By Cobus Lourens, Swartland
Beautiful wooden doors can really add to the external visual appeal of your home and, although they do require some maintenance, there are a few preventative measures that you can take not only to minimise the maintenance required, but also increase overall longevity.
It is important to understand that wood is a natural material, and it expands and contracts. This is because in nature, microscopic cells within a tree expand and absorb moisture from its environment, or as water flows through the wood to nourish and sustain the life of the tree.
These cells contract, or shrink, when the water evaporates. Even after being cut down and processed, timber will continue to expand and contract as it absorbs moisture from its environment during the wet season, and loses moisture during the dry season. For this reason, it is important to not only seal the timber correctly to minimise moisture intake, but also to take various preventative measures to protect the wood from exposure to the elements as much as possible.
It is perfectly normal for wooden doors to take a while to adjust to the specific ‘micro-climate’ of their location: it takes a while for any timber door to adapt to the equilibrium moisture content (EMC) of the area. EMC is a term used to explain the amount of moisture in the air that all natural products will adapt to when exposed to a particular ‘micro-climate’. For example, in Hout Bay in the Western Cape, there is a very high EMC averaging 15%, while the average EMC for South Africa is 8%.
As newly installed doors come into balance with the EMC of the area and the orientation of its installation, it will swell slightly during the wet season and shrink slightly in the dry season. As a general rule of thumb, wooden doors will settle after two seasonal changes – after which, the doors may need slight adjustment.
To protect your wooden doors, you need to protect them from exposure to excess rain, as well as from the sun’s harmful UV rays, which can dry out the timber and cause it to shrink. You can protect your wooden doors by planting fast growing, evergreen trees that will offer them access to natural shade. This will prevent your door from being exposed to UV rays for any extended periods of time and offer the bonus of some well appreciated greenery around the entrance.
The colour of the door you choose can also help. Choosing a door in a light colour will help it to cope better with UV rays, compared to a darker colour. This is because light colours reflect the heat, while dark colours absorb it.
Have you got it covered?
Aside from regular maintenance, probably the best preventative measure to increase your wooden door’s longevity is to include an awning or canopy over it. The best long-term solution for protecting your wooden door is to install some kind of an overhang. The overhang should extend the same distance as half the length of the space between the base of the door and the bottom of the overhang. The advantage of this solution is that it keeps the rain and the sun from coming in direct contact with the door.
Aside from protecting your wooden doors however, the added bonus is that these overhangs, awnings or canopies also help reduce the energy required to cool your house down during the hot summer months, as they regulate the amount of direct sunlight entering the home.
Adding an overhang to an existing house is pretty straightforward but blending it into the existing roof can be a bit tricky. For this reason, if you are renovating or building a new home, it is something that needs to be considered during the architectural design phase of the project.
Including roof overhangs into the design of your home is worth the investment – they not only protect your wooden windows and doors, but they help to keep your home cooler and will protect your interior soft furnishings, window treatments and carpets from over exposure to UV rays as well.