Fixer Pupper: How Pet Parents Should Choose A New Front Door

By: Max FischerUpdated:

Pet-Friendly Home
Stocksy/Jakob Lagerstedt

Fixer Pupper: How Pet Parents Should Choose A New Front Door

BeChewy believes that a pet-friendly home can be as stylish as any other (albeit, with a bit more pet hair—but that’s what lint rollers are for!). That’s why we’re bringing you Fixer Pupper, a design-forward home improvement series curated especially for pet parents. From choosing a new exterior door (and a pet door to go with) to sprucing up your space with animal-safe paints, here’s how to create a cozy home for you and your fur family.

Anytime you spring for a new exterior door, it’s a big decision. And when you have pets, there's even more on the line besides the usual list of needs—a door durable enough to resist the elements, rugged enough to provide security and stylish enough to boost your curb appeal. With a pet-friendly home, you’ll also need to know which materials stand up to things like teeth and paws, which will keep your furry loved one safe and secure, and the ins and outs of adding a pet door, if desired.

Sure, shopping for a new front door can be daunting—but we’re here to help. With the advice below, you’ll be on your way to scoring a new exterior door that’ll stand up to years of pounding weather, slamming doors and excited paws every time the pizza delivery arrives.

At a Glance...

  • Exterior doors come in a variety of materials and at a range of price points; consider your home's architecture, the climate, your lifestyle and any specific pet-needs when buying.
  • Installing a pet door is an easy DIY project with just a few tools and some basic skills.
  • You can outfit your new front door with smart technology that can make life with pets easier. Explore all of your pet-friendly smart home options here.

What kind of entry door is right for you and your fur fam?

There are a dizzying variety of entry doors out there for just about every budget and architectural style. But before you visit your local home improvement center—most of which are pet-friendly, by the way!—you’ll need to note a few things about your existing door.

1. First, you’ll want to understand the forms exterior doors are sold in and which your home currently has.

Entry doors are offered as either:

  • A slab (simply the door itself), or
  • As a pre-hung unit that pairs the door with a jamb (the vertical sides of the door frame) and threshold.

Though more expensive and more time consuming to install, most DIYers go the pre-hung route when replacing an entry door since buying just a slab means you (or a carpenter) must cut space for and attach the hinges, bore holes for the hardware and hang the door on the jamb. A pre-hung door on the other hand comes hinged to a jamb with a threshold that you can purchase as a single unit. Think of them as the one-stop-shop of doors.

2. Next, you'll need to know what size to shop for.

Typically, doors are stocked in heights that range from 80-, 84- and 96-inches and widths in increments of 2-inches. For a pre-hung unit, you'll need a little extra info: the dimensions of the rough opening (that’s the space between the studs) and the total depth of the wall.

3. Lastly, you'll need to know the swing.

Most entry doors swing inward, so if the hinges are on the right-hand side, it's a right-handed door and it’s a left-hand door if reversed. Got all that?

How to pick a style of door

Now that you know about the forms of exterior doors, let’s get into the styles and materials available. The good news is that many door manufacturers offer a massive range of styles that’ll suit just about anyone’s aesthetic.

Let’s go over a few of the most common materials for exterior doors, shall we?

Wooden Doors

The most common entry door material is wood. Unless it's a custom door, most wood doors are engineered assemblies that use thin wood veneers on the front and back, sandwiched together with a core of engineered or composite wood inside (sometimes with foam insulation).

While wood doors offer a wide range of styles and the flexibility to paint or stain, they require the greatest amount of maintenance to keep them looking their best. This usually means a new topcoat every couple of years. Don’t stress though, pet parents: Wood is relatively easy to repair if your dog or cat scratches the paint. (While latex paint can irritate a scratching pet’s skin, it generally isn’t considered toxic—though it’s a good rule of thumb to give your vet a call before popping open the paint can to be sure of its toxicity.)

Pet parents should also note that stained wooden doors are a little trickier to maintain, as scratches in the stain can be tough to match.

Cost: Wood doors are available bare, to paint or stain at home, or finished for you at the factory. Pre-hung engineered wood doors can average between $300 and $600.

Steel Doors

If security is your biggest concern, consider steel doors, which is the strongest material. Covered in a layer of steel, the inside of a metal door is usually made of wood (or in the case of more robust doors, more steel), then filled with insulating foam.

These doors are either smooth or embossed with a faux wood grain texture, both of which are painted (or primed) at the factory. Instead of a steel face, some high-end metal doors have a stainable faux wood coating or even a wood veneer laminated over the surface.

Because steel is stamped at the factory, the details around the windows and panels are not as crisp as they are in wood, but these doors are almost always more energy-efficient as they can better retain your home’s temperature and are relatively low-maintenance. A dog or cat’s clawing likely won’t scratch the steel itself, so repairs can be kept to a minimum, although you might have to touch up the paint every so often.

Cost: Steel doors start at about $300. Another metal, aluminum, can be harder to find and more expensive than steel—but for coastal climates near saltwater, the material's natural rust resistance might be worth it.

Fiberglass Doors

Filling the gap between wood’s good looks and steel’s low-maintenance are fiberglass doors. Virtually maintenance-free, these heavy doors have a molded fiberglass composite skin wrapped around a wood and insulating foam core.

Though they can be ordered to mimic painted wood, they look best when stained. The embossed wood grain is designed to match hardwoods like cherry, walnut or oak, and is far more realistic than steel.

While durable, fiberglass tends to be harder to refinish: Not all fiberglass doors can have their stain stripped, and once a door is painted it typically can’t then be stained. Large dog breeds might be able to scratch the fiberglass, so pet parents of these pups may want to consider a fiberglass door that mimics painted wood, as it can be patched and repainted without worrying about filling in exposed grain. Trust us—it’ll still look stunning!

Cost: A pre-hung paint grade fiberglass door starts at around $340.

Where to buy a door for your pet-friendly home

Start your search for entry doors online where you can find styles and manufacturers you like. While home improvement centers are easy to access and will have some door samples for you to see in person, they carry a limited number of brands.

Depending on what manufacturer you’re interested in, you might have to visit a lumberyard or independent door dealer to order your new door. The leg work is worth it to see and touch a few doors—but the ordering process can be complex, so DIYers should opt to have someone double-check your order for size and swing.

Installing an exterior door can be a tough job so if you’re not up to the task, ask for a recommendation for a pro when you buy the door. Home centers can usually set you up with an installer when you purchase.

Get Smart: Upgrading your door’s technology

Once your new door is installed, take the opportunity to upgrade the hardware to something smarter. Smart door locks—ones that sync to your home’s Wi-Fi network and allow you to access features from your phone—are very DIY- friendly and boast useful features to pet parents.

Nearly all smart locks allow you to throw and retract the door’s deadbolt from your phone. That’s useful if you want to leave the keys behind while walking your dog or to open the door from the car before loading up on groceries. They can also let you give temporary access to your home without a key, so a dog walker or cat sitter can let themselves in while you’re away. Level Lock has a version that replaces the guts of your existing front door’s lock with a smart device, keeping the traditional look of a lockset.

Don’t worry, pet doors won't be left behind in today’s smart home. Kits like PetSafe Electronic Smartdoor can be installed like a traditional pet door but use radio frequency to grant your pet access. After installing the door (more on that below!), simply attach the electronic key to your pet’s collar. The stiff plastic door unlocks and can swing open only when your pet is within range, which allows you to keep unwanted animals out and provides a better sense of security.

The Finishing Touch: Tips for Installing a Pet Door

While you might have to call in reinforcements to install your new exterior door (though those experienced with home improvement can learn how to DIY here), installing a pet door is easier than you think.

Pet doors can be added to just about any structurally sound entry door and can accommodate up to the largest breeds. If you have some basic tools and are comfortable taking the door off the hinges, installing a pet door is an easy project that shouldn't take more than an hour or two.

First purchase a pet door that comes with an included cutting template, like the Cat Mate Large Cat/Small Dog 4-Way Self Lining Door, Ideal Pet Products Designer Series Original Plastic Pet Door or PetSafe Extreme Weather Energy Efficient Pet Door.

Pet-Friendly Patio Doors

Want to give your furry love outdoor access, but don't feel comfortable cutting a big chunk out of your front exterior door? If you already have a sliding patio door, you can purchase a screen door with a built-in pet passage for as little as $200 from home specialty stores like Lowe’s.

Additionally, some manufacturers offer pre-hung sliding patio doors, also with pet doors already added. The sliding door works as normal, but the fixed door is divided, leaving a small opening in the bottom corner for pet access. Typically offered in wood or vinyl, these doors start at around $800.

Pet-Friendly Home

Cat Mate Large Cat/Small Dog 4-Way Self Lining Door

Shop now!
Pet-Friendly Home

Ideal Pet Products Designer Series Original Plastic Pet Door

Shop now!
Pet-Friendly Home

PetSafe Extreme Weather Energy Efficient Pet Door

Shop now!

Although the specific pet door you choose will come with its own instructions, here’s a quick overview of the process:

  1. Once you take your exterior door off the hinges, you’ll set it up on sawhorses at a comfortable working height.
  2. Tape the included template to the door.
  3. Drill a few pilot holes in the corners and then cut around the template with a jigsaw.
  4. Next, pop in the pet door’s insert, and attach it with a few screws. Now you’re ready to put the entry door back on the hinges.

Once installed, your new pet door can provide backyard access to your critters during warmer months. Of course, remember to ensure that your yard is securely fenced in, that your pets are properly vaccinated and up-to-date with their flea and tick medications, and that it’s always best to closely supervise pets when they’re out enjoying the great outdoors. You’ve got this: You’re a budding home-expert-cum-pet-parent, after all!


By: Max FischerUpdated: