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Get a Handle on How to Buy a Door

When buying a front door that matches your new home or a replacement pantry door for easier snack access, there are many options and terms that can get confusing. From pre-hung to slab, inswing to outswing, and hollow core to solid core, let us help you run through your options for the best door for your space. Plus, we’ll direct you to where you can order anything from a beautiful wood entry door with sidelites or a whole house full of doors.

Exterior and Interior


Doors are divided into two different types—interior or exterior. Exterior doors, unsurprisingly, are doors that lead to the outside of your home like your front door, back patio door, or the door going into your garage. These doors need extra security, weather tightness, and some are required by code to be fire-rated (usually for a length of time) for safety. Exterior doors can also be TDI-rated or window-born debris rated for the coast regions of Texas. Interior doors, on the other hand, are doors that never see the outside like your bedroom and bathroom doors. These two types come with their own set of options from materials to sizes.

Prehung or Slab?


The first big difference between doors (other than interior or exterior) is the difference between prehung doors and slabs. Prehung doors come already prepped with a door frame and hinges ready to be installed as a unit. This option is for new homes that don’t already have a door frame or when you need to replace the door frame in a remodel.

Slab doors are just the doors without hinges that will be installed into an existing frame. Both options typically don’t come with doorknobs/handles/pulls, the strike plate, and paint or stain, fasteners, or shims as these are sold separately.

Note: It is important that you stain or paint your door on all six sides once you install your door according to the manufacturer’s instructions as leaving any side unfinished typically voids any warranty.



When buying an exterior door, you may see sizes written in different ways. A typical size for an exterior door is 36 inches wide and 80 inches high but you might see that size written as 3068 (i.e 30=3'0" or 36" and 68=6'8" or 80"). Some doors could be two feet six inches wide and six feet eight inches tall and that could be written as 30" x 80", or 2/6, 6/8 or 2668. No matter how they are written, door sizes will always list the width first, then the height. Interior door sizes are similar and can range from 12 to 36 inches wide and 80 inches tall or up to 96 inches tall.

When measuring for an exterior door unit, measure the rough opening size. The rough opening is not the inside of the door frame, but the area where the complete door unit will be installed. Measure how tall the opening is at each side and the width at the top, middle, and bottom so you know the minimum actual width and height of the opening. The smallest dimensions (width and height) define the usable opening. Measure the door jamb’s width (inside wall surface to outside wall surface, stud to stud).



Another aspect to consider is its swing—out or in and where the handle will be—right hand or left hand. When discussing inswing or outswing, let’s start with exterior doors. The swing on an exterior door (front, patio, door from house to garage, etc.) is related to the interior of the house. If it swings into the house, it’s an inswing and if it swings out of the house (even into a garage) it’s an outswing. Which swing you choose will depend on space management inside your home—an inswing door that goes into your kitchen from the garage may not be a good use of space and an outswing would give you more room to work in your kitchen.

After swing is determined, which side the handle or knob sits will help to determine if it's a right-hand or left-hand door. The best way to determine this is to stand in the open doorway with your back to the hinges and facing the other side of the door frame. Whichever side the door is on relative to you tells you the “hand”. For example, if you are standing in the doorway of your front door with your back to the hinges and the door swings into your home and is on your left, it's an left-hand inswing door.

Interior Door Swing

When choosing interior doors for your home, inswing or outswing depends more on your perspective than it does a hard-and-fast rule. In new homes, most of the time the floor plans will show which way the door will swing for installation. Where you want the door to swing open into will depend on space management and preference. However, if you want a frosted glass insert with a front design for a pantry or a laundry room for example, which way the door faces and swings will be important. Doors with distinct sides need to be treated with care. When ordering the door, make sure to note if you want the door to swing into the pantry or out into the kitchen. If your door says “Pantry” on the glass, you definitely want it facing the correct way!



Exterior Doors

  • Fiberglass- Fiberglass doors can provide the look of real wood but are fiberglass “skins” that are molded into the shape of the door. The skins are secured and molded front and back onto a solid foam core. Fiberglass is a low-maintenance, durable material that doesn’t warp like wood. When installing a fiberglass door, be sure to have the correct measurement as they can’t be cut down to size. While fiberglass won’t warp, it could crack or have the skin pull away from the core if hit hard or the wood stiles and rails have swelled with water.
  • Wood- Most doors made of wood have an engineered wood core that provides stability whereas the wood on the outside is a veneer of a beautiful wood like maple or oak. However, solid wood is an option. While wood doors are beautiful, there are several pros and cons to weigh. One is, for wooden doors, it’s best to have a covered entrance to help keep the elements away. Wood doors will require regular maintenance such as staining.
  • Steel- Steel doors have a steel skin like fiberglass around a core polyurethane foam core. Steel doors are strong and will not warp, however they can dent. They can be smoothed out by using a body filler paste and has to be repainted. Steel doors can be easily painted.
  • Wrought Iron- Wrought iron doors are typically the most decorative or ornate doors as wrought iron is iron mixed with a silicate to make the iron easy to bend and shape. Wrought iron doors can be painted and are generally low maintenance.
  • Other Types- There are different combinations of the materials above that can be made into a special order and unique exterior door. Other exterior door options even include sliding glass, French doors, and patio doors. It's common among exterior doors to have windows that are called lites. If you have a four-lite door, it means the window has a grid or grille that appears to divide the glass into separate panes. Lites have their own u-ratings for energy efficiency and can even be low-e glass.

Interior Doors

  • Solid Core- Solid core options are interior doors that have a wood veneer on the outside with a solid material inside like fiberboard. However, some solid wood doors are the same wood through the door and therefore don’t have a core. Solid core doors are stable doors and provide a good resistance to sound (not soundproof) but are heavy and thus hard to install.
  • Hollow Core- Hollow core options have a wood shell with an almost hollow interior. Inside there is usually some kind of connector or filler to stabilize the two sides of the door. Hollow core doors are lightweight and easy to install.
  • Other Types- Interior doors can come in all shapes and sizes including bifold, sliding barn doors, or pocket doors. Doors can also be flush, meaning they are flat along the surface or have panels. Panels, as in a a six-panel door, can either be true panels or stamped to look like panels. True panel doors are put together using a stile and rail method where stiles are vertical boards and rails are horizontal boards that are glued together.

This is just an introduction into the world of doors. Contact your local McCoy’s where our door experts will talk swing, lites, and cores with you and help you determine the right size, material, and styles.