Garage Doors Grow Up

By Katherine Salant

Carriage style garage doors suit the traditional style of this house. Plan 48-625

We all know about the “to die for” kitchen that wows your friends and relatives. What about the “to die for” garage door? The very idea may make you fall out of your chair laughing, but the offerings of garage door companies have radically changed in the past 10 years, moving from the ho-hum to the quite fabulous.

Garage doors now run the gamut from stark contemporary — the entire door is tempered glass set in aluminum frames — to French country. The most popular of the new doors is the carriage-house look. It's compatible with almost any traditional style of house. Even better, when a standard-sized, 16-by-7-foot garage door in this style is closed, it appears to be two pairs of carriage-house doors that swing out, not a big blank area on the front of your house.

You can also customize a carriage-house styled door to a remarkable degree by adding varying sizes and shapes of windows, trim pieces, bucks (from the street they look like huge X's), half bucks (they look like huge V's) and period-style hardware. The hardware options include straps (part of the hinges on the old doors), handles and clavos (studs that held the pieces of wood together on the old doors).

All this comes at some cost, especially compared with your basic white steel door with raised panels that many home builders still use. For a new house, the installed price for a generic two-car-sized door can be as low as $300, while the upscale carriage-house door in a two-car size can cost $600 to $30,000. The huge price difference depends on the material used — steel or wood — and the degree to which you customize it.At the high end — $7,000 to $30,000 — you are not limited to the carriage-house look. Manufacturers will execute any design you present with any wood that is commercially available. You can add almost any feature you want, including windows with leaded or beveled glass.

Designer Doors ( uses hand-forged hardware on its custom doors and offers unusual features such as a wicket, an operable entry door built into a garage door. That's a handy arrangement when the front of a row house is too narrow for separate front and garage doors. Designer Doors can also fabricate matching front and garage doors, a great way to create a cohesive look for the front of the house.

Still high end, but not in the stratosphere, semi-custom, wood carriage-house doors in the two-car size run about $4,000 to $5,000, installed. They are not quite as fabulous as the custom doors, but you still get a gorgeous door with a deep, rich color that grabs you from 50 feet away. You can customize it with bucks, hardware and windows choices.

You might decide, however, that a painted carriage-house look is more compatible with the facade of your house. For this you want a door made with paint-grade wood or medium density overlay, an exterior grade, weather-resistant hardboard that looks like Masonite. (In the garage door industry, this material is called MDO.) With either material, you will get a crisp shadow line that reveals design subtleties from 50 feet. The installed cost for the two-car size is about $3,500 to $4,500.

...If you want a carriage-house garage door without the maintenance hassles, there is an easy solution — a steel door with synthetic trim and buckboards laminated to the front. These produce a three-dimensional effect with good shadow lines. From the street, where most people will see it, the door looks just like wood. You can get the same customizing options and the doors and trim can be painted to match the colors of your house.This type of steel door is much more dent resistant than the generic garage door because the panels are foam injected with polyurethane. During the manufacturing process, it chemically bonds with the steel to make the door panels stronger. The polyurethane has the added benefit of providing insulation. A two-car-sized door, installed, ranges from about $2,000 to $3,000, depending on the degree to which you customize the door. Pulte Homes is now using this type of door in some of its upper-end communities in Southern California. Still too pricey? You can get a steel door with a carriage-house look created by the way the steel is embossed. It is not as realistic as the doors with trim boards laminated to the front, but the installed cost is less — for the 16-by-7-foot size it's $900 to $1,500. With this type of door, the panels are also injected with polyurethane foam insulation to make them more dent resistant.

The least costly option for the carriage-house door is an uninsulated, embossed steel door; the installed price is about $600. Because there is no insulation, the gauge of the steel becomes important. The lower the steel gauge number, the stronger the material. You need one with at least 24- or 25-gauge steel. Avoid ones that are "nominal 24 gauge" because the thickness of the steel is very uneven, and this will compromise both the appearance and performance of the door.You might decide that two smaller, 8-by-7-foot carriage-house doors will look better on the front of your house than one larger one. The price for a smaller carriage-house door is about half the price of the larger ones. But be forewarned: All five garage door installers that I interviewed agreed the two smaller doors arrangement is less convenient because with the small openings, you have less room to maneuver your car as you come and go.

In addition to Designer Doors ( three other manufacturers with nationwide distribution offer nearly all of the door styles described above: Clopay (, Overhead ( and Wayne Dalton (

Safety concerns

Safety should always be a consideration when choosing a garage door. Most manufacturers now make steel doors with a “pinch resistant” feature that prevents your fingers from getting pinched when you close the door manually because of a power failure. Wood doors do not have this feature, but you will not have a problem if you have handles installed on both sides of your door. Another important safety feature concerns the opener, not the door. By federal regulation, all garage door openers must have an electric sensor near the base of the garage door that will cause it to retract when it senses anything in the door way. Some openers, however, are noisier than others. If your garage be will be below or next to a bedroom, an opener with a DC motor and a belt drive will be significantly quieter than the standard models with AC motors and chain drives. Some models with the DC motor also have a battery backup so that you can operate the door during a power failure. The difference in cost between the two types of openers is only about $50 to $75 — the quieter ones with the battery backup installed are about $350 to $375.

To see a range of garage plans click here.

Tue Jun 24 00:00:00 PDT 2014