Prehung doors are doors that can be ordered in various states of readiness. They have several advantages and disadvantages. Essentially, they allow for significantly easier installation but less flexibility and second-guessing. If you're going to order a prehung door, it's best if you know the exact finish, design, and material you want, as well as making exact calculations for the door's dimensions. If you have this knowledge, a prehung door can be built to any specification, but one mistake and the homeowner can be stuck with what is basically a useless piece of scrap.
Types of Prehung Doors
Assembled: These doors have jambs that are fastened together and already applied to the hinges and the door stop. The door lock is also prepped for installation.
Partially assembled: These doors are similar to assembled ones except they leave one or more of these features loose instead of applied, most often the door stop.
Knocked down: These doors have been machined and the prep work finished, but none of the individual parts have been applied. If you know what you're doing, a knocked down door can be put together into an assembled door in about 10 minutes.
The degree of assembly is independent of the degree of the finished door slab. This is where homeowners often find a catch-22. The door slab (what most people consider the door itself) can be ordered as unfinished or prefinished. A prefinished door slab has primer, paint, stain, sealer, and/or varnish already applied to it. Since homeowners can usually do this part themselves, they will often decide to order the door unfinished. The problem is if the door is already assembled it is difficult to apply a finish on the entire door slab, which results in an inferior product. A prefinished door, however, may substantially raise the price of the door. If you don't have the knowledge to install a knocked-down door, you should consider ordering the door prefinished or simply having a service professional come and make you a custom-made door.
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Don't Be Misled
Even the most completed prehung doors aren't guaranteed to be hassle-free. For example, if your doorframe has become warped, the door will need to be plumbed. If you don't possess basic carpentry skills, it's probably best to consider alternative options. When you're ordering a prehung door make sure to spend the extra few minutes to relay all the relevant information to the door manufacturer. For example, the manufacturer will need to know the width of the door jamb, which is dependent on whether the wall and the doorframe is plaster or drywall. Don't say, "I think it's this..." without knowing for sure. Be clear about which way you want the door open and on which side you want the knob placed.
The Decision-Making Process
As with any decision, especially one involving your home, take the time to gather some extra information. You don't need to become an expert in door installations, but consider talking to a door manufacturer and a service professional. Ask them about the particular door you're thinking about installing and see what they say. If you don't have the basic carpentry skills that can be critical to proper installation, ask the door manufacturer if they have a return policy or some kind of guarantee. If you decide you need to order a fully-assembled, prefinished door, get a price quote from a manufacturer and a service professional. You may find a service professional who can customize your door and give you more options for nearly the same price.