Tag Archives: pet doors

Through Wall Doggy Door

Excerpt from my regular column in the Santa Barbara News-Press.

Question:  My wife and I want to have a doggy door put into the wall of our house so that our dog can come and go from the house to the back yard as he pleases.  Can a doggy door be put into any wall and will cutting a hole in the wall weaken the house and damage it in any way?

Your Handyman:  Yes a doggy door can be installed in most any exterior wall on your home and if installed correctly will not harm your home, but the job will go quicker and easier if some time is spent in selecting the location.  What you want to avoid if possible is selecting a location for the pet door where utilities like a water or gas pipe or an electrical cable are present.  If the location you are considering has a garden hose valve nearby on the outside of the wall, or there are electrical outlets nearby on the inside of the wall, then the likelihood of a pipe or cable being in the way of your pet door is greater.

Once you have the location for the pet door selected, the first step is to trace the outline of the hole needed for the door opening onto the inside drywall or plaster using the paper template that comes with the door.  You will need either an electronic stud finder or the old fashioned magnetic stud finder that I prefer, to determine the location of the wall studs which usually are about 15” apart, and the door will need to be centered in the space between two wall studs.  Take care to position the opening relative to the height of your pet so that the finished door is easily accessible for the dog or cat.  Carefully drill a 3/8” to 1/2’’ diameter hole in a bottom inside corner of the traced opening taking care not to insert the drill bit any farther than necessary inside the wall so as to not damage a pipe or cable.  Use a drywall or jab saw to carefully cut along the line, once again being very careful to not penetrate any farther than necessary inside the wall.  A jab saw is much easier to control than a power saw and will be less likely to cause damage to unseen utilities.  After a small section of wall is removed, place your hand inside the wall to confirm that there are no pipes or cables in the way.

Once the interior wall is opened up, the next step is to take a long drill bit of a smaller diameter to carefully drill through the exterior wall from the inside corners of the opening, making a hole in the exterior siding that lines up with the corners of the inside opening.  Take care to make sure that your drill bit is level so that the corner holes in the exterior siding line up both horizontally and vertically with the inside corners.  If your exterior siding is stucco or smooth plaster, then your drill bit will need to be a masonry bit in order to drill through the cement based siding.

With the corners of the exterior opening marked by the 4 drill holes, you can now sketch the opening size on the siding and if it is a wood siding, you can prepare to cut the opening by drilling a larger starter hole for a reciprocating power saw like a sawzall or a jig saw.  If your siding is stucco or plaster, you can make the cut using either an angle grinder or a circular saw outfitted with a masonry blade.

The pet door will have an inside piece and an outside piece that overlap in the middle of the wall, and once your opening is complete the door itself is pretty simple to install using the screws provided by the manufacture.  Be sure to use an exterior grade caulking to seal the outside edges of the door to keep out moisture and insects and your door is ready for pet traffic!

If it turns out that an electrical cable does pass through the opening then you will need to install a new electrical box on each side of the door and loop a new section of cable over the dog door opening inside the wall.  These two new electrical boxes can either be installed with electrical outlets or with a solid cover plate but the wire connections for the loop going over the dog door must be in an accessible box per electrical codes.  It is unsafe and a code violation to have any wire connections hidden inside a wall without access.  If you do not have experience and knowledge on how to safely and correctly do this electrical work, then you need an electrician.

If a water or gas pipe is discovered in the opening, then the pipe will need to be also looped over the opening which may not be an easy thing to do without substantially enlarging the drywall opening, and in the case of a threaded steel pipe, it would probably be best to select a different location for the door.

One last very important concern for a pet door is to not unintentionally provide access for the local wildlife to enter your home.  Several years back my neighbor woke up in the middle of the night to find a family of skunks in his kitchen happily eating the cat food after hopping through the pet door.  My neighbor quietly went back to bed, the skunk family politely left when the cat food ran out, and the cat door was permanently sealed up first thing in the morning.

Skunks, raccoons and opossums are common throughout the Santa Barbara area and you may want to consider a pet door with an electronic feature that allows the door to open only when the pet approaches while wearing a small sensor device on the collar.  This feature will add to the price of the door but will keep out unwanted late night visitors and is probably money well spent.

-Mark Baird
Owner, YourHandyman & Construction
CA License #935259

Intercoms and Pet Doors

Excerpt from my regular column in the Santa Barbara News-Press.

Intercoms and Pet Doors

Question: Our Montecito home has an intercom system that we used to get much use from when our children lived at home but unfortunately it stopped working years ago. There is a central control panel in the kitchen with a FM radio, each bedroom has a smaller panel with a speaker, and there is a panel at the front door with the door bell which no longer works either. I would really like to get the door bell and front door intercom working again or maybe we just need to tear the whole system out and patch all the walls. What can we do?

Your Handyman: Many custom homes built in the 1960’s through the 1980’s had hard wired intercom systems installed that were very similar to your system. These whole house intercoms typically featured a central panel in the kitchen that Mom would use to wake up or summon the kids, pipe music from a favorite FM radio station to different rooms in the house, or to identify a visitor at the front door via intercom. Also located at or nearby the central panel was a transformer located inside the wall that supplied the electrical power needed to run the intercom.

This type of hard wired whole house intercom has not been very commonly installed in the past 20 years or so and many of the older systems no longer work correctly or have stopped working entirely. Most new home communication and entertainment system are wireless which eliminates the need for wires to be concealed in the walls, attics and crawl spaces. If your system stopped working entirely all at once then possibly the problem was that the transformer burned out and left the system without electrical power. If this is the case then it may be that all that is needed to get your system up and running again is a new transformer. Look online to see if the manufacturer of your intercom system is still in business, and if so contact them to ask about a new transformer. If the manufacturer can not be found, get the model # and specs off the label on the transformer from the burned out unit and possibly you can find a replacement via a Google search.

One of the more common brands of home intercom systems was Nutone and Nutone wisely sells part kits that will allow you to retrofit your older Nutone system into a brand new system, providing that the wiring is still intact in your walls. We have retrofitted 2 different Nutone systems in recent years, and replaced the main control panel and all the remote panels including the speaker at the front door. Basically everything but the wiring and the metal boxes embedded in the walls were replaced and the home owner essentially had a brand new intercom system that should be good for another 20 or 30 years.

Question: I have seen advertisements for doggy doors that go through the inside wall of the house to the outside and it sounds like something that would help me with our dogs. We have 3 indoor dogs that are constantly wanted to be let in and out our back door during the day. How hard would it be to put one in our house?

Your Handyman: Installing a through the wall pet door is not a particularly difficult job to do but there are a few things to consider before you start cutting holes in your plaster or drywall. Depending on the type of exterior siding that your home has, it may be difficult to do an acceptable patch job if you decide sometime in the future to seal up the opening. Repairing an opening in an exterior stucco wall is relatively easy but if your home has say an older style of redwood tongue and groove siding, it may be a time consuming and expensive project to fill in the opening and have it not be a noticeable patch, if you sell the house sometime in the future to someone who is not a pet lover.

Another issue to consider when selecting the location of the pet door is whether or not there may be an electrical wire or pipe running horizontally across the stud bay that you are planning to open up. If your home has a raised foundation then more than likely the wiring for the wall outlets comes up from below the floor but if your house is on an cement slab foundation, then the wires are probably running across the wall horizontally from outlet to outlet. If your pet door opening has to be at a location where there is an electrical wire, then a junction box will have to be located on either side of the opening with a new piece of romex cable spliced into the existing cable at each junction box and then looped over the pet door inside the wall. These junction boxes will need to be open to the room but covered with a solid cover plate to be in compliance with electrical codes which prohibit concealing a junction box inside a wall.

A pet door is sized so that it can fit between the vertical studs inside the wall which are usually spaced at 16” centers leaving an open space of opening of about 14.5” for homes build in recent years. However if your home was built pre World War II then it may be framed in true 2”x3” studs spaced closer together allowing for a smaller opening for your pet door, and you would be wise to purchase a narrower sized door.

Once you have your wall location selected, carefully open up a small opening in the interior wall and then take a good look inside the wall with a flashlight just to make sure there are no surprises like a water or gas pipe. Once your interior opening is made using the template that comes packaged with the pet door, carefully drill a hole at each corner of the opening going through the exterior wall taking great care to stay level with the inside opening. Use these corner holes to mark for your cuts in the exterior wall, carefully cut the exterior opening and you are ready to install your new pet door.

Santa Barbara is home to all sorts of creatures like skunks who may also want to use the new pet door when your dogs are not around. I would recommend that you consider a pet door that has an electronic latch that only opens when a little transponder device worn on the dogs collar is nearby; otherwise the doggy door won’t open. Several years ago my neighbor woke in the middle of the night to find a family of skunks in his kitchen happily eating cat food after entering uninvited via an unlatched pet door. Fortunately his odiferous guest politely left after the food was all eaten and my neighbor sealed up the pet door first thing the next morning.
-Mark Baird
Owner, YourHandyman & Construction
CA License #935259