Dear Jim: I like screen doors for natural ventilation, but they are expensive, inconvenient and don't look really good. Are hideaway retractable screen doors easy to operate and durable? — Dan J.
Dear Dan: Natural ventilation is obviously more efficient than using fans or air-conditioning. Just a gentle breeze can make it feel like the air temperature is several degrees cooler than it actually is. Other than days with smog alerts, fresh outdoor air is typically less polluted than indoor air in an efficient house.
Before deciding against a screen door, check out some newer designs. There are some very attractive screen/storm doors, often more attractive than many primary doors. Some wrought iron ones also provide considerable security. By installing a good-quality screen/storm door, your wintertime utility bills also will be lower.
A retractable screen is probably your best alternative choice to a screen door. Ten years ago, I installed a Dreamscreen retractable screen on my double front doors and it still works well. When it is retracted, guests do not even realize I have one. The only maintenance is spraying a little silicone lubricant in the tracks each spring.
A 2-inch square cassette, the height of the door, is mounted vertically on one side of the frame. It is spring-loaded to automatically roll up the screen inside of the cassette. A same-length mating steel strip is installed on the other side of the door frame. Narrow horizontal aluminum tracks are installed across the top and bottom to support the closed screen and to seal out insects.
To close the screen over the door opening, slide the edge of the cassette side across to unroll the screen. Pull it over to the mating strip. A magnetic edge on the screen edge holds tightly to the mating steel strip on the other side. An adjustable spring inside the cassette holds the screen taut for a crisp appearance. My screen has bulged out only a couple of times in very strong winds. It snaps back into the track when it is opened again.
The same basic spring-loaded design, but shorter, is available for windows. The cassette is also smaller because it has to hold less screening. Very large motorized retractable screens are available for balconies that can cover the entire opening.
Another less expensive screening option for front or back doors is a removable hanging Bug Off Screen. It takes only a minute or two to put up and take down. Two sections of screening hang from an expandable rod (similar to a shower curtain rod). They stick together in the center with small magnets and to the door frame sides with adhesive-backed hook-and-loop strips. It is easy to walk through and seals out bugs fairly well.
The following companies offer retractable screens: Bug Off Screen, (888) 342-5270; Dreamscreens, (888) 757-0929; Mirage Screen Systems, (855) 488-7655; ODL, (800) 253-3900; and Phantom Screens, (888) 742-6866.