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Garage Door Systems, Springs and Openers

Understanding your garage door system, its operating mechanism and maintenance needs will help you keep it safe and in lasting condition.
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Garage Door Systems, Springs, and Openers
A garage door system includes the door, hardware, track, roller, springs, opener, and necessary safety devices.

Contrary to popular belief, a garage door opener doesn't actually open the garage door, it guides it. The spring system does the heavy lifting, so it's important to keep it maintained for safe operation.

Spring Systems
Most garage door systems employ one of two spring systems: extension springs or torsion springs. Extension springs are common for lighter doors and are used on one-piece tilt-up doors and sectionals. On sectional doors, extension springs are installed on the sides of the garage above the horizontal track. On tilt-ups the springs are installed as part of a swing-arm. Extension springs should be installed with a safety cable to prevent the spring from flying off dangerously in the event of a break. They are best installed by a professional.

Torsion springs are used on sectional garage doors. These systems are mounted above the opening of the garage door and open and close the door using twisting force. Single doors often require one spring, while double doors use springs on both sides, mounted above the door opening. Replacing broken torsion springs can be a dangerous job, with the potential for serious injury or death, and should be handled by a professional.

Selecting a Spring System
When shopping for a garage-door spring system or replacement springs, a homeowner should pay attention to the "cycle-life" of the spring. "We only sell 20,000-cycle springs to our customers," says Cary Richardson of Security Garage Door, Inc. "A lot of inexpensive systems will use 5,000 or 10,000 cycle, which may only last 5 years."

The lifespan of the garage-door springs will depend on usage, and whether the spring was properly selected to match door size, height, and weight. The winding of a torsion spring on installation will also play a part in its lifespan. Garage professionals advise homeowners to change both springs when one breaks, as the other usually follows soon after. Replacement costs vary, so homeowners should shop around for the best deal. "We charge $155 for replacement torsion springs, which includes installation," says Richardson, who adds that a homeowner might expect to pay anywhere from $150-350 for this service.

Opening Systems
Automatic-door opening systems come in two types: trolley systems and shaft-drive systems. Shaft systems are used on garage doors that are fitted with torsion springs. The shaft drive mounts on the torsion tube shafts and turns to operate the torsion-spring system. Trolley systems come in three basic varieties: chain drive, screw drive, and belt drive. These systems commonly employ an overhead trolley and rail system to power the opening and closing of the door.

The big difference in drive systems how much noise they make, how powerful they are, and how much they cost. A chain-drive system is the least expensive option and uses a chain along the rail to operate the system. These systems are loud and don't last as long. A screw-drive system uses one long screw in place of a chain. "Our screw drive system costs $295, which includes 2 transmitters, wall-control, infrared safety beams, and installation," says Richardson. Although screw drives are more expensive than chain drives, they are quieter because there are fewer moving parts. Belt-drive systems cost more because the DC-powered motors and belt system are quiet, powerful, and long-lasting. Opening systems typically come in 1/3, 1/2, and 3/4 HP versions. You don't necessarily need lots of power to open a door, just a good garage-door system.

Garage Door Safety Features
By federal regulation, all opening systems manufactured after 1991 must include a reversing mechanism. This device either senses when the garage door comes into contact with an object, or uses an infrared safety beam to detect the presence of a object. Infrared beams are installed on the bottom sides of the door opening. When the beam is broken, the system is alerted and operation is halted. Newer opening systems also have remote control openers that incorporate safety features to prevent break-ins or accidental operation of a garage door. Some remotes require a pre-set code, while others use rolling-code technology, which changes the code after every use.

Maintenance and Testing
Routine maintenance and testing will ensure proper and safe operation of a garage-door system. Routine maintenance includes lubrication of moving parts, such as the pivot points, shafts, and springs. "I advise lubrication every 3 months," says Richardson. While some companies advise homeowners to lubricate in the tracks, others warn that in-track lubrication can cause rollers to slide and affect proper operation of the garage door. Hinges should always be tight, and springs should be checked for wear.

The garage door should be tested periodically for balance. The easiest way to balance test a garage door is to open it to waist height. If the garage door remains in place, the door is balanced. If it rolls up or drops on its own, the springs may have to be adjusted.

A safety-reverse test should be performed to ensure that the reverse mechanism is functioning properly. To perform this test, homeowners can place an object under the door and close it. The door should reverse upon contact with the object. To ensure that an infrared safety device is working properly, homeowners should clean the lenses, keep all possible objects or obstructions, such as spider webs, away from the device, and check routinely to be sure the mechanism senses objects in its path.


Text by Benjamin Hardy
© 2007 Renovate Your World




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