The process of building a new home involves hundreds of decisions. If you really peek under the covers, you might be expected to provide answers to thousands of questions. Architects and builders can often overwhelm a homeowner with questions if they are not careful. In many instances, the builder or the architect decides not to ask but simply act. Believe it or not, one of the trouble areas can be the seemingly innocent category of interior doors.
Have you ever noticed how your knuckles sometimes rub against the door jamb when rotating a door knob? But strangely enough this does not happen on other doors at a neighbor's house or your office building. The trouble can be traced to the backset distance of the holes that were drilled to make room for the doorknob assembly. Backset is the distance of the centerline of the doorknob from the edge of the door. Don't ask me why, but there are two common backset distances: two and three eighths and two and three quarter inches. The difference between the two measurements is less than half an inch, but it makes a big difference to your hands.
The larger backset distance, two and three quarter inches, is commonly used on exterior doors. But for some reason, the smaller backset distance was chosen as the default distance for interior doors. The good news is you can specify the larger two and three quarter inch backset for both interior and exterior doors. All you have to do is coordinate your interior lockset hardware so that it is ordered with the longer latch to accommodate the longer backset distance. Many lockset manufacturers make a door latch part that is universal so it will fit doors that are drilled with the either the short or longer backset.
Noise can be a problem to solve after you move into a new home. Hollow core interior doors tend to transmit noise very easily. In many respects, the construction of the door is similar to a drum. The sound waves on one side of the door cause the thin veneer door skins to vibrate. This movement reproduces the noise on the other side of the door. Consider solid-core interior doors or doors that are advertised to reduce sound transmission. To really stop noise from passing through a door, you will have to install a substantial door and seal the door to the jamb to stop any and all air pathways around the door. This can be a huge challenge as the weatherstripping may not be very attractive.
The height of interior doors above finished floors can also be an issue. Some builders and finish carpenters may not communicate well. The net result is doors that have large gaps between them and the finish flooring materials or not enough gap. In my opinion, the ideal clearance between the bottom of a door and the finished floor is between three eighths or one half inch. Carpenters who set doors before the finish flooring is installed often do not cut off the ends of the door jambs to adjust for the proper height. They may also set the uncut door jambs on shims so they don't have to come back and cut off the bottoms of the doors. Hoping the clearance distance is correct is a gamble. Open lines of communication between the carpenters, builders and flooring contractors can solve this problem in a hurry.
The painters also have to be part of the interior door team. If interior doors are wood, it is absolutely necessary that the tops and bottoms of the doors be painted. Some wood doors come from the factory with a primer, but this is not enough protection in my opinion. Instruct your painters to make sure two coats of paint or urethane are applied to the tops and bottoms of all interior wood doors. If this wood is left exposed, humid air can enter the wood core of the doors and cause them to warp and twist over time.
The aesthetic appearance of interior doors is hard to change once they have been installed. Try to match the interior style of the doors with the overall style of the home. For example, if you happen to be building a Victorian style home, you can readily purchase doors that match that time period. Two common door styles were the horizontal five raised-panel door or the vertical four raised-panel door. I happen to have the vertical four-panel door in my Queen Anne Victorian style home. Installing a flat slab door or the traditional colonial style six-panel door in my home would cause any experienced architect or interior designer to shudder.
While on the subject of doors with your builder, be sure he doesn't make a mistake with your exterior doors. Frequently rough carpenters set these doors three quarters of an inch too low. Exterior doors must be able to pass over interior throw rugs. If you visit your home as it is being built and discover the threshold of the exterior doors is sitting directly on the subfloor of the home, you will have problems. By the time the finish floor is installed up against the threshold of the door, there is usually very little space for a throw rug. A scrap piece of lumber placed on the subfloor often allows the top of finished flooring to fit snugly under the threshold of the door. This allows sufficient room for throw rugs in almost all cases.