Troubleshooting Warped Doors on a Utility Closet

Trapped heat on one side of a wood door leads to obvious problems. June 12, 2014

Ok so I provided 15 interior doors for a client a while back and now have a problem with a couple of them starting to warp. This is an interesting situation though as the doors that are warping are closet doors. More specifically they are on a set of side-by-side closets that house the furnaces, (not sure what the correct term is for these type of units maybe boilers), for an under the floor heating system. Next to those is the hot water tank for the unit. On top of these in one of the closets is the entertainment center - amplifiers and other heat generating fun stuff. Once put into action about five plus weeks or so ago the temperature in this room has been at 100 plus degrees! Its averaging 20-30 degrees warmer than the outside of the closets.

So finally the client caved in and allowed the contractor to vent the closets, too little too late. The inside of the doors has dried out quicker than the outside and they are warping about 1/4" at the bottom between the two. Im not sure if just one is warping a lot, or both are warping a little just yet.

The doors are 2-1/4" thick three panel doors roughly 24"w x 82"h. The stiles and rails are three layers of soft maple glued up, allowed to sit for a couple weeks then re-flattened and milled. The panels are MDF. Out of the 15 doors for the unit these are the only ones that have moved an appreciable amount, so I think the construction methods are sound.

So the question is how to remedy these warped doors? I can probably re-set the hinges to get most of the warp out without making it look too bad. However now that there's a vent and the temp is down quite a bit, I wonder if over time the door will acclimate and pull itself back a bit? I hate to re-set them only to have them go back the other way. I am finishing up the rest of the job next week and very much would like to get paid in full. That's going to be difficult if I have to tell him to wait several months before I can fix the doors!

Forum Responses
(Cabinet and Millwork Installation Forum)
From contributor B:
You already know the right answer - you stated it in your post. Until the doors acclimate fully to the changed setting you will just be chasing ghosts with any attempted fix. If the GC/client is not willing to wait in order to see how the doors respond then you really only have the option of making two new doors, which would be the case if your fix failed or if joints started to pull apart anyway. Im not sure how your contract reads or how aggressive you would want to get with the client but the doors have warped due to factors created by the owner/GC and they should own whatever solution they decide to go with. A delay in final payment shouldn't even be on the table for consideration. If I were in your position, and the time line allowed for it, I'd push for them to pay for two new doors because it's really the best solution all the way around. Letting the doors acclimate or fixing them is a possible ongoing warranty issue you shouldn't even be exposed to considering the circumstances.

From Contributor O:
To the original questioner: I think you are on the right track with heat trapped behind the doors. You can probably verify this with a moisture reading on each side of the doors. This is why louver doors are used - to let heat out. It sounds like your owner would not go for that. In any case, most door warranties will allow up to a year for doors to acclimate. It may be difficult to show him a warranty now, after the fact, though. It is common practice in the industry to wait.

You could also stand behind the equal finish on all surfaces clause - the one that gets anyone off the hook if they so desire. Inside the hardware preps are never finished correctly enough for a warranty, though that is most likely far from the culprit here.

The problem with the wait a year thing is that the owner is looking at you now, holding money, and you would probably like it behind you also, so the hinge adjustment will be the thing to do, with an agreement to come back if needed (one time) in the future. That is as good a remedy as there is - wait and/or adjust hinges, and tell him his demands overrode good practice and he needs to explore options from there. Good luck - it is never any fun when the project places difficult or unreasonable demands and you get hung by them.

From the original questioner:
I know it has to be the heat and my evidence to show him will be the bolection moldings. When they shrink seasonally from drying out they open up on the inside of the miter joint. Well the moldings on the outside of the doors match the rest in the unit, a slight gap at the inside of about 1/64th of an inch. The moldings on the inside of the door have a gap of a good 1/16" of an inch. A clear sign the inside is doing something different from the outside. There's been so much shrinkage in the unit from the heat - the whole place is going to be re-painted in the winter!

The owner is fairly reasonable. When we started the job these were utility closets, (actually one utility closet, the other was supposed to be custom bookshelves), there were radiators in the unit already. Then after the doors were delivered he decided to put his own heating system in separate from the rest of the building. Then he decided to put his own a/c system in, you start to see how this job has progressed! This is one of the few times where I wished there was an architect to work with!

Anyway, I don't want to build new doors as I really don't have the time, and I don't think he's really going to be excited about paying for two more anyway. I don't mind spending a couple hours adjusting them to keep him happy, and he doesn't mind paying. I just wanted to get an idea of whether or not you guys thought the doors might relax, for lack of a better term, over time back to their original position? I think I'll give him the choice. I'll explain that they may settle out a bit over time, and that if I adjust them now they may move back and will need another adjustment later down the road (more money). Let him decide and go from there.

From contributor M:
Not sure about what area you are in, but here in my neck of the woods it is a code that doors into utility closets containing either gas or oil burners must be vented - either with louvers or installed grills on the door. They actually stipulate how much vented area there must be on the door given the size of the utility room as well as the appliance sizes. You may wish to look into this. You state he vented the closet - not sure how that plays into the door. Good luck - my guess is that the door will not relax and get back where it belongs down the road. Unless something changes with the difference inside and out of the closet - the problem will probably only escalate.

From the original questioner:
To contributor M: To the best of my knowledge they're all electric. Couldn't get the oil up to the unit, (fourth floor), and either gas or oil would need to be vented, which would be damn near impossible in this building. It's located in the city, and as much as it seems like it shouldn't be a problem to put a 4" or so vent pipe out the side of the building, it's anything but. You can't do anything that changes any part of the appearance of the building easily. The vent for the closet had to be channeled through the ceiling to tie into an existing bathroom vent.

Aside of that I just supply the doors, not the codes. I don't expect my Ford dealer to tell me where I can and cannot drive my truck, and I don't tell my clients where they can and cannot install their doors. And I generally don't install them either, leave that to the finish carpenters whenever possible. I think you may be right that the door may not return to its original state, especially as its still much warmer in the closet than outside. I'm just trying to come up with a solution that makes everyone happy.

From contributor F:
As a quick fix that may not require too much work, (and hopefully will get you your money) is it possible to adjust the hinges to get the doors close, and perhaps put a flat astragal, even one with a tapered rabbet, to hide the rest of the warpage? Does the design/hardware/owners design sensibility allow for this? If the doors fix themselves later (unlikely, but possible) the astragal can be removed. Louvered doors on any enclosed space with a heat-producing appliance is the way to go.

From Gene Wengert, forum technical advisor:
Even when the moisture is even, the doors will not become flat again. This is due to the plastic properties of wood that were under high strain initially when the heat came on. Depending on the finish, you might have some success by spraying the concave side with water or even putting wet towels on that side and then get the doors to come flat or a very little cup in the opposite direction. Indeed, you have identified the cause correctly. Note that moisture measurements taken at this time are too late. You would have had to have taken them before the venting was done and when conditions were severe.

From the original questioner:
As if it wasn't bad enough! So I pulled the two doors that were warped to see if I could possibly move the hinges out a bit for a little tweaking. Come to find out they never bothered painting the bottoms of the doors. The tops did get what appears to be a single coating of primer. Now I pretty much knew the insides were not given the same number of coats as the outside, but that's hard to prove without buying expensive measuring devices. Raw edges on the other hand are pretty easy to point out!

Not that I needed to, but I did have a short conversation with the painter on exactly how the doors needed to be painted when I delivered them, in front of the homeowner! Even though it should be common knowledge, I didn't want any room for misunderstanding that all surfaces needed to be coated equally and preferably fairly quickly.

So I let the homeowner know and he is now having all the doors pulled and painted. As far as the two warped doors go I recommended he have the finish carpenters re-set the jambs a bit at top and bottom. The face of the casing is close to 2" out from the wall so there's room to hide a bit of adjustment. Since these were the only two doors out of the 15 I built that has issues, and with all the circumstances with their surroundings, the homeowner is fully on my side that the problem was not with construction.

From Contributor O:
I have had the paint all sides equally, including the top and bottoms discussion with many builders, homeowners and their painters. I am surprised how many will mention that the wood needs to breath and the ends should most definitely be left unpainted. When I point out that the raw wood leaves the door susceptible, some just shrug their shoulders and say Well, it is wood, and we all know wood warps! A good warranty, spelling all this out, is your quiet friend if problems arise. Send a copy with your first formal proposal and again with invoicing. They can choose to ignore at their own peril.