Few people think about their garage door openers, but when the weather is bad or you need to get in and out in a hurry, a reliable garage door opener is essential. New garage door openers offer a wide range of features, too. From ultra-quiet drives to smart home connections, today’s garage door operators have a lot more to offer.
Choosing the right garage door opener doesn’t need to be a challenge, either. There are just three essential components in most garage door operators. Understanding the drive types, motor strength and safety features that different garage door operators offer can help you choose a reliable operator for your door.
We’ve also included a list of new features that some garage door openers include. These features can make opening your garage door faster, safer and easier to keep secured.
This guide to garage door opener essentials will help you choose the right opener for your garage door.
Choose the Best Drive Type for Your Home
When choosing a garage door opener, one of the first things to consider is the drive type. The drive is responsible for opening and closing your garage door.
If you want a quiet garage door, choosing the right drive type is essential. The best drive type for your garage door is influenced by the location of your garage, the height and width of your garage door opening and the weight of your door.
Most garage door openers use one of three different drive types.
- Chain drive. A chain drive is the most common type of garage door opener because they’re suitable for almost any height or width of door openings. They’re also able to lift a wide variety of materials, from lighter aluminum garage doors to heavy wooden ones. These drives rely on a larger version of a bike chain. This chain is shielded by the T-rail and is slightly slack when the garage door is closed. Although chain drives are the most affordable drive type, they’re also the noisiest. They’re most suitable for homes without living space above the garage.
- Screw drive. With their middle-of-the-road price tag and more sound dampening than a chain drive, screw drives are a popular alternative to chain drives. They’re a durable opening system that’s best suited for one-piece garage doors. A screw drive relies on a large threaded shaft, which looks similar to the shank of a screw. It connects the door opener to the the door itself via T-rail or trolley and turns to raise your garage door. Screw drives do need to be lubricated once or twice a year. Many homeowners consider this a worthwhile trade for the added quiet.
- Belt drive. Belt drives are one of the quietest types of opening mechanisms on the market. Because they’re also generally more expensive, they’re less common than both chain and screw drives. However, these drives are the best choice when there’s a living space directly above the garage. Belt drives can be used with both heavy and light materials, they and are suitable for one piece or multi-panel garage doors.
These drives use a Kevlar polymer belt in place of a chain or screw in the opening mechanism. The belt has a textured “teeth” pattern on one side. When the door is opened, a gear grips these teeth to roll up the belt. Like a chain drive, the belt is shielded within the T-rail.
Although almost all garage door openers use one of these three drive types, there are a few alternatives to consider. These are the direct drive garage door opener and the jackshaft door opener.
Direct drive openers are considered to be the quietest type of garage door opener. Unlike standard drives, the direct drive opener has just one moving part. In a direct drive opener, the motor itself moves on the T-rail, or trolly, to open the door. Direct drive openers are primarily used in Europe, but a few models are sold in the US.
Jackshaft openers are another alternative. These are mounted on the wall beside the door. The motor operates a series of pulleys and cables that open and close the door. It does not have a typical chain, belt, or screw drive. Because of the expense, jackshaft openers are not widely used. However, they may be a useful alternative when there’s little overhead space in the garage.
Pick an Opener With the Right Motor Strength
It’s also important to consider how strong your garage door opener needs to be. The strength of the opening mechanism is rated in horsepower, and it generally ranges from 1/2 horsepower to one horsepower.
So how strong should your garage door opener be?
- ½ horsepower motors. A 1/2 horsepower engine can lift most standard width garage doors. This is the most popular engine size. If you have a standard width garage door, make sure your engine is at least 1/2 horsepower.
- ¾ horsepower motors. These engines are used when your door is slightly oversized. This is a long-lasting motor that’s common for doors made of heavier materials, including steel and some types of wood. You may also see this horsepower used to speed up how fast your garage door opens.
- 1 horsepower motors. These engines are the most powerful ones on the market. They’re the best choice for larger doors and are common when the door is made of particularly heavy materials. One-horsepower engines can also be used to speed up the opening process.
Make Sure Your Garage Door Opener Meets Essential Safety Standards
Safety is a paramount consideration when choosing a garage door opener. The opening mechanism is responsible for how quickly the door opens and closes. That means a good garage door opener should have some built-in safety mechanisms to keep your family safe.
When installed improperly, garage doors can cause a number of injuries. In 2007, more than 13,000 people were hurt by garage doors. The damage can range from pinched fingers to trapped limbs, and the injuries can result from falling doors to cuts from glass in garage door windows.
That’s why it’s important to make sure your garage door and its opener are installed properly. Find an experienced technician to install and test your garage door opener rather than trying to do it yourself.
It’s also important to choose garage door operators with built in safety features. These safety features keep the door from closing if someone’s in the way and will reverse instead of pinching fingers or joints. Many of today’s garage door openers have a wide variety of safety features from what is known as the UL 325 Safety Standards. If your operator doesn’t have these features, consider replacing it with a newer model.
UL 325 Safety Standards
If you’re buying a new opening mechanism, look for one that meets UL 325 safety standards. This standard, created by the Underwriters Laboratories, provides guidelines for what types of safety features a garage door opener should have.
Many door openers now advertise that they meet UL325 safety standards. You can also look for openers that include:
- Entrapment sensors. Most entrapment sensors rely on a laser to determine whether anything is obstructing the garage door before it closes. If you’d like to step up your security, look for an opener that includes door edge sensors. These sensors stop the garage door from closing if there’s anything blocking the edge of the door. Since many injuries occur when fingers get pinched along the side of the garage door, an opening mechanism with door edge sensors is a worthwhile investment.
- Constant contact control buttons. These wall-mounted buttons require constant pressure to close the garage door completely. If you release the button before the door is finished closing, the door will reverse to the highest position. Most garage doors today use either entrapment sensors or constant contact buttons. However, your opening mechanism doesn’t need to include both.
- Door reversal features. These features cause garage doors to reverse automatically if they come into contact with an obstacle. They’re standard on UL 325 compliant openers. If a vehicle is blocking the garage door, the door will open automatically once it comes in contact with the car. You should test your door’s reversal feature regularly.
If your garage door doesn’t automatically reverse, upgrade your opening mechanism or add safety devices to ensure that it reverses. Although it seems like a small change, safety devices that force the door to reverse or prevent it from closing are essential.
Before new safety standards required garage doors to reverse upon contact, it was much easier for kids, pets, and adults to be caught or crushed by the door. In the ten years before these safety standards were required, the Consumer Product Safety Commission received 54 reports of children who died after being crushed beneath a garage door. Many of these injuries occurred when kids raced to make it under the garage door before it closed.
Not sure whether your current opener meets these safety standards? Watch a video to learn how to check your garage door opener for safety issues.
Other Features to Look for in Garage Door Operators
Many garage door openers offer features that make them more convenient to use. From alternatives to the standard remote to Internet security, these features can help you get more use out of your garage. Before choosing a garage door opener, consider whether you’d benefit from any of these features:
- Battery backup power. When there’s a power outage, it’s important to have a backup option for opening your garage door. Most garage doors have a manual release. This disconnects the door from the opener and allows homeowners to manually open and close it.
Since many power outages are caused by storms, it’s not always the best time to get out of your car and roll up your garage door by hand. That’s why many homeowners prefer battery backup power for their garage door opener.
These battery systems provide enough power for the garage door to open and close during a power outage. They usually provide sufficient power for 10 to 20 full cycles during an outage.
- Smart home connections. Like your lighting, thermostat and security system, garage door openers can be connected to a smart home system. Many garage door openers contain MyQ Wi-Fi, which allows homeowners to remotely monitor their garage door.
Along with alerts when the door is opened, the system allows homeowners to remotely close their door or gate from a smartphone or computer.