Q&A / 

Garage Door Opener

DEAR TIM: The house I moved into doesn’t have a garage door opener. I’m wondering if these machines are really practical or just a gimmick. The price difference between models has me seriously considering a discount garage door opener. Do you have any experience with these contraptions, and what should I take into consideration when purchasing one? I’ve been told they’ll help keep my garage more secure. Samantha R., Providence, RI

DEAR SAMANTHA: As you might expect, I do have lots of experience with garage door openers. Not only do I have them at my own home, but over the years, I also installed many different models in the houses I built and remodeled. One thing I’ll tell you is that I’ll never ever install a cheap garage door opener for anyone. They just don’t last long, and you’ll end up replacing the opener long before you would had you invested in quality. If your goal is to save money, watch for a garage-door-opener sale or special promotion.

This garage door opener can last for many years if most of the lifting of the door is performed by the springs attached to the door. PHOTO CREDIT:  Tim Carter

This garage door opener can last for many years if most of the lifting of the door is performed by the springs attached to the door. PHOTO CREDIT: Tim Carter

Let’s talk about how useful these wonderful inventions are by conjuring up a few scenarios. Imagine you having to go out to a fancy dress party and you’re in your finest clothes. Just as you’re getting ready to pull out of your garage in your car a fierce rainstorm starts to dump torrential rain. With a handy electric garage door opener in place, you don’t have to jump out of your car while sheets of rain drench you as you struggle with the door. A touch of a button while you’re in your dry car activates the opener which closes the door for you.

Automatic garage door openers can also provide you with a certain degree of safety. Let’s say that some bad people want to harm you or take your possessions. Without a garage door opener, when you arrive back home from a night out, you have to exit your car to open the garage door. You’re pretty vulnerable to being attacked. With an opener, you can stay locked inside your car until such time as you pull into the garage and command the door to close while you remain in your locked car. While this is a rare possibility, it can happen.

I've installed and owned several different brands over the years. I've had good luck with a Stanley garage door opener. At my current home, I have two Liftmaster garage door openers. I know of people that have used the Allister garage door opener, but I've not ever had the opportunity to see one in action.

If you’ve now decided to purchase one, you should consider several things before making your final decision. There are three primary drive mechanisms that you’ll come across in your shopping foray. I’m sure you’ll see a chain drive, a screw drive and undoubtedly a belt drive garage door opener.

All of these do the same thing, but there are significant differences. The chain-drive openers usually are the least quiet and over time the chains can lose a little bit of their tension. The screw-drive openers in my experience operate smoothly for years with little or no maintenance issues.

The belt-drive garage-door openers demand close scrutiny on your part if you want an opener that’s quiet. Because the belt minimizes metal-to-metal contact between moving parts, you end up with a nearly silent garage door opener. This can be a significant advantage if you or another family member sleeps in a room above or adjacent to the garage or if someone in your family works odd hours that has them coming and going while others in the house are counting sheep.

I would absolutely think about garage door opener service as part of your buying decision. In the event of a problem or warranty issue, who will assist you? While these machines are not too complicated, you don’t want to be up on a ladder yourself trying to wrestle with one if you don’t have to.

Be sure the springs that are attached to your garage door have been adjusted correctly before you install an opener. Understand that the springs actually lift the door, not the opener. The electric opener you intend to purchase is not built to lift, on its own, the enormous weight of garage doors.

I’ve installed many an opener in my career and if you have the chance to install the necessary wiring for the opener before wall finishes are attached to the wall, do so. Safety features on the doors require low-voltage wires to be run to optical sensors at the lower ends of the door track. It’s nice to have these wires hidden behind the walls where they are out of the way from being snagged by garden tools or anything else that may nick them.

Don’t assume that a garage door opener will make your garage immune from unwanted entry in your absence. Just about every garage door opener is equipped with a safety release handle where the door connects to the track. When your door is in the closed position, this handle dangles from the track just behind the top of the door.

An undesirable person can bow in the top of some garage doors with ease allowing them to slide a metal hook that grabs the handle. Within seconds they can disengage the garage door from the track allowing them to manually lift the door. Once inside your garage they can quickly close the door giving the appearance to all who pass by your home that all is well and nothing is happening.

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