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posted: 4/2/2010 12:01 AM

Spring-loaded, retractable screens wont hide your beautiful front door

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Q. I do not like the appearance of a screen door over my front door, but I would like to get some light and natural ventilation through it. What options do I have other than to crack it open just a little?

A. Springtime, with its wonderful fragrances and freshness, is excellent for natural ventilation, unless you have allergies, of course. The EPA has found indoor air quality in an efficient house that is reasonably airtight is often worse than typical outdoor air.

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Natural ventilation can also reduce your air-conditioning costs during all but the hottest summer days. Although most of the summertime heat in a house leaks in from outdoors, still a substantial portion is generated indoors. Natural ventilation can carry this heated, stale air away. Also, the breeze that ventilation creates can make you feel much cooler.

Cracking the door open just a little will allow in some air, but biting insects will come along with it. If the only place you have looked for screen doors is a big box home center store, don't count them out yet. Some specialty shops offer very attractive screen/storm doors. They are not cheap, but they also provide enhanced security and wintertime energy savings.

I like fresh air in my own house, so I installed a retractable screen over my front door about six years ago. It still works smoothly and looks like new. It has molded-in reinforcing vinyl strips on the screen edges to minimize wear. A friend's six-year-old son literally ran through it one day and knocked it out of its track. I popped it back in and it worked fine.

A retractable screen is spring-loaded and rolls up into a small (about two-inch square) vertical sheet metal box mounted on the door frame. When the box is painted the same color as the door trim, it is barely noticeable. It looks as though it is part of the door frame trim molding. The spring-loaded screen has a handle and a magnetic strip built into its edge.

A thin steel strip is mounted vertically on the other side of the door frame. To close the screening over the door, pull the handle on the edge and move it over to the opposing steel strip. The magnet holds it securely and the spring tension holds it taut and smooth without wrinkles. Smaller models are available for windows and larger ones for double doors and entire balconies.

It is not difficult to install a retractable screen. Everything is available in a kit. The parts are not heavy, but they are long so having a helper makes installation easier. The vertical box is held in place with just a couple of screws into the door frame. The ends of upper and lower screen tracks get locked into the vertical side pieces.

The following companies offer retractable screens: Alco Ventures, (800) 667-2526, miragescreensystems.com; Dreamscreens, (888) 757-0929, dreamscreens.com; Eclipse Technologies, (877) 532-5477, retractablescreen.com; Phantom Screens, (888) 742-6866, phantomscreens.com; and Screen-Time, (800) 823-6677, screen-time.com.

Q. As our children have gotten older and moved out, we now have extra second-floor bedrooms that are not used. Would it be wise to close off the heating registers to those rooms to save energy?

A. It will save energy by closing the registers to a few rooms and keeping the doors closed. Less heat is lost through windows and walls to the outdoors when a room is cooler so your furnace has to run less.

Do not close off registers or duct dampers to more than 25 percent of the rooms in your house though. If the air flow through the furnace or central air conditioner is blocked too much, the heat transfer efficiency can be reduced.

• Write to James Dulley at 6906 Royalgreen Drive, Cincinnati, OH 45244, or visit www.dulley.com.

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