As with windows, doors come in many different sizes and materials. Examples of materials are wood, metal, fiberglass, glass, acrylic and composite.
Styles include solid core, hollow core, raised panel, flat panel, louvered, bifold, bypass, accordion, pocket, hinged, tracked, fire, pet, garage, patio, “French”, “Dutch”, double and so forth.
Each door has specification requirements for its use. With their many components and functions, doors are a bit more complicated than windows but some of the information is similar.
Don’t get distracted by door descriptions. When inspecting you will be looking for the physical condition and operation of the door and also making sure that the proper door is being used.
Requirements for interior doors are less restrictive than for exterior doors. Exterior doors may be used on the interior of the building but an interior door should not be used for an exterior application.
In other words, a hollow core door should not be used for an exterior exit door. This is not only for security reasons but also hollow core doors do not provide adequate insulating properties and resistance to weathering.
In addition, a solid core fire rated door is required between the living space and the attached garage. I will elaborate more on the fire door requirements below.
Begin your inspection at the front door, which is usually the first door encountered when entering the home.
Look at the front door. Is there anything that jumps out at you?
Is it a solid core exterior door?
How do you determine if it is a solid core door?
Knock on the face of the door with your knuckles to hear if it sounds solid. If you are not sure, try comparing the sound made by knocking on an interior hollow core bypass closet door. The solid core door will create a dull noise and the hollow core door will sound like a wooden drum.
As you approach the door, look at the way it hangs in the jamb (the trim material that makes up the frame surrounding the door).
Check the reveal (the space between the door and the frame or jamb).
Is the gap in the reveal relatively even? An eighth of an inch variance in this area is common. Any more than that could be due to loose hinges, deterioration or poor installation.
Next, inspect the condition of the door face or surface. Is it deteriorated, scratched or damaged in any way? Hollow core doors and even solid core doors with a veneer skin may delaminate when subjected to severe weather conditions.
Are there any cracks in the door edge around the latch?
Front exterior wood doors often have panels. Check to see if any of the panels are cracked or damaged.
Front exterior doors may also have glazing (glass) panels. Check to see if any of the glazing is cracked, broken or has lost its seal. Is the glass tempered?
Next, open the door, straddle the front edge of the door and grab hold of the knobs. Gently lift up using your legs (NOT your back or arms) to determine if the doorknob is tight and the hinges are well secured to the jamb. If you notice a lot of play or movement at the hinge area, it may simply mean that the screws are loose. Tightening them with the proper screwdriver may resolve this symptom. Sometimes the hinge screws are fine but the hinge pin may be worn. In that case the hinge may need to be replaced.
Once you have made certain the hinges are secure recheck the reveal around the door. Securing the hinges may correct some if not the entire reveal problem. If the door did not latch properly before, that problem may also be corrected by tightening the hinges.
Next, check to see if the door will actually latch.
You would be amazed how many times I encountered doors that did not latch. The homeowners were often surprised and commented, “We never close that door.” I replied, “Well I can certainly understand that but the new owners might want it to latch for some reason.
Doors that do not latch could indicate a number of issues discussed below. Make a note at this point if the door does not latch.
Does the door stick in the frame at any point, drag on the floor covering or bind at the striker plate of the latch? The striker plate is the metal plate screwed into the doorjamb where the latch catches to secure the door. Does the door swing open or close on its own?
Is there any unusual noise or squeaks when the door is opened, closed or latched?
Do the knobs and door lock operate properly or do they need some lubrication or possible adjustments? Sometimes just tightening the screws of the hardware will eliminate problems.
I often noticed that when the doorknob screws were positioned top to bottom instead of side to side, the privacy lock would not work properly. Check the orientation of the doorknob screws. They should be parallel with the floor.
Check to see if the deadbolt latches are able to fully extend into the mortise hole in the jamb. If the deadbolt latch does not fully extend, the bolt can be pushed back into the unlocked position.
Try this if you have access to a deadbolt lock. With the door open, engage the deadbolt part way. Stop before you hear the “click” of the lock mechanism. Push on the bolt. You will actually be able to push the bolt back into the door with your finger. Push on the bolt after you hear the “click.” The bolt will not move.
If you are not able to hear or feel the “click” when locking the deadbolt, the lock is not properly engaged. The mortise hole in the jamb is not deep enough to allow the bolt to travel far enough to fully engage. It is not secure.
Home inspectors will report on the presence of double deadbolt locks. Some will report them as a hazard. Double deadbolts are those locks that can only be opened from the outside or the inside with a key. My reports used to say this:
FYI: A locked double deadbolt lock could be a hazard in the event of an emergency if the key is not available.
I recommend double deadbolt locks be replaced before the home inspector arrives.
Check the striker plates in the jamb. If the striker plates are loose, damaged or missing, repair or replace them.
Check the jamb itself. Is it split, damaged, deteriorated or water stained? Make a note on any of these conditions.
Home inspectors and termite contractors carefully investigate water stains found around doorframes. Water intrusion is a serious issue particularly when addressing walls and exterior siding.
Exterior doors will need to be weather-stripped. There should not be any light passing in around the door from the exterior.
Pay particular attention to the sweep at the bottom of the door. Weather-stripping is inexpensive and easy to install. The bottom sweep can usually be adjusted downward to sweep the threshold properly.
Is there a doorstopper preventing the knob from hitting the wall?
As you move into other areas of the building, check the condition and operation of any bifold, bypass and accordion closet doors. Along with the considerations mentioned above, they should slide in the tracks and operate with ease without coming off the track or dragging the floor covering. Broken mirrors on bypass closet doors should be replaced.
When checking any interior or exterior double doors, determine if the pins of the secondary door can be properly secured at the top and bottom. Do they operate and engage smoothly?
Check patio doors and screen doors for smooth operation and proper locking. Home inspectors will report missing or damaged screen doors.
Patio doors often have window coverings. Many home inspectors do not report on window coverings but you should check and note their condition to be sure they operate properly. Your Realtor will usually not recommend replacing window coverings unless the home shows badly. The buyers will probably want to select their own.
On many of my inspections the buyers were present. I could hear them discussing how they would redecorate the building to reflect their own personality. New floor and window coverings were almost always on the list for replacement. Realtors often suggest cleaning or removing these items but not replacing them.
The glazing in patio doors should be tempered. Check for lost dual pane seals in dual pane patio doors and the fixed glazing.
Fire doors are an important consideration. Such doors are located between the living space and an attached garage. They may also be located at the stairway to the basement or any other area that may contain flammable materials, a water heater or furnace.
Fire doors should have an operable automatic closer that will cause the door to self close and latch when it is released. If the fire door has an automatic closer but does not latch when it is released, the closer should be adjusted or replaced. Sometimes the floor covering can obstruct the proper operation of the closer causing the door to drag.
Fire doors are installed to suppress fire from entering into a living space but only for a limited amount of time. Any modifications to these doors create a possible hazard, such as a pet door.
Pet doors installed in a fire door compromises its fire suppression function. I realize we need to help our pets get in and out of our buildings for obvious reasons. I have pets too, but you need to know the home inspector will write up a fire door that has a pet door installed.
Some home inspectors will write up a fire door that has a door stop installed because it overrides the purpose and proper function of the door.
The swing direction of a door is also VERY IMPORTANT. The code requires a 36″ landing if a door swings out over a step.
A door should not swing out over a step as a person could trip and fall.
This error is common when homeowner alterations are conducted.
Keep in mind that we are primarily concerned with the appearance and operation of the doors. Interior hollow core doors with holes larger than a nail or screw should probably be replaced.
Exterior doorjambs that are deteriorated at the threshold may also have to be replaced. Probing with an awl or screwdriver in these areas will help you determine if deterioration is present.
Check all the remaining doors in the house using the same procedures stated above. Again, do not be discouraged when you find an item. That is the reason for the work you are doing.
DOOR FINDINGS: REMEDIES AND SOLUTIONS HARDWARE OPERATION
If you notice a lot of play or movement at the door hinge area, it may mean that the screws are loose. If so, tighten them with a screwdriver.
A screw that will not tighten could mean that it is stripped. A longer screw may be required to secure the hinge into the jamb. Be sure to use a screw with the proper bevel and head size or it could interfere with the hinges ability to close properly.
Doors that do not latch could indicate a number of issues.
A very common occurrence is a door that will latch during one part of the year or season and not during another. This is an indication of normal changes in the shape of the building during temperature or humidity variations.
Plumb bob The design of the striker plate will usually account for these variations unless the plate was not installed in the proper position during construction.
The door may be warped or the doorframe may be out of plumb (a plumb bob or a plummet is a weight with a pointed tip on the bottom that is suspended from a string and used as a vertical reference line. This instrument has been used since the time of the ancient Egyptians by bricklayers, masons and carpenters to ensure that their constructions are “plumb”, or perfectly upright. The plumb bob is still used to this day but the builders level has replaced this ancient tool in most construction applications.)
Doors that bind, stick, open or close by themselves may do so for the same reason the doors do not latch. The hinges might be loose, the striker plate may need to be adjusted or the doorjamb may need to be repositioned.
A qualified handyman should be able to adjust or repair a door or jamb that is out of alignment or not plumb. You could also hire a licensed contractor to refit the door.
Although a bit more complicated, secondary doors that do not secure properly are usually adjustable provided the internal hardware is operating properly.
Knobs and locks that do not operate properly may require lubrication. Dry graphite is recommended rather than oil based lubricants. Oil will accelerate the problem by attracting more dirt. A locksmith can help with fussy knobs and locks.
Install any missing or damaged striker plates.
Jambs and Frame
Cracks in the jamb and around the hinges can be filled with putty or caulking if not too badly damaged. Repainting the trim will be optional, depending on your particular situation and realtor’s recommendation.
The door surface itself is often difficult to repair if badly damaged or worn. Cracks in the door edge can be filled with putty or caulking if not too badly damaged.
If the door drags the floor covering or binds in the casement frame, it may have to be shaved to allow for more clearance. This can happen when new thicker flooring materials like hardwood, tile or carpet are installed.
If simple repairs can bring a door back to serviceability that’s good. However, if the door is damaged so badly that repairs would cost nearly as much as a new door, replace it. This is particularly true of a front door.