Energy Efficient Front Doors

It is striking that despite the many green building going on in the US that there still remains some blaring gaps in our knowledge and available products.

I encountered another of these gaps recently in my search for a good front door for a Brooklyn Passive House style brownstone. I was looking for something super energy efficient. The door needed to be mostly glass, fiberglass frame, triple pane, low e, with a short turnaround time. Money is not the main issue because I expect to pay for this quality.

First I put a shout out to my Passive House lists and got very little. Then I did my own research and got very little. This is what I did get.

DrewExim

The least expensive high quality door with good thermal performance one Passive House architect used lately is a DrewExim from Poland. German quality, but eastern european pricing. Full Sikkens color range, all the typical Euro species (pine, larch, meranti, etc)

A triple glazed, solid wood frame, foam / wood inset panel with Hoppe hardware is under $2k. They make a wood / foam sandwich jamb and stile as well, they call it their “Passiv” door, but I don’t believe it’s PHI certified. It is certainly Passive House inspired and the quality is really good.

Prepare for a long lead time, 3 months is very possible.  So for my needs it won’t work on this job….

Max Value Doors

I came across this triple glazed fiberglass door called MaxGreen by Max Value Doors from China. The door looks good but I’m not ready to jump without seeing it or getting some colleague endorsements.

Therma-Tru

A colleague in Portland built a Passive House and all their exterior doors were Therma-Tru fiberglass “Smooth-Star” units, fitted with Hoppe multi-point latching hardware, and a custom sill that permitted a continuous gasket around the perimeter rather than a traditional sweep.

These units fit the budget on his project (no German imports!) and performed admirably during their blower door test (0.2 ACH 50). Very promising! I am not sure about the lead time for those custom items. It could be a couple months.

Pella

For generic off the shelf stuff I know one builder likes Pella flush metal. They have about R10. Their seals are the issue, though. They don’t always keep a great seal and other more energy efficient door distributors will love to point this out to you. But for convenience you can’t beat them. They are stocked all over the place and lead times are good.

DIY

You can also take a good door, say a fiberglass one with good seals, and cut-in a window with 3x glazing. It may feel sacriligious to cut a perfectly good door and you are opening yourself up to making a door that looks DIY (not good), but if done right you can have a very good professional looking door on your hands, provided your hands have the professional skills to do it of course.

I know some green builders who have done this for their own homes and are happy with the results. It is basically what Serious Windows below does. I like this approach because it takes the priestly control from the manufacturers. As consumers there are places where the manufacturer calls the shots, and windows and doors are one of them. They are the priests who control our access to the divine secrets of door and window making.

But making your own windows or doors is not impossible. The technology is rudimentary, involving an understanding of sealing and thermal bridges, and the materials are readily available as long as you stay away from trying to make your own fiberglass forms. If you know what you are doing you will probably have better quality control and definitely better prices than the manufacturers. But of course your time is also valuable so how long it takes you is probably the main consideration.

Innotech

Innotech was installed in a Passive House retrofit in Portland, OR. I don’t have anything qualitative to say about it, other than it was deemed sufficient for a Passive House job with Portland weather. Might not be good enough for Brooklyn weather but definitely worth looking into.

Serious Materials

Serious Materials is mainly known for their Uber fancy windows and equally fancy prices. They have very good product, maybe the best in North America, although some are so energy efficient that they loose in visible light transmittance. A house with Serious Windows can feel darker than others, like it is wearing sun glasses, if you don’t get the balance right.

Serious doesn’t do doors but they buy fiberglass doors from several manufacturers and put their own glazing in them. Since I’m looking for a door with a good window in it this is interesting to me. I also would rather do it than I try the DIY method myself.

Triple pane windows are heavy. To get around this they use heat mirror (some fancy term), so the extra thickness and weight of triple pane glass is not an issue.

They buy doors from Thermatru, CDS/Trinity/Signamark, or Fibercraft. Out of this list I hear mixed results.  Thermatru is pretty good.  I hear Signamark doors suck pretty bad.  They don’t have triple point latches available, and the air sealing is bad.  Fibercraft are supposed to be very good, but they are twice as expensive as Thermatru. Their own web site sucks though.

The one catch, and it is pretty huge, is that they only retrofit patio doors. The Serious rep is the first to admit that a patio door is not built to withstand the higher traffic of a front door. So despite the them originally being my first choice I had to nix them because I want a front door that can withstand groups of people and wild eyed kids going to and fro.

Thermotech

As far as I know Thermotech is one of the many companies that started with windows and then did doors. I don’t know much about this company apart that it is Canadian and as such has higher energy efficiency standards. A lot of these companies on this list are Canadian. I didn’t go over the water to Europe where you can get lots of great doors because I want to encourage the local market.

Jeld-Wen

I got a bid for a Jeld-Wen aluminum clad wood  full view door with triple glazing and multipoint lock system, for just under $1200. They are easy to get at your local Lowes and the lead time is acceptable.

Regrettably, performance data is a carefully maintained secret with Jeld Wen, and the spec sheet provided by the vendor shows values that jump around irrationally, from config to config.  Nor do they indicate whether the
posted U values are for glazing or whole units.  It is not clear whether the triple glazing is actually three isolated windows or two with a decorative pane in between.

I’m therefore inclined to make the more cynical assumption that it is for glazing only, and use the lowest U’s for comparison–even so, they take you well below 0.30 which isn’t Ubber Passive House standards but still great –and the price is compelling…

Conclusion

I’ll be updating this post as things develop but for for now I am looking at at Therma-Tru and Innotech. If they have a long lead time I may consider Jeld-Wen just for price and speed considerations.

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