New garage door technologies increase safety, durability

Most homeowners think of the garage door as an open and shut case, until it isn't.

Late for work, ready to go, and the garage door won't budge. Scream. Kick the door. Push the remote. The wall button. Curse. Call the boss. Call the neighbor. Spend a lot of money on an emergency repair call.

Regular maintenance might have helped, Darren Peers says.

Peers, owner of Overhead Door Co. of Missoula, says, "The biggest thing to make (garage doors) last longer is periodic maintenance. Like your automobile, all the nuts and bolts need to be tightened on it. We use a silicon-based lubricant. The garage is dirty. You can make a door last up to 20 years by taking care of it.

"Most of the older doors are wooden. Because of the glue, they can only last so long. They are opened and closed, on average, six times a day. With kids, it's a lot more. They start to make noises - snapping, popping are the first signs. Then cables break. The spring breaks."

Because the spring is designed for an average of 10,000 openings, Peers estimates it can often be replaced three times before replacing the door itself because doors are easy to maintain and will last longer.

"Wood swells and contracts, especially with the weather we've got," he explains. "The best time for maintenance is in fall. In spring and summer we leave doors up. It's a tendency for us to do that with kids."

In the trade magazine "Door and Operator," the National Safety Council recommends these maintenance tips:

Lubricate all moving parts of the door and operator once a month or at least semiannually. Follow the manufacturer's instructions and include the hinges, rollers, springs, pulleys and chains. Use a silicon-based lubricant, such as GDL or WD-40.

Tighten all bolts supporting the door and operator. Don't forget the door's hinges

Protect wood doors from the elements with quality paint. If not sealed properly, the wood will expand and contract with heat and moisture.

Keep the operator clean. Like any other motor, vacuuming will keep the operator running longer.

Spring to it

Those big coil springs that do all the work to raise and lower your garage door also need periodic maintenance. You may want to have a professional tackle this job if you aren't completely comfortable with work that could be a bit dangerous.

Peers tells of how he once repaired a door where a broken spring shot across a garage and went through a plasterboard wall, into the home's kitchen and impacted itself into a cabinet wall.

"They pack a lot of power," Peers says. "They have about 140 pounds of strength in them - comparable to a compound bow that is used for hunting. They have 70 pounds of pull.

"Cold weather is when springs are going to break. (They are) tempered steel. That's when we typically do three-quarters of spring changes," Peers estimates. "And there's no way to prepare. It's really just a surprise when it happens."

If a garage is large and uses two springs, Peers recommends replacing both springs at the same time so they wear uniformly.

He says for less than $20, homeowners can run a retaining cable down the center of the stretch spring and attach a cable at the end of the spring and the front of the garage door with a cable clamp and an S-hook to prevent the cable from coming loose and doing any damage. Springs always break when the door is down and at full tension and can do the most damage, he says.

In his 20 years working in sales and technical support, Tom Johnson of Wayne Dalton Corp. has heard his share of stories about people losing their hands when working with tension springs.

Dale Kraft, operations supervisor at Wayne Dalton, is happy to see his company develop a new joint that pushes fingers out of the way when door panels overlap as the door closes, which should help eliminate some of the hundreds of thousands of needless amputations that happen every year.

Safe and sound

All garage door openers manufactured and installed after 1991 are required to have a reversing mechanism. Most openers can be installed by the do-it-yourselfer. However, it must be checked periodically to ensure that the reversing mechanism is in proper working order.

Federal regulations in 1993 mandate that all residential garage door operators sold have a sensing device that will automatically reverse if it touches something on the way down. Garage doors without a reversing feature are especially dangerous to children.

Properly working "photo eyes" now offer an added safety guard.

These sensors are connected to the bottom of the track and reverse the door when an infrared beam is broken. Safety is improved because nothing actually has to make contact with the door before it reverses. However, if bumped or jarred in any way, they may be disabled.

Test the beam periodically to ensure that it is working properly. To test your yours, toss a 1-inch thick piece of wood on the floor centered under the door. Push the button and close the door. It should reverse and reopen. If the door does not reverse, have it repaired or replaced.

To test the opener's force setting, hold the bottom of the door as it closes. If the door does not reverse readily, adjust it according to the owner's manual or call a professional. A child's life could depend on it.

A new groove

A do-it-yourselfer can install a garage door operator, if he or she has skills and tools to do it - and, most importantly, if the homeowner has carefully and thoroughly read the installation instructions before beginning the job. However, many do-it-yourselfers attempt the job without fully comprehending what is involved.

Ed Fesler, garage door manager at Western Door in Missoula says, "The do-it-yourselfers say '15 minutes.' I would chuckle and say, 'Take the weekend.' They need to read the instructions and do it well. …There are a lot of pieces to installing one."

Being fully informed about the installation prior to starting the job can help prevent injuries and save considerable time. Another thing to consider is where to place the wall control panel. It's best to keep it at least 5 feet above the floor, out of the reach of young children.

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