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(Note: as per help center this is not a shopping assistance/product recommendation question, but rather materials/best practices/standards question)

Missus and I have decided we need a new door for our apartment (an owned apartment, similar to a "condo" in North American vernacular). And by that I mean the external door that leads to the shared stairwell. But competition is fierce, guidelines are few, salesmen are shifty, and I'm having trouble figuring out what I want and how to find it.

Note about my region: I'm from Latvia, we're in the EU.

Here are my thoughts:

  • The shared stairwell already has an electronic code lock and a heavy steel door installed, so random passing thieves have a hard time getting in. But this won't be much of an issue with a planned heist, since you can just sit nearby in a car and observe the lock until you see someone typing in their code. There is no video surveillance. So if someone decides to target our apartment for a burglary, it won't hold them back.
  • Almost everyone else in our stairwell have installed metal doors from various makers. If I don't want to stand out, I should install a metal door as well. However each door is different anyway, so it's not such a big deal.
  • To prevent a burglar, the door should be difficult to open. It should be resistant to physical attacks.
  • The lock however does not matter so much, I think, because AFAIK burglars rarely try to pick locks. That requires either a lot of skill, or a lot of time, and burglars rarely have either. Those who have enough skill usually make much better money with it than they could by just breaking into random apartments.
  • The true guardian of a property is supposedly an alarm system which summons burly fellows from a security firm. (I plan on installing one after the door has been exchanged.) So the door should slow the burglar down enough to trigger the alarm and allow for reinforcements to arrive, before they get in.
  • But on the other hand, if there is some emergency like a fire, I'd want the door to yield easily to the fireman's axe/angle grinder/whatever.

So... the door should be strong, but not too strong...

What I want to know - what should I look for when searching for the ideal door?

  • Should I go for metal or wood?
  • Are there any relevant standards/certificates I should pay attention to?
  • Are there any properties of the door I should pay attention to (like what kind of metal its made of and what the thickness of it is)?
  • Is my logic above sound, or have I made a mistake?
  • Anything else?
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  • 2
    You might consider at least a mid level lock that will last longer, be made of better materials, and be more resistant to low skill attacks like bumping, raking, and physical damage.
    – izzy
    Jul 27 at 23:41
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    Should be able to longer screws nails to attach door frame to wall, up to 3 1/2 inch or 8.9 cm.
    – crip659
    Jul 28 at 0:34
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    Wouldn't the owner of your apartment choose, buy, install, etc., the door? Do you mean some kind of condo where you actually own the unit? Jul 28 at 17:38
  • 1
    Also, if you do have an alarm, there's no harm in consulting your choice of door with the security company. Jul 28 at 23:30
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    @Vilx Here that would be called a condo (condominium) (even if some of the individual unit owners rent them out to someone else) as opposed to an apartment where the whole building is owned by one person/company and the individual units are only rented. bankrate.com/real-estate/condo-vs-apartment Jul 29 at 13:19
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First order of business: making the firefighters happy

The first order of business with an apartment entry door is making the firefighters happy, but not in the way you think. Forced-entry-resistance isn't an issue for them: anything short of a safe door won't slow them down much, with their carbide saws and hydraulic cutters as backup if the ol' halligan or fireaxe doesn't cut it.

However, that door has a critical job in case of a fire, one that firefighters very much appreciate. It actually has to hold the smoke and flames back for a given length of time so that a fire in your apartment doesn't spread freely into the halls and stairs, cutting your neighbors off from being able to exit safely. This also holds true the other way around: a closed door can hold back smoke and flame in the hall for a length of time, giving firefighters a chance to get you out of your apartment. (Likewise with hotel rooms.)

As a result of this, you need a door that's been tested to the appropriate fire rating standards as per your local building regulations. In the US, the baseline requirement is for what's known as a 20-minute door, which can be made of either solid wood or hollow (honeycomb or foam-filled) metal (steel, in other words). The European equivalent is an E30 rating, but your local regulations may require a door tested to exclude smoke, as well. You also need the correct hardware on that door; under the European standards, this means you need to use a set of hinges and latchset the door was tested and approved with.

Atop that, a fire door can't work if it's left wide open to flap around in the smoky breeze, so you'll want a closer on the door, similar to what you'd find on a commercial entry door, so that it'll shut after you if the flames ever force you to flee your apartment. The most sophisticated closers (if I was picking out an apartment door, it'd get a LCN 4310ME-SF) can be wired into your smoke alarms so that they can hold the door open "by default" if you want them to, but will drop the door if the smoke alarms sound; a more basic closer will do the job, though, and there should be at least one approved for use with the door and hardware you select.

Now, we can talk security

Now that we have the fire issue taken care of, we can talk about security. Most good quality metal doors will be more than adequate in this regard, provided they're installed correctly of course. Solid wood is also a reasonable performer at resisting physical attack here, especially when paired with the sturdy metal frames typically used in fire door applications. Proper fire door installation also handles matters like excessive undercuts making under-door attacks way too easy, so we won't discuss that here.

This moves us onward to the lock and latch installation, since any fire door latchset will be of a higher grade than your bargain basement home-store special. You'll need to ensure that the strike is attached firmly through the frame and well into the framing system of the building, in addition to being the correct size strike so that the deadlatch plunger doesn't get defeated inadvertently. (Oversized strikes cause the deadlatch to drop in to the strike recess instead of being engaged/depressed by the strikeplate, rendering it ineffective at stopping latchslipping/"jimmying" attacks on the door.)

Finally, we get to the lock itself. You'll want a lock that's resistant to forcible and low-skill attacks: anti-snapping, anti-drilling, and anti-bumping features are a bare minimum, and security pins go a long way to thwart raking attacks as well. Higher-security locks will introduce key control features to stop someone from "cloning" your apartment key if they have temporary access to it, which can be valuable if that's a risk you have to deal with. There's also the matter of common keying; you may want to have padlocks on the same key as your house, or have an existing keying system in your building that you need to integrate with, restricting your selection.

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  • Nice, thanks! It's interesting, I've heard conflicting information about the firefighter's capabilities in dealing with such doors. However it's all been mentioned in passing by from 3rd party sources and I can find no official information. On the other hand, since metal doors are so ubiquitous around here, I guess the lack of an official statement might mean that they are indeed not a big problem.
    – Vilx-
    Jul 28 at 10:18
  • @Vilx- -- hollow metal doors are quite a routine thing to see in heavier commercial, industrial, and institutional construction, so firefighters aren't fazed by them one bit Jul 28 at 11:33
  • Well, if I understand correctly, metal doors vary too. A simple industrial door which is meant to be sturdy, but not security-oriented might be made of thinner and softer metal to make it cheaper. A home door where most customers demand security could be made from a tougher and more expensive material. But, well, that's all my speculation. I trust that you are right and will stop worrying about this particular aspect. :)
    – Vilx-
    Jul 28 at 17:12
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    @Vilx- call whoever does the fire hazard inspections in your area to confirm. In Poland, I'd call the non-emergency number of my local fire station and go on from there. They should be able to direct you properly. Jul 28 at 23:25

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