What is the largest moving device in a house that gets used at least two or three times a day? The correct answer: the garage door. Not only is it big and useful, manufacturers are working hard to make it attractive, too.

The most recent trend in beauty for garage doors is carriage-house style. These doors typically cost more than standard raised-panel ones, but they add a distinctive touch that many homeowners think is worth it. “These days, people are more open to spending a little more to make their house look better,” says Robert Deisher, product manager for residential door systems at Overhead Door.

The latest innovation in the style calls for steel construction instead of traditional wood. Steel offers two advantages over wood: It costs less and it requires much less maintenance. If a builder wants to go that route, his two choices are embossed steel or steel with an overlay. Both simulate the old-fashioned look of doors that swung open from the sides of wooden carriage houses, where horse-drawn carriages and early cars were stored. A steel door, however, is considerably less expensive—about $1,000 compared with $3,000 and up for wood.

Decorative hardware helps the new metal products mimic wood doors of yester-year. Strap hinges on the sides make steel doors look ready to swing open, and handles in the middle give the impression that the units can be pulled open instead of swung overhead.

Several manufacturers of wood garage doors are aiming for a broader market with steel. Among them is Amarr, which now offers the 24-gauge embossed steel Classica collection. The two-step process that creates the steel door first embosses a wood slat look, then adds a cross-buck appearance. Embossed doors are the lowest-priced units of all carriage-house styles.

“This door is more appealing to a wider range of people,” says marketing development coordinator Keith Tolbert. “It's different from the raised-panel steel that has been standard. It gives builders, especially tract builders, an option.”

Pros should use that option selectively, though. Carriage-house doors tend to look better on Tudor, French country, or English cottage homes rather than contemporary or Prairie styles, says Kent Forsland, president of Designer Doors, which manufactures wood garage doors.

At the next price point are steel doors with composite or wood overlays that are screwed, nailed, or glued on. Scottsdale, Ariz.-based builder Meritage Corp. installs Clopay's Coachman collection steel-composite doors in the homes it builds in Northern California and the state's Central Valley.

“Wooden doors are beautiful, but they require maintenance, especially in homes that face west,“ explains marketing director Niki Burks. The builder also appreciates the lower price of the steel-composite product for its single-family detached homes, which sell for $300,000 to $800,000.

THE WOOD FACTOR Nonetheless, some homeowners simply crave wood garage doors, and builders see a beautiful wood product as an opportunity to differentiate themselves from the competition and “to provide architectural continuity,” Forsland says.

Some wood carriage door collections include Raynor's American Rivers, Clopay's Reserve, Overhead Door's Ranch House, and Amarr's Biltmore Estate. The Biltmore collection is based on doors from the historic Biltmore Estate in Asheville, N.C.

Much as they appreciate a stunning wood door, says installer Steve Padget, builders don't always understand how much time it takes to craft the product. Lead time can be a problem, he notes, when builders assume they can order a wood unit at the last minute. Instead, they should allow six to 10 weeks, suggests Padget, president and owner of Atlanta Doors Unlimited.

Then there's the sticker shock. But he says, “You pay a lot, you get a lot. It has a good thump factor when people knock on it, a solid feel, and a comforting sound.”

If your client can't afford an upscale wood door, Padget points out, a sturdy steel door is a good alternative and even provides better insulation. And if the garage door isn't going to be very visible, facing the backyard, for example, he recommends steel rather than wood.

As neighbors see carriage-house garage doors and ask for them too, more builders will be installing them, Padget predicts. The wood styles will sell particularly well, he says, because “up close there is a world of difference.”

Stephani L. Miller contributed to this report.

Curb Appeal It's time for the garage door to take its rightful place as a key element in home building, manufacturers contend.

“The garage door can finish a look,” explains Pat Lohse, director of residential marketing for Clopay. “Or an improperly selected garage door can destroy the look of a home.”

Consider curb appeal, always a decisive element in home sales. A garage door provides about 40 percent of the look from the curb, says Bryce Clark, president of installer Advanced Door in Ogden, Utah.

Just because the door is installed at the tail end of construction is no reason to skimp on it, says Steve Padget, president and owner of installer Atlanta Doors Unlimited. “A cheap door will reflect on the quality of the builder and makes home buyers question everything else in the house.”

Home buyers have always paid attention to the appearance of doors and windows, Lohse says, and “Now they're looking at garage doors the same way.”—D.K.

Three Types of Doors Embossed Steel

+ Costs less than overlay or wood
+ Has one-piece construction, so no pieces can fall off or come loose
+ Requires less maintenance than wood

Has lower R-value than other options
May come in fewer colors Steel with Overlay

+ Costs less than wood doors
+ Has higher R-value than embossed doors
+ Composite-overlay doors require less maintenance than wood doors
The overlay is screwed, nailed, or glued to the steel and could come loose Wood

+ Looks most authentic
+ Offers most ability to customize
Costs more than other options
Requires more maintenance than steel

Gadco. Part of the Presidential series, the Lincoln carriage-house garage door is one of eight wood styles available in the line. The doors are available in 8- to 18-foot widths and 7- to 8-foot heights. Each door comes standard with 2- or 4½-inch-thick insulated glass windows in arched or square designs. 800-323-0813. www.gadco.com.

Amarr. Featuring the maker's DuraSafe pinch-resistant technology, Classica collection steel carriage-house garage doors are available in four styles: Lucern, Valencia, Santiago, and Tuscany. All are divided into three sections and come only in white but can be colored with latex outdoor paint. The wood-grain patterns are pressed into the steel exterior of the door. Six decorative glass window designs and two closed-top designs are available. 800-503-3667. www.amarr.com.

Clopay. The Coachman collection of steel garage doors is available in three styles and features wood-grain embossed PVC overlays in white, almond, or sandtone. Constructed with interior and exterior steel layers, the garage doors have a 1 3/8-inch-thick insulation layer that provides an R-value of 6.5. 800-225-2729. www.clopaydoor.com.

Jeld-Wen. The Carriage House series of composite garage doors offers a wide range of styles, including classic swing, traditional Craftsman, and modern designs with deep-relief panels and wood-grained patterns, with or without window grids. At 1½ inches thick, Carriage House garage doors are constructed from a composite material and come in 7-and 8-foot heights in a variety of widths. 541-850-2606. www.jeld-wen.com.

Designer Doors. Tested to withstand 140-mph winds and for impact resistance, the solid wood Hurricane Frame garage door features a full-length, clear Douglas fir frame with exterior plywood on both sides. The doors are available in a variety of wood species, including Western red cedar, mahogany, cypress, and redwood. Simulated divided lights with impact-resistant glass are also available. 800-241-0525. www.designerdoors.com.

Chamberlain Professional Products. The LiftMaster EverCharge battery backup system is designed to maintain garage door functions during power outages. A trickle charge that plugs directly into the garage door opener system provides continuous service to the opener, remote control, keyless entry, and control panel. 800-323-2276. www.liftmaster.com.

Genie Co. Using a tuneless surface acoustic wave resonator, the GWKP digital wireless keypad operates up to three Genie Intellicode garage door opener systems and features large, fully illuminated buttons. An LED indicator light alerts users to battery life and programming status. For security, the wireless keypad accepts a PIN to authorize access. 330-829-3600. www.geniecompany.com.

Summit Door. Designed to provide a quality carriage-style wood garage door at an economical price, the Builders Choice collection features four-layer construction and polystyrene insulation. Five designs are available in paint- or stain-grade wood facing options in standard heights and widths with several glass light options. 888-768-3667. www.summit-door.com.

Overhead Door. Constructed with the maker's Thermacore metal-foam-metal layered system, Renaissance collection doors provide an R-value of 12.76. Many carriage-house door styles are available and all feature a wood-grain finish on the steel sections and moldings. The door features a heavy-duty track system and ball-bearing urethane rollers. 800-929-3667. www.overheaddoor.com.

Wayne-Dalton. Available in three styles, Designer series carriage-house garage doors are constructed of steel and have a pinch-resistant design. The Estate collection features vintage-style carriage-house doors; the Contemporary collection features doors with a flush design and stucco embossing; and the Traditional collection features colonial, elongated raised-panel, and flush designs. Glass light options are available. 800-827-3667. www.wayne-dalton.com.

Raynor. The American Rivers collection of wood carriage-house garage doors comprises four models: Vermilion, Columbia (shown), Potomac, and Savannah. Each door is constructed from a solid 1 3/8-inch-thick Douglas fir frame with either a stain-ready Western red cedar or paint-ready medium-density overlay exterior. Interiors are exterior-grade plywood. Several glass light and hardware options are available. 815-288-1431. www.raynor.com.