For the past few weeks we have been discussing the top individual remodeling projects that yield the highest return on investment as rated by Remodeling Magazine’s Cost vs. Value report for 2013-2014. We’ve talked about front doors, wooden decks and attic bedroom additions. This week we will be discussing garage door selection.


Garage door

This garage door upgrade used composite doors that were stained/painted to look like wood.

Kevin Bunnell, Renovation Design Group

Home improvement projects can be looked at in one of two ways: You can see them as isolated projects or you can approach them as individual parts of a more comprehensive upgrade to your property.

Some people are able to move out of their homes and have professionals renovate it from roof to foundation once and for all. When tackling a large, far-reaching project, homeowners are likely to have a plan which can be followed by all concerned in order to achieve the desired end result. Most of us, however, are required to take on home improvement projects at a slower pace, one at a time. It is not uncommon for homeowners to tackle one or two projects a year in addition to regular house maintenance.

The important point here is that these should not be isolated design projects. The best scenario is to have a method to your madness — in other words, a master plan for your home improvement efforts. Every project should move you closer to the end goal for your house, and they should be sequenced to avoid having to revisit issues or areas that were previously addressed. If you don’t have a drawing of your ideal front façade, you are not ready to select a garage door.

Many American homes have garages on their front façade. This trend began in the 1950s when automobiles were making their greatest impact on the American economy and culture. Showing the world that you had a car (front carport) or maybe even two (front garage) was a source of pride and status. Prior to that, in the 1930s and ’40s, cars were housed in variations of the former carriage house which was placed “out back.” Recently, attached garages are tucked around the side of a home if the lot is wide enough to accommodate a side entry driveway.

In any case — especially with a front-facing attached garage — replacing the garage door can do wonders for your curb appeal, and in the world of remodeling, it is on the less expensive end. It can also add a dose of energy efficiency to your home. If you choose an insulated door, you will reap the benefits of a new garage door on your energy bill as well as in your home’s value. Many older homes still have a bland, metal garage door that isn’t insulated and doesn’t have much charm. Garage doors have come a long way in both function and design in recent years.

The key to successfully selecting the correct garage door is to look at it in conjunction with the entire front elevation and with your end goal (master plan) in mind. You must first determine the style (actual or future) of your home and then select a complementary door style and material. There may be individual doors, which we think are attractive, but choosing a craftsman-style garage door for your 1970s rambler won’t do your curb appeal any favors.

There are other items to consider when choosing a garage door for your house besides the style. A garage door has two main elements: the sections and the overlay. The sections are the large panels that hinge together to make up the basic unit of the door. Overlays are added for decorative effect and add options for additional character and style.

The most commonly purchased garage door doesn’t have an overlay. It is a standard door with steel sections that have a design pressed or embossed into the metal. The shadow lines are about 1/8-inch deep and attempt to mimic wood grains. These are the least expensive type of garage door, running from $450 to $1,000.

Doors with overlays are more expensive. Overlays can be made of several different materials. The most expensive is real wood. You can choose from many types, including cedar, exotic hardwood and salvaged barn wood. Doors finished with a real wood overlay are quite heavy and require commercial-grade operators. There is also some maintenance with wood overlays, such as staining, sealing or painting. Single-size wood doors range in cost from $2,000 to $5,000 or more for custom designs.

Another option for overlay material is cellular PVC. This is a vinyl material whipped with air and then extruded into lightweight pieces made to mimic wood. These pieces are applied to sections made of steel or cellular PVC. These doors are lighter in weight, moisture-resistant, more economical and they hold paint better than wood. The cost range for this type of door is $1,400 to $2,000.

Overlays can also be made of a composite material of wood fibers and resin extruded into pieces with a wood-like texture embossed into them. Composites are moisture-resistant and less expensive than wood, though they have not been used for very many years so their longevity is still unproven. Composite doors cost around $700.

Another overlay option is steel. “Boards” are created with an embossed texture and then applied to the base sections to create the carriage-house look. These doors run from $750 to $1,000.

Many door styles are now available, just a click away on the Internet. Ranging from styles that mimic carriage doors from the earliest days of automotive history to sleek glass doors that are at home in the most contemporary design, most people can find an appropriate style and color from standard manufacturers’ designs. Doors come in a variety of standard heights and widths, so whether you are replacing an existing door or creating a new garage you should be able to find the size you need.

Besides design, you should also consider an insulated door. Insulated doors are especially important on garages that are attached to the main house as they help to minimize cold air from reaching the interior of your home. The basic concept is a continuous layer of foamed-in-place polyurethane insulation that is sandwiched between two layers of steel. More expensive doors will also focus on providing thermal breaks in their design as well.

A good garage door opener will probably add another $300-$500 to the cost of the door. If height is an issue, there are options for low-overhead operators.

Overall, replacing a garage door is a relatively small investment that can add serious value to your house in way of curb appeal and energy efficiency. The design goal is to make this large portion of your front façade contribute to the style of your home without competing for too much attention. The garage should never be the star of the show, just a supporting cast member.

Ann Robinson and Annie V. Schwemmer are the principal architects and co-founders of a residential architectural firm focused on life-changing remodeling designs at Send comments or questions to

Renovation Solutions: Selecting a garage door for a higher return