Angie's LIST Guide to
Garage Doors and Openers
How garage door safety features work
Ensure safety, prevent injuries and head off unnecessary garage door repairs by knowing how your overhead garage door and automatic garage door opener work. This will help you know what you're getting into when you hire a well-reviewed local garage door service and repair professional.
The majority of garage doors in American households use the same operating principles. A large door that’s separated into flexible panels moves up and down on rollers installed in a track system. The garage door opener, usually mounted in the center of the garage provides the actual pulling power to bring the garage door up or down.
However, without the weigh-reducing assistance of the springs that typically run across the length of the garage door opening, the opener motor wouldn’t be able to pull up the significantly heavy weight of a garage door.
Is your garage door safe?
Since the garage door is typically the largest moving object within a home, modern overhead garage door opening systems also feature several key safety features that protect home occupants, children and pets from death or injury due to accidental misuse or malfunction.
Auto reversal prevents injuries
The first safety feature is an automatic reversal system within the garage door opener itself. If the door is closing and an obstruction or solid object is detected – usually anything that slows or stops the door’s normal operation – the door should automatically stop and return to the open position. The U.S Consumer Product Safety Commission has required a reversing safety feature on all new garage door openers manufactured since 1991.
Because garage door springs and openers can degrade over time, it’s important to occasionally test this safety feature. With the garage door open, place a solid object such as a 2-by-4 board or a cinder block where the door will close. Never test any safety feature using your or another person’s body. With the board or block in place, press the close button. If working properly, the garage door should close on the obstruction and immediately reverse the closing operation when it comes in contact with it.
Motion detector enhances garage door safety
Another key safety feature to prevent entrapment from garage doors is the “electric eye” sensor system found on many more modern garage door systems. Sensors placed on either side of the garage door’s track system about 4 to 6 inches off the ground transmit an infrared beam of light during a door’s closing operation. Should anything break the beam during the closing operation – including adults, pets or other objects – the opener should automatically stop and reverse the closing operation.
Manual release disengages garage door in case of malfunction
One of the last safety features on a garage door system is the manual release mechanism. Designed to disengage the garage door from the opening system should entrapment, a power outage or other malfunction occur, the manual release mechanism is most commonly found on the track that runs from opener to the garage door. It’s usually a bright red handle that should hang no higher than 6 feet off the ground.
Should an object or individual become trapped, or if a malfunction occurs, pulling on the handle will allow the user to manually lift the door up or down. If a garage door is good working order, the spring system that runs across the top of the door opening should provide enough assistance so an average adult can lift the door with relatively little effort.
All three of these safety features should be occasionally tested to ensure they’re in working order. If any of the features fail to work as designed, call a garage door professional to repair or replace them.
Garage door maintenance and repair
Like all mechanical systems, garage doors require regular maintenance and service to ensure they operate properly and with maximum safety and minimize garage door repairs. The U.S. CPSC recommends checking a garage door for proper operation every 30 days. Here are some other maintenance tips:
• Metal doors are far more resistant to dings and the elements than wood doors, but any door will deteriorate if not properly cared for.
• Inspect your garage door at least once a year for damage that might affect the finish or lead to rust.
• Wood doors should be refinished/resealed at least every two years.
• Protect any type of garage door from water, especially runoff and splash back from the roof eaves. Direct water away from the door, including proper drainage in front of the lower section of the door.
• Keep kids from using the door as a backstop.
• Wash your garage door regularly, with water and a mild detergent. Use car wax on metal doors to protect the finish.
• Check that the weather stripping along the bottom is in good condition. If it is cracked, it can easily be slid off and replaced.
• Lubricate tracks, hinges, rollers and springs with a light household oil. Don’t use petroleum-based lubricants. Apply and wipe away the extra. Openers do not require extra lubricant.
• Test the safety-reversing sensor once a month.
• Always refer to the owner’s manual for your door and opener.
• Garage door companies do offer annual maintenance plans, and will come out, check your door, make sure it is lubricated and in good working order.
Two of the most common garage door components to degrade over time are the lift-assisting springs and the rollers in the track. Here a few simple steps to check your garage door’s springs and rollers:
1. With the garage door in the closed position, pull the manual disengage handle to release the door from the opener.
2. Using the garage door handle near the bottom of the door, lift the door manually. If the springs are functioning properly, it should take relatively little physical effort to lift the door.
3. The door should lift up evenly and smoothly up and down the roller tracks on either side. USE EXTREME CAUTION. If the door is extremely heavy to lift or doesn’t lift evenly, releasing the door could cause it to slam down, which could cause serious injury or damage.
Common problems with overhead garage doors
Though some repairs could be made by the homeowner, the weight of the door makes it best to employ a highly rated garage door contractor, installer or repair company who has the equipment and is trained to make repairs safely.
To help prevent garage door problems from occurring, the Institute of Door Dealer Education and Accreditation recommends monthly maintenance, including testing that the garage door opener is operational and inspection of the springs, rollers, pulleys, cables and track. Wipe down the tracks, preferably with a microfiber cloth to prevent lint from being left behind. Also, make sure to keep all the metal moving parts lubricated. However, do not lubricate plastic parts. Never reuse an old track with new panels.
Here are some ways to troubleshoot common problems before calling in an expert for garage door repair.
1. The door closes only partially before returning to the open position.
If the light attached to the door opener mechanism blinks several times after the door reopens, this generally means something is blocking the sensors or that they've become misaligned. The two sensors are generally clipped onto the door track about six inches from the floor. You can move them slightly with your hands to try to get them lined up. Other possibilities include a broken cable that must be replaced, a track that is bent and needs to be replaced or a worn extension spring cable pulley that needs to be replaced.
2. The door is jammed shut
This can be the result of a broken cable, bent track or worn pulley.
3. The door opens more slowly than usual
This can be caused by a degraded, warped or broken spring that needs to be replaced.
4. The door makes a popping sound
This may be a sign of worn rollers that need to be replaced.
5. The door squeaks as it opens and closes
It’s likely the rollers and/or bearings need to be lubricated.
6. The door makes a scraping sound
Among the possible causes is a frayed cable that needs to be replaced or a misaligned reinforcement strut.
7. The door won’t open or close at all
If you have an automatic opener, first try replacing the batteries in the remote control. If that fails to do the trick, there may be a problem with the keypad or the programming.
8. The automatic garage door opens and closes by itself
This is a less common problem, but if it happens to you, it's probably a fault in the circuit board, bad remote batteries or an interfering radio signal. Check your remote's batteries or change your code or frequency. If the problem continues, call a garage door repair professional to help troubleshoot the issue.
Hiring a highly rated garage door professional
Choosing a local garage door professional to service, repair or install your garage door is little different than hiring any other home improvement contractor: Check references, make sure they have good reviews, check licenses and insurance, and ensure you read the contract thoroughly before you agree to any work.
One aspect of hiring a garage door professional that differs, however, is emergency service. If you need after-hours or weekend service for a damaged or malfunctioning garage door or opener, be sure to ask your garage door contractor upfront about emergency service call fees, which can cost hundreds more than regular services. Unless it’s absolutely necessary, you may save significant money by scheduling garage door repairs and services during normal business hours.
Join Angie's List to search for garage door installers in your geographic area who have received good reviews from other customers in your community. You'll be able to sort the results by best score, proximity to your house or whether special deals are being offered during that time
Buying and installing a new garage door
In many homes, the original garage door was installed during construction of the garage and the builder may have chosen the least expensive model. Decades later, the homeowner may decide to upgrade to a higher quality door. While appearance and cost will likely be the biggest considerations for most homeowners, other factors such as insulation value, ease of operation and safety features should also be considered. A highly rated garage door installation professional can offer more detailed advice.
If you live in a hurricane-prone state such as Florida, wind resistance is another important factor to consider.
Wood was the first material used in the manufacturing of garage doors. This type of material is still one of the most desired by homeowners. Individuals will find that garage doors that are constructed from wood can be painted or stained to match their home’s look. However, without regular maintenance, wood is susceptible to rot, decay and insect infestation.
Homeowners who want a more decorative looking garage door for their home will find that many different styles of wood doors offer windows which are installed in them. Overall the decorative design that is desired will be the determining factor in the cost of wood garage door selections.
Steel garage doors are one of the most durable options that can be chosen for the home. These doors should carry at least a 24 gauge rating for strength. Steel can be painted or purchased with a backed on finish that will complement the color scheme of a home’s exterior. Steel garage doors can be good deterrents for would be thieves that want to gain access to the home through the garage. Steel doors can be quite heavy due to the materials used to construct them.
Aluminum garage door styles are similar to steel doors except that they weigh much less. This prevents them from providing a great deal of insulation and they do tend to dent easily. However, Aluminum is one of the least expensive garage doors that can be purchased for the home, they have a long lasting finish that does not rust easily and it is available in a faux wood texture that can complement the home’s overall look.
Individuals that want a garage door that has the look of wood but the strength of steel will find that the wood composite styles provide ideal results. Garage doors that are manufactured from wood composite materials can be painted or stained to match the look of the home.
The recycled wood fibers used to create the wood composite garage doors are resistant to problems such as splitting, rotting and insect infestation.
Fiberglass garage door models are created by encasing aluminum frames with fiberglass panels. These doors can be painted to match the home and are more resistant to dents and damage than some steel model garage door styles. The fiberglass doors are lightweight making them easy to open and close.
The lightweight design also causes a decrease in the insulation of these doors, so individuals that live in colder climates may want to consider other options for their garage door needs. Fiberglass does not corrode when subjected to salt-water like some other door styles out there. Individuals that live in coastal areas will find this feature beneficial for their needs.
Vinyl constructed garage doors are designed from the same materials as siding and window casements that you see on many homes. This is a material that is lightweight and easy to work with. Homeowners will find that vinyl is available in a wide range of color selections that will match the look of their home. Vinyl can crack and bend out of shape if not properly taken care of.
Depending on the brand and model, many garage doors come with varying degrees of insulation. For homes with attached garages, ensuring your garage door has adequate or more than adequate insulation can help prevent air intrusion into the home and lower overall heating and cooling costs.