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Question DetailsAsked on 5/2/2013

How difficult is it to replace a front door with sidepanels with a solid wood speakeasy door? Where do I start?

Ever since moving in my house, I've disliked my front door which is steel, has sidelight windows and a large ornate window in the top half of the door. While the windows let in a lot of light, the sidelights and main window allow solicitors to see when I'm home. From a security standpoint, the door looks like it would be easy for burglars to defeat, either by breaking the glass & unlocking it, or by kick-in. I've always loved the appearance of solid wood doors, and particularly ones with speakeasy grates/doors. How difficult and costly would it be to replace my standard door with a speakeasy setup? Can I replace my existing door/sidelights and still keep the transom? Would it be possible to put in a door with a curved top, or some other decorative feature? How do thick wood doors stack up against steel doors (with big windows) from a security standpoint? How quickly could the door be replaced, and would my house be left without a front door for a day or more during the project?

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Bear in mind that the windows are considered an appearance enhancer to many buyers, so going with a blocky, solid entrance might negatively impact future saleability unless you are in an area where security is a known concern and selling point.

That said, residential front doors tend (except for the biggest "mansion" sized houses) to be the same size, so unless you go with a barn door looking one, you will have to remove the sidelights and replace them with solid wall, and replace the door and maybe its frame with a new one. "Standard" doors are 36" wide by 80" high, but you can get them up to 7' wide by 8' high, and of course double-doors, and custom-built any size.

Bear in mind that steel doors are considered much higher security than a solid wood door, are generally better insulated (they are foam-cored) and they can be painted, have appliques or decorative hardware attached to them, etc. to make them less plain. You can also buy them in wood-grain finish, or with actual wood facing over the steel. You can also buy "speakeasy" type inserts (as well as conventional peepholes) that can be installed in an economy door far cheaper than buying and installing a new door with a speakeasy opening in it. They even make "speakeasy" doors and grills designed to go into existing doors - you might find one that can replace the ecisting window in your door. Also, bear in mind that steel doors are low-maintenance, especially if you don't have a porch roof or awning to keep the rain from blowing directly against your door, which really weathers wood doors fast - necessitating repainting or restaining every few years.

Keeping the transom depends on what height door you put in - if you go with the exact same size door or have a new door made to fit your opening, you can keep the existing doorframe and transom and just put a new door on the existing hinges, and grill or remove the sidelights and fill the spaces with replacement wall.

Rather than replace the sidelights and/or existing front door glass, have you considered a decorative wrought iron security grillage or wire-embedded security glass, and an interior gauze drape or rollup curtain or blinds so people cannot see when you are home, but you can look out if you want to, and some light still filters in ? This is what we do, and we use a quilted velcro-cornered quilt my wife made as a winter cover, to keep the sidelight from chilling the entryway and downstairs.

You can also get squeegee-on plastic films to put on the inside of the windows to either make it so it is impossible to see through, or user a one-way tinted or mirror film. These are commonly used for bathroom windows for privacy, but would work here too.

A curved-top door can certainly be done, but because of the additional height usually used (to provide 6-1/2 foot clearance at the sides of the doorway) you would probably lose your transom.

You have so many possibilities to think about - I would go to a Home Depot or the web and look at all the possibilities for an hour or two, to get a feel for the look you want, and the purchase costs. Google "speakeasy iron grill", for instance, and go to one of the links for - they have hundreds of pictures of things people have done with their entry doors and sidelights. Then go talk to a millwork supply shop to see their floor samples of doors and windows. Take along photos of what you have so they can advise you on general costs and options.

Obviously, a solution without any tearout is the cheapest - such as replacing the door same-size or filling over the windows with a grillage with grillage or siding for the sidelights might be around $600-1500 or so, depending on the fanciness and quality of the new products you buy, and amount of labor needed to install. A complete tearout from side to side and replacement of all will probably cost you $2000-4000, again depending on materials cost - from ordinary box store quality to architectural iron and such. Maybe 50% more if you are in a very high-cost city like Chicago, Boston, NY, etc. WAY more if you are in a historic house, which will severly limit your design options.

In your planning, consider door security hardware too - what you want for doorknow, deadbolt, security chain, etc. if you are not going to reuse existing hardware.

A same-size door replacement only takes an hour or so, so no problem there. Replacing door and frame with a new "drop-in" unit maybe 3 hours or so, so no problem if you schedule them to start first thing in the morning. A complete tearout and replace will probably take 2 days (ideally 1, but things never go exactly as planned on a job like this), so they are likely to have to board it over overnight. Obviously, all the new parts have to be ready to go before they start tearout for this to work in 1-2 days. If you have a functional back door, best deal is to firmly xxxx (not nail - too easy to pry off) 3/4 inch plywood over the opening overnight.

I think I covered all your issues - if not, answer back with additional info and I will try to answer.

Answered 7 years ago by LCD

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