Replacing Basement Bulkhead Door: What You Need to Know

Basements, particularly in older Northeastern homes, often come with bulkhead doors. These doors are designed to withstand regular exposure to harsh elements, daily use, and storage pressures.

Regular maintenance is essential, but eventually, you’ll need to replace them. Timing, door selection, and installation requirements are crucial factors to consider. Discover everything you need to know when replacing your basement bulkhead door.

Reasons for Replacing a Bulkhead Door

Reasons for Replacing a Bulkhead Door

Quality bulkhead doors, when properly maintained, can last for decades. But even they will eventually degrade to the point of malfunction. Some common indicators that it’s time to replace your bulkhead door are:

  • Rust and corrosion on steel doors
  • Warped or rotten wooden doors
  • Doors no longer latch correctly or sit squarely on their frames
  • Water leaking into your basement
  • Holes, structural damage, and sealing issues
  • Loss of aesthetic appeal, despite the functionality

Don’t rush to replace your bulkhead doors at the first sign of trouble. Consider if replacement might be a more valuable investment than repair.

Benefits of Basement Bulkhead Doors

While not common across the US, basement bulkhead doors (also known as cellar doors and basement entrance doors) provide significant benefits:

  • Easy access. Basement bulkhead doors are a convenient entry and exit point for your basement. They are typically larger than most interior doors, ideal for moving large objects in and out of the basement.
  • Ventilation and light. Open bulkhead doors allow natural light and fresh air to enter the basement, which can help combat moisture issues, particularly in unfinished basements.
  • Emergency exit. Bulkhead doors serve as emergency exits if the main interior exits are blocked or unsafe.
  • Waterproofing and insulation. High-quality bulkhead doors are waterproof and insulated, keeping your basement dry and increasing your home’s energy efficiency.

Choosing the Right Basement Door

Before choosing your new basement bulkhead door, you must consider the type of door required, your basement’s current state, and other influential factors. 

Evaluate Your Basement’s State

Complete a thorough inspection of your basement to determine the type of door you’ll need. Look for signs of dampness, check the condition of your current bulkhead, and assess how much light or ventilation you need. 

Types of Bulkhead Doors

Different door materials offer varied advantages, durability, and aesthetics. The top choices include steel, vinyl or polyethylene, fiberglass, and wood:

  • Steel doors are highly resilient and require little maintenance but may rust and lack aesthetic appeal. 
  • Vinyl or polyethylene doors are incredibly durable and weather-resistant but may not be as effective against break-ins and are prone to deterioration in harsh climates. 
  • Fiberglass doors are lightweight, energy-efficient, and visually pleasing but may crack and warp under sustained sunlight.
  • Wooden doors are no longer popular due to their tendency to rot, warp, and grow mold and mildew. 

Ultimately, your best choice will depend on your specific needs and preferences.

Additional Considerations

While door material plays a significant role, don’t ignore your budget. The cost for basement bulkhead doors is between $800 and $1,600, depending on the material you pick. Then, you must account for installation costs, which vary depending on factors such as demolition, repairs, foundation expenses, contractor fees, and more. 


Installing a bulkhead door can either be a DIY project or be left to a professional contractor. Both options have their pros and cons. 

DIY vs. Professional Help

A DIY bulkhead installation can be cost-effective if you have the skills and tools. It requires considerable time, and a bulkhead door requires a certain skill level. The learning curve could be steep for those unfamiliar with this type of work.

A professional installer will know the best practices for bulkhead door installation, which can result in a higher-quality finish. They also know how to troubleshoot problems during installation. You’ll need to budget labor and material costs. 

Choosing between DIY and professional installation depends on your preferences, available time, skills, and budget. 

Step-by-step DIY Installation

If you decide to take on this project yourself, follow this step-by-step guide for the most efficient process:

  • Remove the old door: Start by unscrewing the old doors and hardware. Use a pry bar to detach the side panels, sill, and header sections from the foundation.
  • Prepare the area: Assess the concrete foundation for deficiencies. Level uneven areas using a concrete resurfacer or grinder.
  • Assemble the door: Pre-assemble the new door on a flat surface. Apply sealant to the joints before connecting the parts.
  • Repair the foundation (if needed): Fix any foundation issues. Ensure the surface is flat and smooth for the new door.
  • Prepare the wall: Remove the siding to expose the sheathing. Trace the door’s flange on the wall for cutting, creating a flat surface for sealing.
  • Install the frame: Dry-fit the door on the foundation. Mark the mounting holes on the foundation and walls, drill the holes, then apply a sealant. Lower the frame onto the shims, and install the anchors to secure the frame.
  • Finish the installation: Apply flashing tape over the header flange, install weatherstripping around the door, and patch the siding for a seamless finish.
  • Final check: Ensure all components are correctly sealed, aligned, and functioning.

Remember, while DIY can be rewarding and cost-effective, always consider your skill level and the complexity of the job. If in doubt, don’t hesitate to seek professional help.


Is there a practical reason for a basement door?

Yes, a basement door provides an additional exit point in emergencies, provides improved ventilation, and can allow natural light into your basement to enhance your home’s safety and appeal. 

What is a basement egress window?

A basement egress window is a window large enough, as defined by local building codes, to be used as an emergency exit from the basement. These windows also allow natural light to come into your basement. Building codes often require these windows if a basement is used for living space (offices, bedrooms, etc.).

What’s the cost to remove and replace a bulkhead door?

On average, a new bulkhead door can range from $1,000 to $3,500, with steel doors generally being less expensive than fiberglass or wooden ones. If you hire a professional for the job, you’ll need to factor in labor costs, which could add an additional $500 to $1,000. Furthermore, if your project requires modifications to the foundation or stairs, the price can increase further. 

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Written by Murat

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