Everything You Need to Know About Cellar Doors

Alison Kasch
Written by Alison Kasch
Updated October 13, 2021
A red cellar door next to a window with a dog
Dwight Nadig/iStock/Getty Images Plus via Getty Images

A cellar door or “bulkhead door” offers easy outdoor access to your basement or crawl space

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A storm cellar door secures the bulkhead, which is an entry point to your home’s basement from the outside. Cellar doors protect it from getting infiltrated by outside leaks and also provide an extra “in” or “out” in case of storms or other emergencies. So the door you choose is important for protection.

What Is the Purpose of a Storm Cellar Door?

Aside from their classic country-style aesthetic, storm cellar doors and bulkheads are practical. For one thing, they provide an easy means of transporting heavy items to and from the basement. If you have a couch, basement bar, or vintage pinball machine to move down there, they’ll make your life much easier.

A cellar door also offers an extra way into the basement in case of a storm, which comes in handy if you’re not at home when it hits. On the flip side, it provides an emergency exit, which is extra important if you’ve transformed your basement into a living space.

Cellar Door Types and Prices

Bulkhead doors come in a wide variety of styles, materials, and price points. What you need depends on the state of your current door, as well as your budget and security needs.

If your bulkhead’s access point is outside, you may already have a wooden cellar door. Despite these doors providing some level of defense against weather and intrusion, they inevitably begin to rot over time. This can lead to serious basement leaks.

A better choice for bulkhead doors is either steel or fiberglass, which both offer superior durability.

Steel Cellar Doors

Steel is heavier and should last at least 20 years without rusting. You can expect to pay between $500 and $1,230 for a standard 4-foot door panel. Combining a steel door with a padlock will help ensure your basement bulkhead doesn’t become a secret access point for intruders.

Fiberglass Doors

Fiberglass offers all the durability of steel without all the weight. As a bonus, they offer designs that mimic wood if you’re looking to keep that classic look. Installed correctly, it provides superior weather defense and will not crack or rust over time. These doors can cost anywhere from $1,000 to $2,000, or possibly more depending on the model.

Finding a Pro to Install a Bulkhead Door

If you need to install a new cellar door, your best option is to contact a local basement contractor with plenty of experience installing storm cellar doors. The average handyperson might not have the skills to properly seal, install, and secure your door. This might cause problems (and more expenses) in the future. Be sure to also check references and reviews to ensure you’re selecting the right pro for the job.

Cellar Door Care and Maintenance

Ongoing care of your cellar door is crucial for maintaining its structural integrity over time. By keeping up with maintenance, you’ll prolong the life of your door—as well as its ability to keep out excess water and moisture.

Your Maintenance Checklist

Each season, be sure to:

  • Check the door for any damage such as chips, scuffs, or discoloration

  • Oil the hinges to make sure they don't pull or twist the door

  • Check to make sure no gaps have appeared in the caulking (if necessary, remove the door and re-caulk; this might save you from having to purchase another door)

Other common problems include doors that aren't flush with the concrete base or aren’t hinged correctly, which can cause premature wear and tear. Stay on the lookout for these issues during your seasonal inspections.

Keeping Moisture Out

Along with inspecting for structural issues, it’s a good idea to check on the basement during rain or snow to ensure no moisture gets inside. Even a small amount of water can cause moisture buildup, which can quickly result in mold or mildew if left unaddressed.

A common question about basements and foundations is how to prevent these moisture-related issues. For starters, if your basement or crawlspace has a dirt floor, you may want to think about investing the cost to install a concrete floor with an extra moisture barrier. There are also other basement waterproofing costs that are worth budgeting for, such as sealants or extra drainage.

Securing Your Storm Cellar Door

Many cellar doors will come with small handle locks that require a key to open, but these won’t stand up against forced entry. For example, they are vulnerable to savvy intruders punching them out with a tool or applying brute force to shear the lock from the fiberglass.

If security is your primary concern, you’ll want to consider a steel door and large padlock to make your cellar door burglar-proof. You can also use extra-long screws to secure the door to its concrete frame, as well as coverings for hinge screws that prevent removal. In addition to that, a motion sensor light can scare off anyone who has no business poking around your property.

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