Give man’s best friend a way to make a grand entrance.
By Rob Robillard
In a perfect world my two Labrador pups would let themselves in and out of the house as needed—and make their own dinner!
Although we don’t live in a perfect world that doesn’t mean we don’t strive for greater efficiency and better solutions. My search for this led me to install a pet door. In this article I offer you my thoughts and tips on how to choose, measure for and install a quality pet door.
The Value of a Pet Door
A pet door, also known as a cat door and dog door, is a small portal in a wall, window or door to allow pets to enter and exit a house on their own. These doors are great for allowing your pet free access to the outdoors. It provides emergency egress in case of a fire or other emergency, assists when potty training and also allows guard dogs access to the property.
It’s a great feature for pet owners who work long hours and want their pets to have free access to a fenced yard. A pet door eliminates the need to rely on neighbors or friends to let your pet out.
Types of Pet Doors
Today’s pet doors have spring-loaded, flexible flap doors with strong magnets to close and seal the door flap from the weather. Some pet doors are electronically controlled by a RFID (radio-frequency identification) chip on the animal’s collar. The RFID chip unlocks the pet door as the animal approaches and locks it after they pass through.
The most common pet door is the flap door which is also the most cost effective and easiest to install.
Most folks don’t opt for the more complicated electronic door unless they have security issues or are concerned with stray animals entering the home. Other issues with electronic doors include battery failure in the animal’s collar or, if the collar should be removed or lost, failure of the pet door to open.
Location Wall vs. Door
Pet doors can be installed in walls, in a door and as a special panel to allow placement in a sliding door unit.
Wall units have several advantages over door units. First, a wall unit allows for a double flap pet door to be installed. A double flap pet door creates an air space between flaps and provides a superior weather seal and less air leakage. Double door flaps are far superior in energy efficiency than single door flaps.
A pet door cut through a door typically ruins the door, and that door will need to be replaced if the owner decides to remove the pet door. A flap door cut into an existing door is typically more costly than a wall unit, which only requires repairing wallboard and some siding.
A pet door in a wall also gives the owner more options for placement. A wall entrance placed in low traffic areas (an alcove, closet or rarely used hallway) keeps it away from entrance doors that are usually highly visible.
Measure Dog & Door
To determine the proper width of the pet door for your animal, open a door just wide enough for your animal to comfortably walk through. That measurement is your pet door’s flap width.
The top of the door flap should be mounted an inch above the top of the pet’s shoulder. This way the pet does not have to crouch to use the door. (Note: For double-flap pet doors, install the door 2 inches above the pet’s shoulders.)
One common mistake is to measure the pet’s head height:
All pets duck their heads and pick up their paws when passing through a pet door.
The lower the pet door’s bottom, the better. Try to avoid installing the door too high, which can be awkward for your pet. A good rule of thumb is to avoid exceeding 1/3 the height of the animal’s shoulders. Make adjustments if your dog has a deep chest or is low slung.
Sometimes the installation location dictates height as well.
A baseboard radiator dictated our minimum height (real world conditions). Always follow the manufacturer’s recommendations, but you may have to think outside the box when dealing with the environment where the door will be located.
In our situation we had two things working to our disadvantage. The mudroom closet where we wanted to place our pet door also had an 8-in. high hot water baseboard radiator along the wall at the floor level. This meant the door had to be installed over the radiator.
The pet door exited onto a covered porch that was 7 inches lower than the floor of the closet. The good thing about the covered location is that the door is protected, eliminating the worry of rainwater getting into the wall. However, this meant the door was 13 inches off the exterior porch deck, which was much too high for my dogs.
Because this was the only location for the pet door, we decided to install it and construct a 2-ft. square stoop for the dogs to stand on as they entered or exited. This worked very well.
The easiest installation involves locating the pet door between two existing wall studs. Electronic stud finders work well, but I always confirm the stud finder’s readings by using a small finish nail and poking a few holes. One trick is to look closely at the top edge of the baseboard trim at the pet door location. Try to locate the finish nail locations. Many times the upper nail locations will indicate a wall stud location.
Wall studs typically run 16 inches on-center, leaving approximately 14-1/2 inches of space between them. Other common wall spacing is 12-in. and 24-in. O.C.
Note: If you need to cut a stud, special framing is required to prevent structural degradation.
Depending on the pet door’s size, electrical wires can usually be left undisturbed in a stud bay with the pet door tunnel.
The Endura pet door we chose comes with a template, which you tape to the wall (between the studs) where the door will be installed. Double check for hidden wall obstructions, wires, pipes, etc.
Install the template square to the floor to ensure a proper look after installation. I located the top of my door, leveled a line and then installed the template to that line.
Cutting Wall & Siding
Use a long drill bit or feeler wire to mark the four corners of the door. This means drilling all the way through the wall to the outside.
I used insulation support rods, which measure 16-in. long and can easily be installed in a drill. The rods penetrate all of the wall materials and are long enough to be seen on both sides of the wall.
Connect the four corner holes on both sides of the wall using a level or straight edge.
Use a drywall jab-saw or jigsaw to cut out the wallboard along your marked lines. Use a jigsaw to cut out the siding and plywood sheathing. I like using a jigsaw because the blade doesn’t penetrate as deeply as a reciprocating saw, thus eliminating the chance of hitting a hidden wall pipe or wire.
While cutting, I suggest collecting the dust with a shop vacuum. This will dramatically reduce the airborne drywall dust in the house as well as the cleanup after installation.
With the insulation exposed, carefully remove only the material that will be in the way of the pet door. Later, while installing the pet door, re-use some of this insulation. Tuck it into the sides, bottom and top of the cut hole and pet door channel.
Assembling the Pet Door
Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for applying the pet door’s weather-stripping and constricting the wall channel. The wall channel is an aluminum tunnel between the two door flaps. It protects the inside cavity of the wall and seals it off as well.
Our Endura Flap pet door had four threaded rods that clamp the two door flap units tight to the house sheathing and to the wall cavity tunnel. This creates a tight seal and secure installation.
Recessing the Exterior Door
I have cedar clapboard siding on my house. Once the wall holes were cut I used the door flap frame as a guide and carefully cut away the clapboard siding to recess the frame within the siding. This provided a professional looking installation and avoided unsightly and leaky gaps along the side of the frame and clapboards.
The best tool to make the cut is an oscillating multi-tool. We used the FEIN Multi-Master FMM 250Q to make these cuts. Any multi-tool will work, as would repetitive scoring with a straight edge and utility knife (but that takes a lot of time).
Sealing the Siding
Caulk the siding to the door-frame when complete. Also apply a bead of silicone to the inside of the flap frame and the tunnel to keep water from getting into the wall cavity.
Training the Dog to Use the Door
With patience you can train your pets to use this door. The one rule when training is never to shove your pets through the door.
Open the flap and let them see the outside and use food treats to coax them to go through it while open. After a few repetitions, hold the door open less and less until the animal gets comfortable touching and pushing on the flap.
Avoid scolding or punishing them.
For our installation I used treats to lure them outside, then I’d go inside and repeat the process.
After doing this a few times over a few days we started using the pet door only to allow the pets access to the outdoors. We kept treats near the door, and when our two dogs whimpered to go outside we simply took our treats outside and coaxed the dogs through the pet door.
If the animal is having difficulty you can reduce or eliminate the magnets until they get the hang of pushing the door.
Within two to three days our two dogs were using the pet door with no issues.
Side Note 1
Hidden Dangers Inside the Wall
Prior to installing a pet door in the wall, pay close attention to what is behind the wallboard. Pipes and wires can cause problems, and you don’t want to have to relocate your door and then patch an area you didn’t use.
Some tips for locating hidden obstructions is to do the following:
- Look for electrical outlets or switches in the vicinity of the pet door. If an outlet is within 12 to 14 inches from your location, you may not have enough room to fit the door between the wall studs.
- Look below, above and beside the wall being used for the pet door for radiators, adjacent bathrooms or kitchen plumbing.
- Poke a quarter-size hole if needed and look inside the wall cavity with a flashlight.
- Use wire or a straight coat hanger to probe the cavity for obstructions.
- If you’re lucky enough to own a flexible inspection camera, this is the perfect place to use it.
Side Note 2
Pet Door Features
Our research told us that the Endura Flap Dog Door for Walls was the best choice for our needs. We used several criteria when deciding on a pet door manufacturer. They were:
Flexible flap design: A flexible flap door allows the pet to enter, exit or back out without the danger of pinching the animal.
Magnets: Embedded magnets in the flap and frame of the pet door ensure a tight seal.
Double flap feature: A double flap pet door creates an air space that helps insulate and keep the conditioned air in the house. We felt that the double flap doors in our 2×6 framed walls would be beneficial for New England winters as well as when the AC is on in July.
Flap pivot point: The flaps swing on a rod, not a hinge, to avoid stressing or cracking the flap, which can happen on hinged doors. Endura tested their pet doors over 3 million times with no failures. To put that in layman’s terms, that equals 100 opens and closes each day for 80 years. (We’d love to see their testing jig!)
Wind resistance: A strong wind or Nor’easter can easily blow open an unsecured pet door. Endura Flap magnets are rated to 50 mph winds, and more magnets can be added if desired.
Temperature resistance and UV retardant: The flap door is made of a polyolethin based polymer and is rated to flex to minus 40 degrees. Vinyl doors will crack at temperatures that low. Direct sunlight can also cause fading and cracking, but the Endura door is treated with a UV retardant.
Clear see-through door: The pet door flaps are clear, allowing light to pass and the pet to see through as well.
Security panel: Most pet doors have a security panel to close off and lock the pet door. We liked how the Endura door slides and locks between a full-length groove on three sides of the frame. The security panel then locks in place. We do this at night for added security as well as to reduce heat loss.