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Dear Jim: I want to replace my peeling old wood front door with an efficient decorative one with leaded glass. Would this type of door be a wise financial choice or will I just have similar problems? -- Paul M.

Dear Paul: There are high quality natural wood doors available that require little maintenance. Installing one can be an investment in your home and can create a dramatic entrance to your home. The most decorative doors are still handmade by skilled craftsmen.

Although a natural wood door is not as energy efficient as the new insulated carbon or fiberglass doors, nothing compares to beauty and elegance of hand-finished real wood. Each wood door is unique because the natural grain varies in every door as does the way the grain absorbs the stain.

Don't go out and buy the cheapest door on sale. It may look good now, but all you will have in two years is a "cheap" warped door. High-quality wood front doors are expensive, so be prepared for sticker shock. Keep in mind that with proper care, these doors can last a lifetime.

Even without an insulated core, installing a new wood door will lower your heating and cooling bills and reduce drafts and outdoor noise. Most energy loss at an old door is not through it. It is mainly from air leakage around it. The best wood doors come with double and triple weatherstrip seals.

Large ornate glass panels (beveled, etched and leaded) are common in high-quality decorative doors today. Some manufacturers use triple-pane glass. This is a good choice in all climates because the expensive decorative center pane has protective panes of tempered glass on each side of it.

If you want a highly insulated door with the beauty of real wood, several manufacturers offer wood doors with insulated cores. The Signature brand has a mini-insulated steel door inside thick hand-finished wood veneers. Seeing and touching it, you would think that it is all wood.

Many high-quality wood doors use stile and rail construction with mortise and tenon joints. Since wood expands and contracts throughout the year, many designs use decorative floating panels. If you may want to change the appearance in the future, select a door with changeable panels.

Matching ornate transom and sidelight styles are also popular. The additional light from these reduces the need to switch on lamps. The new triple-pane glass is a real energy advantage with these styles.

If security is a major concern, select smaller windows that are triple-pane and tempered. Look for optional multipoint latches for extra security.

Write for (or instant download -- Update Bulletin No. 887 -- buyer's guide of 18 highest-quality wood front doors, construction types, styles and features. Please include $3 and a business-size, self-addressed, stamped envelope.

James Dulley, The Buffalo News, 6906 Royalgreen Drive, Cincinnati, OH 45244.

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