Screen doors and the new homeowner
August 17, 2018 7:22 AM   Subscribe

My new condo has a screen door. I hate it, and want it gone. Do I really need a screen door, and are there ones out there I could buy that aren't terrible?

I've checked my condo docs to ensure that I'm not required to have one, so that's good. My current screen door is obviously cheap and poorly sized to my actual door frame, so it will be removed/replaced no matter what. But I don't know if I really need one at all? I have lots of big windows, so I don't really miss the light coming in. And I'm not inclined to leave the actual door open, since I have an escape-artist cat.

What I particularly hate about this screen door is it's tendency to slam back closed on me and bash my achilles tendon, particularly if I'm wrestling to get in with an umbrella, packages, etc. It actually drew blood the other day! If there's one out there that would close gently and not injure me, I would consider it, but I'm not keen on being slammed into. So is there some great value to screen doors that I'm missing?
posted by backwards compatible to Home & Garden (17 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Presumably this condo door goes to the outside, since a screen door to a hallway seems beyond stupid. If so, there's probably some mild insulation benefit to having the air trapped between the two doors. But other than that, probably not.

But besides getting rid of it, you could install or adjust the little pneumatic thing that affects how fast it closes/slams.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 7:25 AM on August 17, 2018 [6 favorites]

The usual main purpose of a screen door is to allow air-flow without leaving your house wide-open. Additional benefits are increased visibility and light and, as mentioned above, some slight insulation benefits. If you don't need or want that then you don't need a screen door. But, it should be possible to adjust the mechanism to prevent the door from slamming on you. If you Google screen door slam you'll find a bunch of how-to articles and videos on how to fix it.
posted by Secret Sparrow at 7:31 AM on August 17, 2018

I like having a screen/storm door as a buffer between me and anybody that comes to my door(if I actually answer a knock/doorbell ring and view it as an extra layer of security. So, if that's something that matters to you, just replace it with a nice one. Plus kitty might enjoy sitting and looking out from that spot.
posted by poppunkcat at 7:34 AM on August 17, 2018 [4 favorites]

You can adjust the closing speed of a screen door fairly easily. If your closer isn't adjustable, they sell new ones for like $10.

I love my screen doors. I replaced a crappy ill-fitting screen door with a super nice one that can switch between screen and glass seasonally. My house is noticeably less drafty in the winter with the glass in.
posted by little king trashmouth at 8:01 AM on August 17, 2018 [7 favorites]

Screen doors let the breeze in and keep the bugs out. I love my screen door. The device to adjust the closing speed (or keep it propped open) is very, very easy to install.
posted by chimpsonfilm at 8:25 AM on August 17, 2018

Another feature of some screen doors is as storm doors, i.e. they protect your main door from the elements. If the door is already sheltered, this may not matter to you.
posted by SaltySalticid at 8:29 AM on August 17, 2018 [2 favorites]

Thanks to you all for the perspective! I probably should think this through a little more carefully and shop around for a good, new replacement door.
posted by backwards compatible at 8:39 AM on August 17, 2018

Screen doors have essentially zero insulating value. They aren't supposed to. If the closer is a spring, you can replace it with a pneumatic one that can be adjusted to close gently.

All that aside, if the association doesn't require it, and you don't leave the main door open, you don't need a screen door. I have lived in a condo where the association actually prohibited screens on front doors.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 8:42 AM on August 17, 2018 [1 favorite]

We removed our screen door for exactly the reasons you mention. If you're not currently in the habit of or foresee yourself wanting to leave the door open, just take it off. Screen doors are an eyesore and worse than useless in my opinion.
posted by widdershins at 8:47 AM on August 17, 2018

Screen doors don't have to be entirely screen. Mine has the screen in the top half only, and when it's winter you can slide up a layer of glass for it, which actually does give some insulation. So then it's just a second layer of door. I like mine. I can get some airflow in the fall and spring and lock it from the inside so no one could just walk in. Because the screenage is only in the top half, I don't have to worry about someone casually slashing it and stepping into my house (they'd have to be crazy athletic to climb up through the top) while I'm home. This door is directly off my kitchen so when I accidentally burn food or just generate smoke in the winter I can air everything out without having to push up storm windows. I also find that the screen/outer door deters the cats from trying to escape, because it is moving towards them and it makes them nervous. Get one like mine (ability to lock on the inside, pneumatic hinge thingie, half screen half glass with the ability to easily slide between screen and glass) if you're going to get one.
posted by clone boulevard at 9:05 AM on August 17, 2018 [1 favorite]

We have something like this and we love it.
posted by humboldt32 at 10:17 AM on August 17, 2018

So then it's just a second layer of door.

We call that a storm door.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 10:31 AM on August 17, 2018

Unless you're channeling the Andy Griffith show, you probably don't need a screen door, but in most climates it's useful to have a storm door, i.e. a 2nd door with glass in it instead of screen. Lots of storm doors come with a screen you can switch out for the glass, and maybe that's what you have now, and maybe the glass is lost. But the main advantage to a storm door (especially if you have air conditioning) is that, with the glass in place, it adds a little insulation and protects your "real" door from the elements. A properly functioning storm door would have a soft close as well. And, if you like, a screen.
posted by mr vino at 11:58 AM on August 17, 2018

> So is there some great value to screen doors that I'm missing?

If you get a package delivered or something dropped off, if it goes between the storm door and the front door it's hidden and protected (somewhat).
posted by The corpse in the library at 12:09 PM on August 17, 2018 [1 favorite]

I own and hate my rear screen door as it's another THING to wrestle with on my tiny porch when I'm taking out trash or bringing home groceries. The default mode is "Hey, here's another door that needs to be swung out ALL THE TIME, summer or winter."

I'm seriously looking at a retractable model instead as default mode is OUT OF MY DAMN WAY and it can be pulled out to act as a screen door if and only if I want that functionality.
posted by maudlin at 6:59 PM on August 17, 2018

I also hate screen doors/storm doors as another obstacle. Entering and exiting with kids/packages/bags becomes frustrating. However, I do love the light and air they provide.

The best option I had was a fancy storm/screen door with a foot activated hold switch on the closer. the door had a full pane of glass and instead of one pneumatic closer at middle height, it had two top and bottom. The bottom one had a hold button that could be nudged with a foot. Something like this:

You may be able to keep the cheap door but swap the closer for this kind and try it for a few weeks.
posted by sol at 5:26 AM on August 18, 2018

FWIW, in practice storm doors usually reduce a home's energy efficiency because the insulation value of a loosely-fitted piece of single-pane glass is essentially zero, and during the winter people will often leave their front door open with just the storm door closed, for the sake of the light that it gives. I mean, if you want that natural light coming in through your front door in the winter then I understand, but know that you're sacrificing a lot of efficiency to get it. Also, any modern exterior door is more than capable of withstanding the elements on its own. YMMV if you have an old wooden one, but anything from the last 30 years or so should be fine. In my area (New England, so reasonably lively weather) storm doors are generally not indicated from a building science perspective. Many homeowners simply prefer to have one, of course.

Coming back to your question though, a screen door allows you extra ventilation in the summer which is really nice if you live in the sort of climate where you don't turn on the AC as soon as April rolls around and leave it on until October. For those months when you don't have to artificially control your home's climate in order to maintain consciousness, it's nice to have a screen door that keeps the bugs out but lets the breezes in. It's not essential, but personally I really love that airy, open feeling that comes with not having a heavy chunk of fiberglass sealing me in from outside.

What you probably need to do though is adjust your screen door's closer. Assuming you have a pneumatic closer rather than just a spring, if you look on it, there will be a little screw (a thumbscrew if you're lucky) at the end of the cylinder which can be turned to adjust how quickly the door closes. You want it to close just firmly enough that when your main door is closed (closing the main door increases back pressure and makes it harder for the screen door to close) it will reliably close and latch itself—no more than that. Getting that screw adjusted to just the right position is a process of trial and error. Small adjustments often have fairly large effects.

You also may want to replace your screen door's closer with a nicer one. Traditional pneumatic closers have a little ring of bent metal that sits around the piston rod and can be sort of wedged in place to prevent the door from closing on its own, and then made loose when you're ready to let it close. This works fine, but is a bit fiddly. Nicer ones allow you to prop the door open simply by opening it as wide as it will go and then stepping on a small foot pedal—they will then lock in place until you give them another push open, at which point the lock will release and they'll be able to close. Much easier to do when you have your hands full, like when you're bringing a load of groceries into the house and want the screen door to stay out of the way.

They also make screen doors that can change between being a screen door and a storm door simply by sliding the screen/pane of glass up and down. You only get at most half a door's worth of screen that way, but it's much easier than having to swap out a screen for a pane of glass twice a year. My parents have this type of door and like them a lot.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 2:35 PM on August 18, 2018

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