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Ask the Builder: What are my options in replacing an odd-size front door?

I have a problem. I need a new front door, but I’m being told that I have to have an expensive custom door made. I simply can’t afford that right now. My home is brick veneer, and the width between the brick is 45 inches. The height of the opening between the limestone sill and the brick angle iron that passes over the door is a little taller than 84 inches. Is it true that I need a custom door? The frame walls on the other side of the brick are just normal 2-by-4s. Is the contractor just trying to trick me? What are my options? — Karen G., Valparaiso, Ind.

I can’t pass judgment on the intentions of the contractor who said you need a custom door. It’s possible he’s dishonest, but it’s possible he simply doesn’t know how to solve your problem.

Believe me, I’ve seen plenty of situations in older homes where the front door was an odd size. I’ve worked on older homes where it was vitally important to preserve the architectural integrity, and a custom door was the only solution. Frequently the issue is the width of the doorjamb.

Modern homes — by which I mean those built in the late 1960s and afterward — tend to have doorjambs with fairly common exterior widths. They’ll usually be 49 / 16 inches or 69 / 16 inches. This jamb width matches the measured wall thickness, including the exterior wall sheathing, the wall framing stud and the interior wall covering.

Houses that were built before World War II typically had thicker wall studs, 3 / 4-inch exterior sheathing, and plaster and lath interior wall covering. I frequently had to order doorjambs that measured 51 / 4 inches to deal with these situations.

Here’s the good news. When it comes to brick veneer homes and replacement doors, it’s always better for the masonry opening to be slightly larger than too small. It’s really easy to fill the extra space with wood that can be made to look finished. It’s expensive to enlarge a masonry opening and make it look like nothing was touched. In fact, it’s nearly impossible to do.

In your case, I think you can use a standard exterior door with no issues at all. Most exterior doors are 36 inches wide. By the time you add in the spacing between the door and the jamb and the thickness of the jamb, you have a unit dimension of 38 inches or so. Add four more inches for the standard brick molding, and you’ll be pretty close to 42 or 43 inches in total width.

Your masonry opening height also allows you to easily fit in a standard exterior door that comes with factory-applied brick mold trim. My guess is the contractor just looked at an existing door at a home center and saw there would be a large gap between the factory-applied brick mold and your brick.

Guess what? You can easily remove the brick mold trim that comes from the factory and install different trim. You can also leave on the brick mold trim and add trim boards between your new door and the brick. With a small amount of skill, these added boards can be fashioned to be decorative and give character to your door opening.

You have other options as well. If you don’t want to layer all of the additional trim boards, you can have custom brick mold trim made at a lumber mill. And, you can design the profile of this molding.

The lumber mill will carve a shaping knife that fits into a milling machine, which can transform a rectangular piece of lumber into an exquisite piece of molding with a profiled face. The cost to create this custom knife may only be about $100.

If it were me, I would probably not have custom trim made. I’m thinking that if you visit a traditional lumber yard that has many different moldings available, you’ll be able to use two or three different moldings to create a stunning stepped casing for the exterior of your new door.

Once these are stained or painted, they will look as if they were the original moldings. The best part about this is that your door will have a distinctive flair that sets it apart from your neighbors’ doors that have standard blah brick mold trim.

Making the door fit inside is much less of an issue. You can probably reuse your existing interior trim molding. You may have to install two new pieces of baseboard and do some minor drywall patching and painting. It’s not a hard job for an experienced contractor.

Visit a lumberyard or a company that sells new exterior doors. They’ll know of several contractors whom you can call who have the experience and skills to install a standard, affordable door in your opening. Let me know how it turns out.

Tim Carter is a columnist for Tribune Media Services. He can be contacted through his Web site at


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