It may seem like a minor detail, but think again: Windows and doors can make or break any space.

By Real Simple Editors
Updated May 31, 2019
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When it’s time to replace your windows and doors, you’ll know. The doors might be too drafty; the windows may not let enough light in. Whatever the reason, as you begin the replacement process—and begin studying the parts of a window and learning all about types of windows and doors—you may be surprised to learn that new windows and a new door or two can make a space feel completely revitalized.

It’s more than just getting rid of too-thin glass or a cracked frame; new windows and doors can change the way light, sound, and fresh air move in and out of a home, completely reshaping the feel and smell of the place and how people move through it. The best kinds of windows and doors—such as those from Marvin, which takes a lifestyle-centered and design-first approach to producing windows and doors—serve as subtle design elements that affect the atmosphere of the home, helping it to feel spa-like, more organic, or whatever other feeling you’re hoping to create.

When embarking on the window and door selection process, start with these guidelines and tips, which can help you make the right choice—and make the whole home update as easy as possible.

Renovating Windows

Courtesy of Marvin

Courtesy of Marvin

Before you begin: Figure out what your priorities are. If you desire an unobstructed view, opt for a fixed (or picture) window ready-made for hours of peaceful gazing. If you want air to circulate freely, take a look at a casement window that opens fully. Also think about how much time you’re willing to spend on keeping the windows shipshape. Wooden frames may need to be scraped and painted periodically; vinyl is virtually maintenance-free.

Know your materials. Select your window frame from four main materials: wood, clad, aluminum, and vinyl. Wood is beautiful and lets you match the interior trim to your molding and baseboards, but it can warp, is susceptible to rotting or destruction by wood-boring insects, and is generally expensive. Clad windows―typically, a wood frame coated with aluminum, vinyl, or fiberglass―stand up well to the elements and don’t require painting. Lightweight, rust- and mildew-resistant aluminum windows are favored by architects for their clean lines and thin frames, which can help the home feel more open. The most popular material is vinyl; it’s durable, moisture-resistant (great for coastal and humid climates), and a breeze to care for―but it shouldn’t be painted.

Keep in mind: In bedrooms and basements, you’ll need at least one window that’s large enough to escape through―fire codes require this. Proper installation is critical, so hire a licensed contractor. Installation prices vary greatly.

Renovating Doors

Courtesy of Marvin

Before you begin: For accurate results, have a pro measure the height, width, and thickness of the original door. (Standard thicknesses range from 1 3/8 to 2 1/4 inches.) If you want a larger door, or if you would like to add sidelights (windows on the sides of the door), you’ll have to modify the size of the frame. Brick or stucco openings are difficult to change, but a wood frame can be adjusted fairly easily.

Know your materials. When deciding on a door type, think about maintenance. If you don’t mind applying a fresh coat of paint or stain every few years, consider a wood door, which can be fit with glass inserts, clavos (rustic iron nails), or a speakeasy opening (a tiny door-within-a-door that lets you peek outside without revealing your pjs to the world). Fiberglass looks like wood, offers excellent insulation, and is easy to care for. Steel comes in many colors and can be repainted, but it can dent. A glass door can serve as an additional entrance for light into the home and help make the space feel part of its surroundings; just be sure to clean it frequently to avoid smudges.

Also pay attention to the location of the door. “If it faces south, be careful with wood, because sun can cause the finish to fade or crack,” says Daniel Morales, an architectural designer at Gilday Renovations, in Silver Spring, Maryland. In this case, painted wood is better. “Stained doors in particular take a beating when exposed to the sun,” Morales says.

Keep in mind: When ordering a door, you must specify left or right hand, which refers to the side the handle or knob will be on. Think about hardware, too. If you tend to lose house keys, consider a smart lock, which you can use a code or your phone to unlock. Door installation starts at about $150.