Q: I have two doors, one of which drifts shut and one of which drifts halfway shut. Short of putting doorstop wedges underneath, is there a way to correct this problem? Is this a problem with the hinge, the leveling of the doorframe and wall, or the door itself?
A: To find the answer you’ll have to do a little detective work. You’ll need a 3- or 4-foot level, a screwdriver, and maybe a hammer and a chisel.
First, ask yourself a few questions. Do you own an older home or is it new? Older homes are more likely to be out of plumb, level or square than newer models. Time and the San Francisco Bay Area geology are great partners when it comes to causing house movement.
Are the doors in the same wall? If they are, do they drift in the same direction? If they are not in the same wall, is the direction of drift consistent? For example, do they both tend to drift toward the front left side of the house?
Do they drift all the time or only occasionally? If they drift only occasionally, are they near a draft or a heating duct?
Finally, are they solid wood, hollow-core or metal doors? Solid wood doors and metal doors are heavy. When left open they tend to strain at the hinges and pull the door out of square. This can cause the door to sag and drift.
The first and easiest thing to do is to tighten the screws holding the hinges into the doorframe. Better yet, and especially if the screws seem to be stripped, replace them with longer screws. This is especially important for the hinge at the top of the door. Although this is less of a problem for light hollow-core doors, loose hinges still could be the culprit.
Consider adding a third hinge between the top and bottom hinges if the door is hung by two hinges. In any event, try to keep the doors closed as much as possible. This will relieve the strain in the hinges.
If the hinges seem secure, check the doorframes for plumb. Plumb means straight up and down. Place a level on all three surfaces of the hinge side of the door and check. If the door is not plumb, you may have to adjust the hinge in its mortise. If the door wants to drift closed, move the top hinge back in the mortise a little. This likely will require new, longer screws to hold the hinge in its new location.
If the door wants to drift open, move the top hinge closer to the doorjamb.
With a wood chisel remove a little more of the mortise and adjust the hinge closer to the jamb. You may have to reset the doorstop if this is the problem.
If you find the doors’ frames are too far out of plumb to fix by moving the hinges, a drastic, though not impossible, solution is to remove and re-hang the doorframes. Before you take this route, however, make sure you can salvage the existing casing, match it or replace it with a suitable alternative.
Air movement can cause doors to move even if they are perfectly plumb. Heat and air conditioning can cause this air movement. This is a possible, though unlikely, cause of your problem. Short of moving registers and ducts, not much can be done to totally cure this. But you might want to close the register or install a damper in the duct to restrict airflow.
Bill and Kevin Burnett will attempt to answer your questions although the volume of e-mail sometimes makes this impossible. Contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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