Increase Curb Appeal: A Garage Door To Die For

by Katherine Salant

Inman News

We’ve all heard about the “to die for” kitchen that impresses your friends and relatives. What about the “to die for” garage door? The very idea may make you fall out of your chair laughing, but the offerings of garage door companies have radically changed in the last 10 years, moving from the ho hum to the quite fabulous.

Garage doors now run the gamut from stark contemporary — the entire door is tempered glass set in aluminum frames — to French country. The most popular of the new doors is the carriage house look. It’s compatible with almost any traditional style of house. Even better, when it’s closed, it appears to be a pair of carriage house doors that swing out, not a big blank area on the front of your house. A wider, 16-by-7-foot door — the standard size for a two-car garage — appears to be two pairs of carriage house doors. You can also customize a carriage house door to a remarkable degree by adding varying sizes and shapes of windows, trim pieces, bucks (from the street they look like huge Xs), half bucks (they look like huge Vs) and period-style hardware. The hardware options include straps (part of the hinges on the old doors), handles, and clavos (studs that held the pieces of wood together on the old doors).

All this comes at some cost, especially compared to your basic, Brand X, white steel door with raised panels that many home builders still use. For a new house, the Brand X installed price for a two-car-sized door can be as low as $300, while the upscale carriage house door in a two-car size can run anywhere from $600 to $30,000. The huge price difference depends on the material used — wood or steel — and the degree to which you customize it.

The most expensive, custom-made, $7,000 to $30,000, two-car-sized carriage house doors should look good enough to eat — and they do. At this price level, you are not limited to the carriage house look — the manufacturers will execute any design you present with any wood that is commercially available, including mahogany, cherry and walnut. You can add almost any feature you want, including windows with leaded or beveled glass. Designer Doors uses hand-forged hardware on its custom doors and offers unusual features such as a wicket, an operable entry door built into a garage door, a handy arrangement when the front of a row house is too narrow for separate front and garage doors. Designer Doors can also fabricate matching front and garage doors, a great way to create an aesthetically cohesive front elevation.

Still high end, but not in the stratosphere, semi-custom, wood carriage house doors in the two-car size run about $4,000 to $5,000, installed. They are not quite as fabulous as the custom doors, but you still get a gorgeous door with a deep, rich color that grabs you from 50 feet away, and you can customize it with bucks, hardware and many different window choices.

You might decide, however, that a painted carriage house look is more compatible with the façade of your house. For this you want a door made with paint-grade wood or medium density overlay, an exterior grade, weather resistant hardboard that looks like masonite (in the garage door industry, this material is called MDO). With either material you’ll get a crisp shadow line that reveals design subtleties from 50 feet. The installed cost for the two-car size is about $3,500 to $4,500. For homeowners who want environmentally benign products, Jeld-Wen’s MDO door and trim and buckboards are made with 100 percent recycled cellulose fibers. For this reason it is offered by California-based Pardee Homes, a production home-building firm that offers cost-effective, green building choices.

There is a downside to the wood and MDO garage doors, however. They require regular maintenance. To prevent the warping and cracking that can occur when these materials are exposed to the elements, the front, back and sides of the doors must be repainted or restained every three to five years. The sun’s ultraviolet rays will also damage these doors. If you install one on a west or a south-facing wall, you may have to restain or repaint as often as every year or every other year, unless you have an overhang that will completely shade the door. Elaborating on the sensitivity of the wood and MDO doors, Dave DeYoung of Ann Arbor, Mich., who has been installing garage doors for more than 30 years, said that they can even be affected by a dryer venting moisture into a garage and snow that comes in on your car and melts inside.

If you want a carriage house garage door without the maintenance hassles, there is an easy solution — a steel door with synthetic trim and buckboards laminated to the front. These produce a three-dimensional effect with good shadow lines. From the street, where most people will see it, the door looks just like wood. You can get the same customizing options and the doors and trim can be painted to match the colors of your house. This type of steel door is much more dent resistant than the Brand X type because the panels are foam injected with polyurethane. During the manufacturing process, it chemically bonds with the steel to make the door panels stronger. The polyurethane has the added benefit of providing insulation. A two-car-sized door, installed, ranges from about $2,000 to $3,000, depending on the degree to which you customize the door. Pulte Homes is now using this type of door in some of its upper-end communities in Southern California.

Still too pricey? You can get a steel door with a carriage house look created entirely by way the steel is embossed. It is not as realistic as the doors with trim boards laminated to the front, but the installed cost is less — for the 16-by-7-foot size it€„¢s about $900 to $1,500. With this type of steel door, the panels are also injected with the polyurethane foam insulation to make them dent resistant.

The least costly option for the carriage house door is an uninsulated, embossed steel door; the installed price is about $600. Because there is no insulation, the gauge of the steel becomes important. Somewhat counterintuitively, the lower the steel gauge number, the stronger the material. You need one with at least 24- or 25-gauge steel. Avoid ones that are “nominal 24 gauge” because the thickness of the steel is very uneven, and this will compromise both the appearance and performance of the door.

You might decide that two smaller, 8-by-7-foot-sized carriage house doors will look better on the front of your house than one larger one. The price for a smaller carriage house door is about half the price of the larger ones quoted above. But be forewarned: all five garage door installers that I interviewed agreed the two smaller doors arrangement is less convenient because with the small openings, you have less room to maneuver your car as you come and go.

Sources: There are numerous garage door companies in the United States. I looked at the doors offered by four companies that sell nationwide, Clopay (, Designer Doors (, Wayne Dalton (, Overhead (, and Jeld-Wen (


Safety should always be a consideration when choosing a garage door. Most manufacturers now make steel doors with a “pinch resistant” feature that prevents your fingers from getting pinched when you close the door manually because of a power failure. Wood doors do not have this feature, but you will not have a problem if you have handles installed on both sides of your door.

Another important safety feature prevents the door from closing on an adult, child or pet. However, this is a function of the opener, not the door. By federal regulation, all garage openers must have an electric sensor near the base of the door that will cause the door to retract when it senses anything in the doorway.

Some openers, however, are noisier than others. If your garage will be below or next to a bedroom, an opener with a DC motor and a belt drive will be significantly quieter than the standard models with AC motors and chain drives. Some models with the DC motor also have a battery back up so that you can operate the door during a power failure. The difference in cost between the two types of openers is only about $50 to $75 — the quieter ones with the battery backup, installed are about $350 to $375.

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