Our Doors

By on 2 August, 2011 in Historic Midtown, Kate and Stephen with 1 Comment

The back door, off its hinges.

“If the doors of perception were cleansed, everything would appear to man as it is, infinite.” – William Blake

The front door to our house never really closed right. At first, it was super hard to open from the outside. Also, you could see daylight all around it. This was very bad for our energy efficiency and wallets. We enlisted a clever friend who knows weatherstripping and we put some stuff around the door. This solved the daylight problem (mostly), but had the unfortunate side effect of making the door impossible to shut from the outside and difficult to lock on the inside. Also there was a crack in one of the two glass pieces on the front. But it is a beautiful door with a rounded top — probably the original for the house, which was built in 1930.

We have two back doors. The one in the kitchen, despite our best efforts, leaked energy like crazy. Also, it was absurdly moody. Some days it would blow open on the slightest breeze. Other days it stuck so badly at the top that you had to throw yourself at it to get out. Also one of the nine small glass panels was cracked. The cat, already a wily escape artist, enjoyed our fumbling with this beast of a door, frequently using its unpredictability to aid him in his forbidden outdoor escapades.

And then there were the interior doors. One by one they stopped working right – sometimes they would close regularly, other times they wouldn’t close at all. We told ourselves it was seasonal. We told ourselves it was the humidity. Until after basically nine months of being unable to close our bedroom door and a year trying to solve the problem of a non-closing shower door, we’d simply had it. Surely it wasn’t too much to ask to live in a house with doors that closed?

We tried magnets on the shower door (ranging from ineffective sticky strip magnets that come in a roll to high-grade scientific things that could cause injuries). We tied ropes around doorknobs so that our house looked like some sort of booby trap. We are not door repair experts.

We started to do some research. In Montgomery, like other places, everyone has a guy that they call. Sometimes this person is actually a contractor with a serious client list. Other times, well, it’s just a guy that they call. Sometimes the person with the reference list a mile long turns out to be a big jerk who quotes you a ridiculous price, while the random guy recommended by your friend turns out to be a savant with a screwdriver.

We talked to some people. Just about everyone said something like “oh sure, I can hang a door.” But we weren’t convinced. We wanted some people that were really good at dealing with doors. So, after a few months of looking we had the idea to call local door manufacturer Doors By Decora and ask them who they used to install their custom-made doors. They didn’t hesitate to recommend Southern Builders, giving us David Isenhoer’s phone number.

He and his colleague came quickly to survey our situation, taking copious measurements and talking to us in a straightforward way about the work they would need to do to correct our problems and what it would cost. They told us that we weren’t living in a haunted house (probably), that houses settle and move (especially in our part of town), and that we could fix the doors and likely not have to mess with them again for at least a decade. We accepted their terms. Soon, we were ready to start. It took a little time because they needed to get a custom frame for our front door, cut, bent, and glued to match the unique dimensions of our entry.

Almost all the work was done in a day. First, the front door needed to come entirely off. The old frame was pried off, with all its uneven parts and weird nails. We got a smooth new frame fitting the inside of the door like a dream, complete with cushiony insulation. Now it opens and closes just like a normal door. For the back door, they similarly took off all the inside trim, replaced it with new stuff that was level and even, sanded that down so we could paint it on our own later, moved it over with shims, attached a better sweep, and hung it back up. Now it closes, just like the front door, without a hitch.

After lunch they moved on to our interior doors, clustered next to each other at the end of the hall. Each one had a sightly different issue, all related to the settling of the house. Three are pictured here. The one on the left is sagging to the left. Someone in the past tried to fix this by cutting off some of the top and re-hanging it. Unfortunately, they did not cut it straight across. The guys had to take off the door and fix this. Then they moved the hinges up slightly and re-hung the door so it is now flush across the top. Our gap at the bottom will be slightly bigger than it was before, but the gap is already larger than the standard half an inch for effective air flow.

Next to this door is the one to our bedroom. It’s got a different problem – the frame is slightly warped, so the door closes on top but not on the bottom. In fact, when the door is closed on top, there’s a one inch gap between the door and the stop on the bottom. The “stop,” by the way, is the name for that piece of trim that sticks out to stop the door. In any case, this gap is a) evidence for the warping, and b) the reason the door won’t close. They pull off the trim around the door frame and re-set it so that the stop is flush with the door. It feels like a metaphor for life: Sometimes you need to adjust the door, but sometimes it’s better just to adjust the frame. And sometimes you need to do both. “Every door is different,” explains David, who clearly enjoys the engineering challenge each door presents.

The last door (on the far right in the picture of three) was also cut poorly. Whoever did it didn’t bother to cut the top level across. In the close-up you can see how there is light on the hinge side of the door when it’s closed. Solution: cut the top square, raise the hinges, re-set the stop so the door catches.

All of this and a clever fix to our shower door problem means that we’re finally living like normal people who can open and close their doors.

Kate and Stephen are Midtown residents with a cat, a dog, a garden, an old house and a sense of adventure. They write about life in Midtown here and about life in Montgomery at their blog Lost in Montgomery.

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  1. Carole king says:

    Anybody working on interior or exterior doors should check out Rescued Relics, Landmarks’ salvage warehouse, at 423 Madison Avenue. Volunteers have it open Tuesday-Thursday mornings 10-12. We have a good selection of doors and our inventory rotates constantly! 334-240-4512

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