We all want our doors to be attractive, secure, and weather proof. Like windows, when they are properly installed and kept in good condition, they can save you energy and money. If your door is hard to close or open, moves the whole door frame when you open or close the door, rattles when it is closed, or you see daylight and feel a draft coming from around it, then your door needs work.
When a door doesn’t close correctly, it obviously fails to seal. If your exterior door is difficult to open or close, the first thing to look for is if something is caught in the door or if something is sticking out from the door frame, such as a screw head not fully tightened against the hinge. Next, determine with a carpenter’s level whether the door is hanging plumb (straight up and down) and if the door jambs are parallel to each other. Sometimes, a screw head not tightened into the hinge can prevent a door from closing properly and over time deform and loosen the door frame or the door. Also, check to see if any hinges move toward or away from the door jamb or if they wiggle. Hinges should be tightly fastened to the door and the door jamb with no other movement except at the hinge joint.
Once I lived in an old house and the back door was hard to close because the whole frame moved with it. It was one of those things I kept putting off to fix. Then one night, I pulled the door shut so hard that I pulled the entire door and door frame out from the wall of the house. I tacked it back in place for the night but the next morning, I settled down to repair it. The original nails had rusted down to the thickness of thread while the wooden shims that kept the door seated properly had rotted because moisture got inside the door frame.
If your door frame moves when you open or close the door, don’t put it off repairing it like I did. Fix it now. First, remove the casing from both the inside of the door and the exterior. Be careful – often in older homes, door casing and other moldings are unique or are no longer available. Sharp-edged casing pry bars are perfect for this. With a little patience and care, you can remove the casing without damaging it too much. A putty knife and a claw hammer are also useful. Again, be patient and careful – you are disassembling not destroying.
After you remove the casing, look for any damage to the wood making up the door frame; such as if it is rotten or split. Check to see if the shims are in place and intact. If everything looks right, check the frame to see if it is plumb. Add shims as needed and check that the door opens and closes correctly. Usually, it is easier to tack a scrap 1″ × 2″ across the door when it’s closed to seat the door frame properly. When it’s plumb and shimmed, carefully nail the frame into place. Next, vacuum debris from the area and seal up seams and gaps with either caulk or expanding foam. Re-fasten the casing and cover up the old nail holes with color-matched wood putty.
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