New Back Door

[[This took place in early November, but it’s part of my “catching up” on stories about the house that occurred before and after we moved in.]]

The back door is off of the breakfast room, which is a converted porch–off the kitchen. It’s gently insulated, and several of the windows are so out of whack due to settling that they won’t even close anymore.

So back to the back door.

It’s an old wooden door that’s suffered a fair bit of water damage. The top half is a divided-pane window that’s single-pane and rattly and the screen door on the outside has no closer, doesn’t even come close to sealing, and is held shut by an odd piece of bent metal near the very top. Like the basement ceiling, I took one look at it and said “It’s gotta go.”

We bought a new door and a new screen door at Home Depot. After giving them a $30 deposit (non-refundable, of course) and a $330 estimate, they sent out someone to estimate the cost of installation. Our conversation went something like this:

Guy: “Hmm. This is 82″ by 32”–we’re gonna have to get a custom door for this.

Me: “And how much is that?”

Guy: “Extra $150.”

Me: “Can’t we just frame it down and use a stock 80″ by 32″ door?”

Guy: “Uhhhh. Sure. Yeah. I guess so. But you’re still gonna need a custom door cause your door jamb is 6 1/4″ thick instead of 4 1/2″.”

Me: “Why couldn’t you just use a jamb extension kit?” (Which, incidentally, costs $39).

Guy: “Uhhhh. Sure. Yeah. I guess we could do that.

So he takes a bunch of notes and hits the road. Two days later I get a call from Home Depot telling me that the installation for this $175 door (pre-hung in a frame) and the $99 screen door is going to be



I politely told the person on the line that it was extremely unlikely that I would be paying that much for my installation and that they could forget about ever stepping foot in my house again.

I called up my friend J. and he set me up with his wife’s cousin, The Handyman, who’s the son of a general contractor, and apparently is the household equivalent of MacGyver. Due to scheduling difficulties, he can only come 2 days after we move in–the day that I leave for a week long business trip, so I get our nephew S. to come over and help him install the door. I swear that this trip was planned months ago. Really. Stop smirking, I mean it.

So they rip out the old door, to discover that under the door is… well… nothing. The wood under the door had just rotted away entirely, leaving a big gaping hole. So S. and The Handyman fabricate some framing for the base of the door to sit on, frame down the top, and, after a fair bit of work, get the new door installed, caulked, and fill the rest of the space in the framing with Great Stuff, we now have a new back door. It’s got double pane windows, and seals up just so when you close it. As for Great Stuff, if you own a house and don’t yet have at least one can of it lying around, run out and get some RIGHT NOW. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

The Handyman came back the next weekend to finish putting the outside trim on the door and get the screen door installed, which only took up a few hours, despite the finger-numbing cold weather. As for the screen door installation, I can’t believe that I even considered paying someone to install this thing–it was a total piece of cake. I could have done it myself. If you ever need a new screen door, and you’re not a complete hazard with a toolbox, I strongly recommend installing it yourself.

The inside trim of the back door is new, just like the rest of the trim in the breakfast room–it looks like it was installed in the last year. The finish is poorly applied, and judging by the dozens of nails we had snip off of it, it was installed by someone who enjoyed using a nailgun. Lastly, it’s all red oak, when every last bit of trim in the rest of the house is white oak. Of course.


Over the course of the last few weeks, I sanded the old finish off the trim, filled the nail holes and finished it with a few coats of Tung Oil. I managed to find a can of Hope’s Tung Oil at The Local Neighborhood Paint store, and it’s a fantastic finish. After encountering several different brands of “Tung Oil Finish”, each of which contained remarkably little tung oil, this stuff was amazing–it was like fine maple syrup and left a beautiful finish. I rubbed it down with 0000 steel wool and put on a second coat, which I also rubbed with steel wool. After nailing it back up (and making a trip to the hardware store to buy the right length nails), countersinking the nails, and puttying the holes, it’s the best looking trim in the breakfast room. Not that that’s saying anything–the rest of the trim looks like crap.

Next story from the archives: When Crappy Faucets Go Bad!

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