinge point correctly (or at all). Less resistant to abusive use (like by kids and such) also. Does not take paint weel, if attempting to color match the house.


Steel of course can rust (especially if not top-end brand that uses a good rust-inhibitor primer). Certainly (assuming fasteners are proper type or hidden bolts) are also highest security, if that is an issue.


Personally - for cheapest end unit and not counting on it holding out 100% of rain water, any standing water around it, or 100% of vermin - treated wood custom-built or treated wood frame with marine plywood doors with a good urethane or epoxy marine paint would be my choice. Using ground-contact rated treated wood and re-treating it (and all cut ends) in the process, and painting any marine plywood before installation (but after cuts).


One thing you did not mention was fiberglass - unless well painted or ultraviolet-resistant gell coated susceptible to cracking in serious sunlight (warmer, sunny parts of the country), has many of the same cracking and breaking issue of plastic. Generally more warp resistant but I would still not count on 100% long-term water or vermin-proof performance. Cost between plastic and steel. Also does not take paint well without a significantly greater level of prep work.


For long life and in any instance requiring water-tight conditions or where it will be expected to hold back flood water, or where security is an issue (particularly if the only "door" at that entrance - no basemetn door at the foot of the stairs for instance) I recommend Bilco doors mounted on integral (walls and steps and landing all in one) cast-in-place concrete foundation (fully tied and bonded to the house for waterproofing if flooding or high groundwater is an issue, which means foundation to well below frost depth), with permanent high-quality compressible "rubber" (actually probably urethane rubber or butyl plastic) waterseal strip (may or mayu not be supplied by manufacturer) between the concrete and the door unit frame, backed up with long-life silicone caulk around the exterior perimeter of that joint applied BEFORE the unit is lowered into place, so fully compressed in the outer part of the joint.


Part of your consideration is the total cost of the installation - if a simple slanted bulkhead door leading directly to the basement or to a coal chute or such which is infrequently used, and waterproofing or 100% insect proof isnot a consideration, a less rugged one might work fine. If wartertightness, high security, ability to hold back high water levels, etc is important, or if this is an entrance to the basement/cellar that will be used fairly frequently and involves building an "entry box" with full concrete walls, stairs, landing, etc - then steel is commonly used, and the cost difference between the different door materials is not such a large percentage of the total job cost.


I think you can figure from my statements, especially if this is a house entry rather than say entry to a barn subbasement or mucking chute or such, that I would normally go with Bilco steel door unit - complete frame and doors - or if interest in the cheaper option a BIlco plastic unit, though for normal size units those are only a couple of hundred $ less - not a major percentage of the installed cost in many cases, especially if new construction (which yours is not if your existing bulkhead door concrete foundation/entry is in good shape.

Answered 2 years ago by LCD




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