June-July  2004

Gain a Competitive Edge with Components
Using Door Components to Enhance Entry Door Performance
by Tessa Rodriguez
photos courtesy of Endura Products

For builders, it’s how doors work that matters most. Most builders and professional installers recognize that while the initial cost of a door unit is a factor in the decision process of choosing a door supplier, the true value of a door unit is in how it performs during installation, on the job site and after close in. Recognizing that resolving just one faulty door unit issue can cost a builder hundreds or thousands of dollars, studies conducted with builders given a proper understanding of how the issues could be overcome indicate that they would reasonably pay $5 to $15 more for a door unit that prevented these callbacks.

As a door component systems manufacturer, our company is keenly attuned to the benefit of the development of new features of individual components–sills, jambs, frames, mull systems–that address the issues that can cause these callbacks. This product knowledge, combined with our experience responding to market demand, helps us recognize that superior entry door performance must be a collaborative effort among component suppliers and manufacturers. It is dependent on a shared understanding of the real-world requirements of our mutual customer—the builder.

As component suppliers and manufacturers don’t control many variables, such as installation, directly, the best way to achieve this is with a total solution system of components. If these are designed to work together, it will provide the installer and builder every possible advantage from delivery to installation, through construction to home use. This effort includes the challenge of communicating to the builder exactly how these collective features and benefits of a door unit can prevent costly callbacks.

The Performance Challenge
When you get inside the builder’s boots, you realize that entry door units actually have two life cycles: construction and ownership. The unfinished job site is the bigger opportunity–and most overlooked–
for improved door performance.

Performance isn’t just about preventing callbacks after the home is sold. Certainly, leaking doors can cost builders and manufacturers thousands of dollars in make-goods, but entry-door performance is measured long before the house is completed. Superior performance in door units makes a positive difference for builders from the day the product is delivered to the job site through the entire construction process.

How can we design for the rigors of the construction process and still make a beautiful door that homeowners will value? With lots of protective and preventive features working together to improve installation and fortify the unit through months of exposure.

Start Before the Door Goes In
Ask almost anyone familiar with the manufacturing and assembly process of pre-hung door units and the components that go into them, and they will cite improper installation as the reason the majority of door unit failures occur. Fortunately, there are procedures and designs that can go into the manufacture of doors and components to help overcome these installation issues. 

One such procedure is to recommend that builders review exterior frame specifications and stack ups regularly to ensure proper margins, mortise and tennon details. Over time, as assembly personnel change, or manufacturers make slight product modifications, or changes are made in door or component suppliers, specifications tend to become out of date. Tightening up a door unit can translate to job site success as the installer is almost forced to set the door properly in order to achieve ease of operation.

As important as proper specifications are to overcoming installation issues, the components and assembly methods used are equally important. In the interest of maintaining or reducing costs in a door unit, many doors are assembled using lower performing components such as finned door bottoms or fuzzy dust pads. In addition to using inferior components, common pre-hanging methods, such as boxed sidelite units, tend to produce door units that are more likely to separate and fail in the field when installed in typically uneven rough openings. By contrast, door units that utilize continuous sills and headers, along with one-piece mulls, are far less susceptible to failure in these conditions.

This illustrates the need for better awareness in the industry of a whole new generation of products being introduced by component manufacturers to overcome installation issues. Additional examples of these new products include one-piece sill pans (replacing sheet metal pans or three-piece systems previously employed by many builders), nailing fins applied to the sill to overcome poor caulking issues and leading technology corner pads utilized to close gaps between the weatherstrip, door bottom and door panel. 

The Fight Continues After Installation
Once entry doors are installed, the construction process continues for months, and performance demands get even tougher. Natural and man-made abuses are facts of life for entry doors before and after the home is closed in. Here, the best performance features of the individual components used in the door are the ones that prevent likely problems before they happen.

With respect to these components, the last five years have seen the introduction of a myriad of products that address these real-world issues. In conjunction with the growth of the market for alternative door varieties (i.e. fiberglass and other composite-based doors), demand for composite-based entry door sills has more than tripled. Builders, tired of warping, rotting, rusting and failure of entry-door sills made with wood components, have recognized that synthetic sills eliminate these problems. For them, the return-on-investment in a door with a composite sill is that they are not called back to the job site to repair or replace the door unit.

For entry door components, the challenge is often to keep them out of harm’s way by providing immune systems for a distinct performance advantage. An example of this includes full-width substrates that stand up to the common plank on sill damage that can not only damage the appearance but also break seals and cause leaks after completion. 

Further product innovations designed to protect components include relatively inexpensive frame adapters and mull boots. Many builders and prospective homeowners have witnessed rotted mullions and exterior frames even in brand new show homes. This is a testament to the value of simply elevating the wood. Notice that door performance is as much a strategy of deceptively simple ideas (e.g., avoid water) as it is a matter of door components.

Partner Through the Process
With all the precise specifications, intricate design and rigorous testing necessary to meet entry door standards, performance is a meticulous science. As component suppliers and manufacturers don’t control many variables, such as installation, performance demands a multi-faceted solution. The best way to achieve performance is with a system of components that are designed to work together and provide the builder with every possible advantage from delivery to installation, through construction to home use, via a partnership that extends beyond the design and manufacturing phase.

Many builders have become aware of innovations in building product design and have begun to demand certain features and known component names. Manufacturers can take advantage of this awareness by working with dealers to properly educate their personnel in how to effectively identify these high performance components within their door units to builders. 

The bottom line: enhancing door performance will improve builder satisfaction. 

For builders, it’s how doors work that matters most. The builders we interview and the job sites we visit reveal that entry-door performance is an opportunity manufacturers can tap. It’s an opportunity to differentiate your products and gain a competitive edge on door units at every price point. All things being equal with regard to cost of the panel, the complexity of the unit and the overall aesthetics, performance stands as the one constant that really makes a difference in builder satisfaction.

Superior performance is a competitive advantage waiting to be taken. This is because the industry too often assumes that builders want lower cost, at any cost. We sometimes overlook the real-world demands of the construction process. Through careful planning, better collaboration with far-sighted component designers and a total-solutions approach to entry door construction, superior performance is achievable at all price points. Best of all, our ultimate sales force–the builders–want to sell it.

DWM
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