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External Oak Doors

Oak vs UPVC Doors: What is the best material for external doors?

Introduction

There are few things more important in your home than your front and rear doors, because without them, anyone could come and go as they please! Wood has been used as a building material for  hundreds of years, with oak wood perhaps the most desirable material, given its characterful nature and its durable properties. However, as undeniably beautiful and thermally effective as it can be, there are so many more options available to homeowners in the 21st century, and one of those options is uPVC.

You might have noticed that a higher proportion of home in the UK now uses uPVC doors, which might have got you thinking about possibly using the surprisingly strong and stable material in your own home. If you're thinking about replacing the doors in your home and are considering using either classic oak or more modern and affordable uPVC, below you'll find a comparison of the two. Before we go any further, however, it's probably important to underline exactly what uPVC actually is.

What is uPVC?

A plastic building material that you've probably heard about, but might not be 100% sure what it actually is, uPVC is essentially a form of PVC (polyvinyl chloride) that is harder, more rigid and doesn't flex. The 'u' stands for 'Unplasticised', which means that uPVC doesn't contain any phthalates or BPA, meaning it's a lot safer generally than PVC. It's so safe and durable, in fact, that it's commonly used to make retainers and mouth guards. It's also (of course) used to frame windows and doors, but can also be used in plumbing materials, such as pipes and guttering.

uPVC Doors Pros

  • Whilst it is still susceptible to degradation over time, uPVC is incredibly resistant against bad weather, particularly rain. The material is nonporous (not permeable to fluid) so any rain water (or any other fluid for that matter) will simply bounce right off it.
  • Once they've been built and fitted, uPVC doors won't have any negative impact on the environment and if you want to replace or get rid of them it's easily recyclable.
  • Whilst it might very well discolour slightly over time, uPVC generally requires very little maintenance.
  • Wood may warp and change shape over time as it gets wet and dries out. As it's nonporous, this is not the case with uPVC, which will remain in a stable shape and structure throughout its lifespan.
  • The lifespan of uPVC doors is expected to be around 35 years, though obviously this will depend on no only the quality of the material, but how well it's been fitted.

uPVC Doors Cons

  • As stable and convenient as they might well be, uPVC doors can be uninteresting to look at. They are plain and often people want a more stylish design for their property.
  • Due to the nature of the material, uPVC is not as flexible in its design options as other materials.
  • Whilst it offers a host of benefits, uPVC can cheapen the look of older 'character' buildings, especially buildings which use their characters as a major selling point.
  • It might be incredibly eco-friendly once it's safe and sound framing your door, but uPVC is (at the end of the day) a plastic product so whilst it's being created, it will give off environmentally harmful fumes.
  • It should remain in perfect condition for at least a good couple of decades, but as it reaches the end of its lifespan, uPVC can become a shadow of its former self. It also breaks down over time, so once it's gone, it's gone. Unlike wood (which can be fixed in most cases), once uPVC has broken down it will need to be scrapped and replaced.
  • Wood comes from trees, and no matter how many trees we cut down, there is always the option of planting more. The creation of uPVC however, is heavily reliant on supplies of oil, which will run out eventually.

Oak Doors

With oak doors, you'll generally have two major options; solid oak or engineered/composite wood. Here, we'll lay out the pros and cons of both.

Engineered Oak Wood Doors

Engineered wood involves a little more work than solid wood, as it consists of multiple layers. It can also be called 'manufactured' or 'composite' wood, and refers to any wood product that has been manufactured by binding or fixing boards, veneers, fibres or strands of wood together. Engineered wood will generally have been engineered to fit a specific purpose, so will generally be more flexible than solid wood, but there are exceptions. Engineered wood is generally manufactured by using adhesives to fix the various parts together.

Engineered Wood Doors Pros

  • Engineered wood consists of a layer of wood selected due to its innate beauty and character, which is then bonded to another wooden surface. Because engineered wood has been treated and consists of multiple layers there are more options available when it comes to more intricate designs and textures. The extra layers are obviously also a benefit
  • Engineered wood yields extra strength and is less likely to split, crack or warp than solid wood.
  • Engineered wood is generally more uniform in appearance because it is shaved off a thick piece of wood, and as the knots are smaller, they are less likely to split the veneer when it's being shaved.
  • Engineered oak doors will be more expensive than uPVC, but cheaper than solid oak.
  • If your door has an oak veneer, very few people will be able to tell the difference between a solid oak door and an engineered door.

Engineered Wood Doors Cons

  • If it's maintained well, solid oak wood can last a lifetime, whereas engineered wood will eventually need to be replaced.
  • If you're going for a rustic look, engineered wood just doesn't have the same feel as a solid piece.
  • If the veneers are too thin then it will make sanding and refinishing/varnishing more difficult.

Solid Oak Doors

As the name implies, solid oak is a solid piece of timber that will have been cut from an oak tree, milled into shape and then dried, with little else done to improve or change it. Solid wood has been used for hundreds of years, so is generally a safe bet, but should probably be avoided in environments prone to moisture such as cellars and basements. For a front door, however, it can be an attractive and durable option.

Solid Oak Doors Pros

  • You'll generally find cleaner, simpler designs, due to the nature of working with solid wood. That being said though, a lot of solid wood is made from chunks of wood that still have lots of knots and interesting patterns in them. It varies from piece to piece.
  • Solid oak is incredibly stable and some would say more 'organic' and natural looking as it's a genuine “What you see is what you get” wood.
  • It's generally easier to repair surface damage to solid wood.
  • As solid oak ages, it will gain more depth and character.

Solid Oak Doors Cons

  • Solid oak is also more likely to warp than engineered wood, as it's a natural product that moves when moisture comes into contact with it. This means the wood could crack and split naturally due to changes in the humidity of your home from season to season. That is why it’s important they are treated correctly with a hard-wax oil that protects it from moisture.
  • Though the cleaner and simpler designs might be seen as a bonus to some, to others it will come across as quite generic and dull.
  • Solid oak is generally more expensive than both engineered wood and UPVC.

Summary

UPVC doors are often a cheaper alternative than wooden doors, however they are a lot less plain in style and the material choice is generally seen as bad for the environment. Wood doors are better for the environment, have a greater thermal efficiency and are a lot more aesthetically pleasing – they are also more versatile as you can paint and varnish them to your taste. Ultimately it might be down to little more than personal preference, but whatever decision you make, choose wisely.

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