Some aspects of homeownership are straightforward: If your roof is peeling, you need a new roof. If your toilet bowl cracks, you need a new toilet. Some aspects of homeownership are less obvious, like when you need a new garage door. Maybe your door opens unevenly or generates inordinate amounts of noise. Maybe it closed one day and never opened again.
Depending on the point of failure, you may be facing a simple repair or a full replacement. Continue reading to learn about garage door basic requirements, essential parts, and modern upgrades. If any of these are acting up or absent from your garage setup, consider it a sign that you do need a new garage door.
It may or may not surprise you that there are laws governing garage doors and garage door openers that are sold in the United States. Such safety standards are made to protect consumers and their loved ones, so if your garage door system is older than any of these basic requirements, you should absolutely look into replacing it.
Federal law requires that all residential garage doors sold in the United States must have an inherent reverse mechanism built into the opener. An inherent reverse mechanism, also known as an automatic reverse mechanism, is the means by which a garage door opener can stop closing the door and lift it up again immediately when instructed to do so. It must be paired with an entrapment-sensing device such as an electric eye, which will tell the door when to engage the mechanism.
Inherent reverse capabilities are important to prevent the heavy garage door from trapping and crushing anything beneath it. This not only protects your car and personal property but also your loved ones. Children and pets who may not understand the danger are especially at risk of serious injury or death around a garage door unable to automatically stop and reverse.
In addition to the inherent reverse mechanism, the law also requires that garage door openers come with a device called the 30-second clock. The 30 seconds refers to the amount of time a garage door opener is allowed to fully close the garage door. Should it fail to close the door within this time, the opener must lift the door up again.
The idea behind the 30-second clock is that a garage door unable to fully close within 30 seconds is likely being obstructed somehow. This obstruction could well be a person or animal caught under the door, so the best course of action is to reopen the door.
Of course, a perfectly functional inherent reverse system would render the 30-second clock obsolete. However, there are cases where this secondary safety system could prevent a disaster. For instance, a simple entrapment sensor may only sense obstructions within a few inches of the ground. Obstructions above that height, such as oversized cargo in the back of a car or two people carrying a piece of furniture between them, will not trigger the automatic reversal. For that reason, this secondary safety feature is not an option but a necessity.
Emergency Manual Release
Finally, all garage door systems are legally required to contain an emergency manual release switch. This switch allows a human operator to immediately disconnect the garage door opener from the door itself, and it typically appears as a red handle hanging beneath the garage door opener.
Like the previous two requirements, the emergency manual release switch is intended to minimize the danger of entrapment by garage doors. Modern garage doors usually do not need a physical lock or latch because modern garage door openers put up such a powerful resistance to external efforts to lift the door. Unfortunately, in the case of entrapment, this convenient feature can easily become problematic, preventing rescuers from lifting the door to free the victim. The ability to quickly disengage the opener is therefore extremely important.
Wear and Tear
Garage door systems are heavy-duty machines that will experience wear and tear with usage and age. In some cases, a faulty component is an easy individual fix. In other cases, it may be the writing on the wall for the entire system. Continue reading to learn how essential components may fail, and how that affects the system as a whole. If several essential components are breaking down at the same time, it is time for you to consider replacing the whole thing.
In the previous section, we covered the importance of having an automatic reverse mechanism and entrapment sensor built into your garage door. This importance extends to the need to regularly test and maintain this safety system.
Under no circumstances should you test your safety systems with an object of value. Take a spare piece of lumber or plastic and wave it in front of the electric eye. This should trigger the inherent reverse mechanism. Next, you can test the stopping mechanism and 30-second clock by obstructing the edge of the descending door above the sensing range.
A great variety of electronic and mechanical issues can cause the safety systems to malfunction. If your garage door fails any of these tests, it needs to be seen by a professional as soon as possible. Depending on the damage, you could be facing a quick and easy fix or a lengthy and expensive repair process. In the latter case, you may want to consider the costs and benefits of fixing versus replacing your garage door opener.
Another component of garage door systems that inevitably wears over time is the spring(s). Garage doors are extremely heavy. For a small motor to lift such a heavy door, the key is a powerful torsion spring.
Springs are simple machines that store mechanical energy thanks to their coiled structure and material properties. Torsion springs store this energy when one end is twisted. When a garage door is lowered, its weight applies torque to wind up a torsion spring. When the door reopens, this stored energy is slowly released to help the garage door opener manage the heavy weight. This repeated exercise will wear down and eventually break the spring given enough time.
If your garage door has closed and refuses to open again, the problem may be with the torsion spring. It is usually located near the ends of the tracks, perpendicular to the direction of motion. If the torsion spring appears to be fine, the problem may be with one or two extension springs, commonly located near the upper corners of the closed door. These are also load-bearing components that help to counterbalance the weight of the door.
Should any spring be broken, it will need to be replaced by a professional. Both torsion spring and extension spring installation are very dangerous, not unlike setting a giant mousetrap, because of the energy stored in the spring. The risk of serious injury and death is very real and must be respected. As the owner, you should stand back and weigh the cost of replacing the broken spring against the cost of a full system replacement, based on the age and condition of the remaining components.
Cables and Pulleys
If there are no broken springs, the next thing to check would be suspension cables and associated pulleys. The cables can usually be found connecting the garage door to the spring(s). Should one of them have failed, the door may open inefficiently or unevenly, perhaps tilting to the point that it becomes stuck on the tracks. Should both of them have failed, the full weight of the door will fall on the small motor in the garage door opener, which is simply not strong enough to lift several hundred pounds by itself.
Moving and load-bearing components such as springs, cables, pulleys, tracks, and fasteners are all prone to mechanical wear and tear. It is not uncommon for these components to reach the ends of their respective working lives at approximately the same time, in which case it would be safer and more cost-effective for you to replace the entire system and start anew.
This one may be the most obvious, but motors do not last forever. The motors in most garage door openers have a life expectancy of 10-15 years. Sometimes a certain component of the motor will give out before its time, which is a relatively simple fix for a garage door professional. Passively waiting for the whole unit to die is likely to result in a trapped car, right when you are already late for work. If your door opener is living on borrowed time, the best way to appreciate it is with a planned retirement and a graceful transition to a new garage system.
Improvements and Upgrades
Of course, you can want a new garage door for reasons unrelated to its essential function. Your garage door opener might be overly noisy, your garage door might be superficially damaged, or you might want to improve your home security with modern technological upgrades. If you have the budget for it, the garage is an excellent place to invest in home improvement.
Classic garage doors operate with a chain drive, similar to the chain on a bicycle. Chain and sprocket systems are strong and effective, but they can be extremely noisy. This may not matter for detached garages, but owners of attached garages have much to benefit from an upgraded drive system, especially if the garage is located underneath or next to a bedroom.
More modern drive systems include screwdriver (screw) drives and belt drives. Belt drives are the quieter of the two, but both are significantly quieter than the classic chain drive, without sacrificing strength or durability. Your family member(s) who sleep lightly or like to sleep in will thank you for the upgrade.
Structure and Aesthetics
Sometimes it takes more than a fresh coat of paint to revive an old garage door. Being constantly exposed to the elements means a garage door will be weathered over time. Glass may be broken, and wooden panels may warp and crack. Such is life.
That said, cracks and holes in your garage door not only expose your belongings to the cruelty of nature but also invite potentially unwelcome visitors like mice, rats, snakes, and bugs into the sanctity of your home. To maintain the barrier between the indoors and the outdoors, you will need to repair the door. Depending on the extent of the damage, though, it may be easier and cheaper to just buy and install a new door.
In addition to keeping Mother Nature out of your garage, a new and improved garage door system can help you keep unwanted human visitors from entering your home. Older garage door openers respond to a fixed code, making them easy for intruders to hack. Newer models use a rolling code system, which is much harder to take advantage of.
Other security tips include but are not limited to the following:
- Install a lock on the garage door. Not the one for cars, but the one for people, which leads into the house.
- Install motion sensor lights and/or a camera.
- Cover any windows that look into the garage.
Common sense says to be aware of your surroundings. If your neighbors are improving or upgrading their garage doors, consider following suit.
A well-functioning garage is an invaluable addition to your home, but a faulty or outdated garage can imprison your vehicle and endanger your family. After reading this article, you are fully equipped to identify inadequate, damaged, and outdated garage components. With this knowledge, you can decide with confidence whether or not your garage is in need of repair or replacement, ideally before an incident occurs.
If you are in the market for a new garage door system, you may wish to continue reading about The Benefits Of Investing In Your Garage Door, or reach out to our garage door experts.