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By Christine Bahls

Call it the door wars.

In 2006, 25 percent of all entryway doors sold in this country were made of fiberglass; 64 percent were steel; and 11 percent, wood.

Five years later, fiberglass had jumped to 37 percent; steel fell to half of all doors; and wood stayed the same, according to figures from the Window and Doors Manufacturers Association.

What the rise and drops show is this: The fiberglass and wood door manufacturers are competing mightily. With the use of technology, each is overcoming its shortcomings.

"[Fiberglass] has its advantages, but [wood] is the beauty. You can't get away from the look," said Drew Miller, owner of Drew Miller Custom Builder in Collegeville.

Years ago, fiberglass doors looked like plastic. Today, fiberglass resembles wood. It's easier to maintain and insulates better than wood. And it's usually cheaper - try $479 for a craftsman-style fiberglass door at Home Depot vs. $819 for the same style in wood.

But maintained properly, wood can last for years. Proper weather-stripping can keep out drafts. And unlike fiberglass, wood can be cut to fit any size opening. Also, the interiors of wood doors are now laminated, which adds stability and prevents warping, said Norm Abram, master carpenter for This Old House.

"You don't get any checking, cracking," he said. "The engineering of wood doors has come a long way."

Aesthetically, wood is hard to beat. Architect Tom Weston, a principal with McIntyre+Capron Architects, said his Main Line customers want wood. "People like wood, as an architectural statement, aesthetically and tactilely."

Wood doors "show the passage of time," said local artist and designer Jesse Gardner. You don't see tourists in Europe taking pictures of fiberglass doors.

But wood has its drawbacks, said James Cancialosi, co-owner of Taylor Door Company in Paterson, N.J., which does a hefty trade in Sopranos territory. People in $300,000 homes are buying fiberglass.

Fiberglass, he said, usually is warranted for 20 years against warping, rotting, or splitting. Generally speaking, unless a wood door has a heavy-duty moisture-resistant coating on it, and is protected by an overhang, it has a one-year warranty.

At least 50 percent of Cancialosi's customers who initially want wood succumb to his persuasion. "All I am doing is telling them the benefits and the lightbulb goes on."

In the beginning, all doors were wood. Steel came on the scene in the early 20th century because it didn't warp like wood, and it wasn't susceptible to damage from sun and moisture. Then, 15 or so years ago, fiberglass came onto the market. This hurt the steel-door industry because fiberglass is sturdier than steel, said Doug Chapman, co-owner of Chapman Windows and Doors in West Chester. Now, steel, which costs on average about 25 percent less than fiberglass, is generally bought by commercial and lower-income customers.

Although fiberglass doors originally were cheap-looking, technology has improved their looks and durability, said Penny Spinazzola, director of marketing for Plastpro Inc., a fiberglass door manufacturer in Los Angeles. With a polyurethane core, "You don't have to worry about warping," she said. Faux wood grains, including mahogany, cherry, and white oak, can have some character if the finish is hand-wiped by an expert.

Spinazzola said Plastpro's business has been growing by double digits in the last two years. Fiberglass' main drawback is that a door can only be trimmed by two inches - remember what's inside - so if your house has an odd-sized opening, a custom fiberglass door can cost big bucks.

Keep a wood door in good shape, said Rob Garofalo, senior marketing manager for Andersen Windows, and the door should last as long as the house.

"If you properly finish your door when it's installed, [using] varnishes, marine grade finishes, they perform well," he said.

Abram, of This Old House, said the key is protecting the bottom of the door. "People forget - they will paint edges, [but the] bottom is the most important. Put wood preserver in the primer."

Gardner, despite his love of wood, has gone over to the other side: He just installed a fiberglass door on an investment property in Northern Liberties. He did it for the usual reasons: cost, maintenance. "Nobody thinks it is fiberglass," he said.

Posted: August 02, 2013
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