Ask Brian: How to Fix Stubborn Doors



Ask Brian is a weekly column by Real Estate Expert Brian Kline. If you have questions on real estate investing, DIY, home buying/selling, or other housing inquiries please email your questions to askbrian@realtybiznews.com.

Question from Jim of Odesa, TX: Hello Brian, my home is a 17 year old ranch style. Mostly the house is in good shape and I suppose I’m about average with keeping up on maintenance and repairs. We’ve done some moderate remodeling over the years such as new carpets, painting, and some tile work in the bathroom. But nothing major like removing walls or additions. A problem has come up that has me a little concerned. Two of the bedroom doors have started sticking lately. We have to give them a hard pull to open and a shove to close them. This doesn’t seem like a big enough deal to hire a contractor. While I wouldn’t try tackling a big job like fully remodeling a kitchen or bathroom, I think I have the skills and basics tools to fix this problem. Where do you think I should start?

Answer: Hi Jim. You’re right; I think most people who took wood shop in high school or have put together a small outdoor kit shed have the skills needed to tackle this basic problem. But before you jump right in to making repairs, take a few minutes to troubleshoot the root problem.

When it comes to doors or windows that stick or don’t close properly, you want to make sure you don’t have a problem with the house foundation. If it’s only one or two doors, you probably don’t have a foundation problem. However, if these are the only doors in one part of the house, you could have a problem with the foundation in that part of the house. Without explaining how to fix foundation problems, you should check to see if you’re having a similar problem with windows. You also might be able to see the foundation by walking around the outside looking for cracks. Other indications are buckled walls or cracks in walls. If you find any of this, you probably want to talk to a foundation professional.

But don’t panic and think your home is falling down. Sticky doors are a pretty common problem that can be usually be fixed in a couple of hours. Common problems are that the doorframe is out of plumb, the hinges are loose, or the hardware is worn out. All of these can usually be fixed without even buying a new door and frame.

Although it’s important to check the door for plumb and square, I’d start by checking that the door hinge screws are tight and the hinges are aligned in the recesses of the door and doorframe. Indications of problems with the door hinges are if the door corners the farthest from the hinges are dragging on the floor or rubbing the top of the doorframe. Also, the striker on the door handle might not be aligned correctly with the striker plate in the doorframe. All you probably need to do is align the hinges to properly fit in the recesses and tighten the screws. If the screws won’t completely tighten, you can try using slightly larger screws or break off a small piece of wooden toothpick and glue it into the oversized screw hole.

It could also be that the doorknob, striker, and striker plate are no longer aligned or the screws have come loose. This is likely a problem if the door pulls open without turning the knob, doesn’t stay closed, or won’t stay closed. It could just be that the screws need to be tightened or it could be that the striker plate isn’t aligned. If it’s a misaligned striker plate, bend down so the plate and doorknob are at eyelevel and watch as you close the door. Look to see if the striker plate is too high or too low. Loosen the screws, adjust accordingly, and retighten the screws. If the recess in the doorframe won’t allow it to properly align, you may need to use a wood chisel to enlarge the recess slightly.

If the door is dragging at the bottom when it closes into the door frame, it could be dragging on the threshold. Thresholds are more common with exterior doors than interior doors. Most thresholds can be adjusted. You might need to lightly pry out a rubber gasket that runs the length of the threshold. This should expose the screws that hold it down. You might need to completely unscrew the threshold to remove debris that has gotten underneath or you might need to only tighten the screws. Again, you can use slightly larger screws if the old ones won’t fully tighten or glue a small piece of broken toothpick into the hole as a filler.

Your last option is resetting the entire doorframe. It’s at this point that some people start thinking about replacing the entire door and doorframe depending on how much it is worn. To reset or adjust the doorframe, you need to first remove the trim around the door on both faces so that you can see the jamb on both sides and the top. This is going to take slightly more advanced carpentry skills. You’re going to need to cut the doorjamb loose from the wall frame. You use beveled shims to plumb and reset the hinged side of the doorjamb. You then use a large carpenter square (16 X 24 inches) to square the top of the doorjamb with the already plumbed hinged side. Repeat squaring and plumbing the far side of the doorjamb. Snug down the screws holding the doorjamb to the wall frame. Check to be sure the door closes correctly. You can make adjustments with the beveled shims to get the door to close properly. Then fully tighten the screws from the doorjamb to the wall frame. Check the door one last time.

Please comment with their thoughts and experiences about poorly fitting doors. Our weekly Ask Brian column welcomes questions from readers of all experience levels with residential real estate. Please email your questions or inquiries to askbrian@realtybiznews.com.

Author bio: Brian Kline has been investing in real estate for more than 35 years and writing about real estate investing for 12 years. He also draws upon 30 plus years of business experience including 12 years as a manager at Boeing Aircraft Company. Brian currently lives at Lake Cushman, Washington. A vacation destination, near a national and the Pacific Ocean.