Fixing a Bathroom Door
Q: I have doors in my home that will not close all the way and a bathroom door that I cannot lock because the latch and the door frame do not line up. I would really like to be able to lock the bathroom door. Is there anything simple and inexpensive I can do myself? I'm handy with tools, but I'm no carpenter.
A: There are several different types of interior doors that have been used in the last 100 years: metal, glass, mirrored, solid wood, veneered hollow-core, wood-paneled and wood-fiber composite doors. Since the most common interior doors are wood, I must assume your problems are with wood doors.
At the beginning of the 20th century, the solid wood door and custom wood frame were used extensively. As home building increased, the wood-paneled door was introduced to reduce costs. Later on, the hollow-core wood door was introduced to save costs, materials and labor.
With the advancement in door construction came another labor-saving innovation, the split-jamb frame, which replaced the custom-built solid jambs. The split jamb slides apart to form two separate sides of the door opening. Each jamb has a top header and two legs with your choice of trim already attached.
On one side of the jamb, the door has been attached with hinges. Installation is easy, and can be done by one person. First, the jamb with the door attached is set in the opening and secured by nailing through the trim. Next, the opposite side of the jamb is set by sliding the exposed lip on the jamb into a slot in the door side of the jamb. This section is also attached by nailing through the trim.
The problem with all wood doors is that they shrink, expand or warp with changes in humidity. Also, slamming the door can separate the split jamb. The composite wood-fiber door was introduced as a nonwarping door and to reduce costs. However, settlement of the home's floor system can change the alignment between the door and its frame. When any door is not square or true to the door frame, the door will either drag on the floor or hit against the frame at the top of the door, and the latch bolt will not line up with the strike plate (the thing sticking out of the doorknob will not go into the metal plate on the door frame).
If the doors have a solid wood frame, the door can be removed and trimmed using a circular saw. To avoid damage to the door's finish, mark the area to be cut, score the line to be cut with a utility knife on both sides of the door, place duct tape next to the scored line and use a fine-toothed saw blade (60 to 80 teeth). Make a cut from both directions to avoid splintering or blowing out the door frame and the edge.
Doors with split jambs can often be adjusted by replacing the center screw in one of the hinges on the jamb. If the door hits at the top of the frame, remove the screw at the bottom hinge. Replace the screw with a longer one that will reach through the jamb to the 2-by-4 wood framing. The longer screw will pull the door closer to the 2-by-4 frame and down and away from the top of the frame. This method allows for minute adjustments of the door. Replace the top hinge screw if the door hits the frame at the bottom.
This method can also be used to align the drive bolt with the strike plate so that the door will latch when closed. If the split-jamb frame has moved the strike plate away from the bolt, remove the two screws securing the strike plate, cut a thin piece of cardboard (such as from a toilet paper roll) to fit behind the plate and reattach. Repeat with more cardboard until the strike plate meets the bolt. Thin pieces of cardboard can also be used as shims behind the hinges to adjust the door.
Doors that have been slammed too hard and have damage to the split jamb can be easily repaired by squeezing the jamb together with a clamp and securing with wood screws through the center of the split jamb into the 2-by-4 framing. Drill a pilot hole and countersink the hole to accept a No. 8 Philips head wood screw. Attach the screw or screws where needed, and remove the clamp. The screws can be left exposed or covered with matching wood putty.
(Dwight Barnett is a certified master inspector with the American Society of Home Inspectors.)