If you’re like most homeowners, you consider a garage door opener more of a necessity than a luxury. Garage door openers are inconspicuous appliances. For the most part, they go underappreciated until your garage door opener breaks down. If so, you might be in the market for a new one and could use a garage door opener buying guide.
Buying a garage door opener isn’t something most people do on a regular basis. When you have a good one, you can just count on it to work without any further fuss. Most people don’t remember the brand name of their opener or recall the power rating, drive system and all the safety and security features associated with one that performs its job efficiently.
Are you in the market for a new opener? Aaron’s Garage Doors wants to give you the straight scoop on what to look for when buying a garage door opener. This garage door opener buying guide lays out the information you need to know to make your decision. It’ll help you understand what features will benefit you most when it comes to deciding what door opener suits you best. Then, you can confidently select the right garage door opener and enjoy years of trouble-free operation.
What Should I Look for in a Garage Door Opener?
There are four primary things to look for when you’re shopping for a new garage opener:
- Power rating
- Drive mechanism
- Safety and security features
Each factor should influence your decision. Selecting the right combination of points is the key to making the correct choice and being satisfied with your new garage door opener.
Power rating is the garage door opener’s motor strength or output. It’s the opener’s lifting capacity or ability to do work. Horsepower is the garage door opener power rating. It’s a common term, but most people don’t understand what horsepower means.
A common question is, “How much horsepower do I need for a garage door opener?” You might also ask, “What size of a garage door opener do I need?” You need the exact size and horsepower necessary to easily lift your current garage door. It’s a mistake to undersize your horsepower just as it’s unnecessary to oversize your horsepower rating.
Power Rating: What Horsepower Means
Let’s look at what horsepower means before looking at power rating and lifting capacity options. Horsepower is an energy term. It’s the measurement for a motor’s ability to perform work. The word comes from the days when horses were a primary energy source, and it equated to the pulling power of one typical horse. In mathematics, one horsepower equates to 550 foot-pounds of energy available in one second. In electrical terminology, one horsepower equals 745.7 watts of energy.
Before delving into garage door opener horsepower requirements, you should know your garage door opener provides little power when your door goes up or down. Almost all of the energy used in lifting and lowering your garage door comes from its springs. Your springs do the majority of the work, not your opener.
Your garage door opener assists the springs to start your door’s travel. There’s massive energy stored in the springs, and they do the heavy work. If you had to rely on your opener alone to lift a garage door weighing hundreds of pounds, you’d need an opener with many times more horsepower than what’s available on today’s market.
A rule of thumb about garage door opener power rating is the bigger your door, the more horsepower you’ll need. There’s a direct relationship between door and opener size. Here are the common garage door opener power sizes:
- 1/3 Horsepower: The smallest power rating available is one-third horsepower. These little motors are only suitable for single-wide, lightweight doors. There are only a few 1/3 HP openers because there’s little demand. Most people start their selection at half-horse models.
- 1/2 Horsepower: Half horsepower openers are the most common models by far. Most garage doors, including insulated, double-wide doors, easily work with 1/2 HP electric motors. These mid-power openers are also the most economical choices.
- 3/4 Horsepower: Three-quarter horse openers suit heavy garage doors such as full-sectional, wood doors. Large and heavy doors put too much strain on 1/2 HP openers and would quickly burn them out. 3/4 HP openers are a bit more expensive than half-horse models. But for heavy doors, they’re mandatory.
- 1 Horsepower: You’ll rarely find one horsepower garage door openers in residential applications. They’re intended for big commercial and industrial doors. In most cases, a one-horse opener would be overkill and an unnecessary expense.
Types of Garage Door Openers: Drive Mechanisms
When you hear folks talking about types of garage door openers, they’re usually referring to the drive mechanism. That’s the mechanical components, not the power capacity. Once you’ve decided on what horsepower you need to lift your door, the next step is determining what drive system or mechanism you need.
Like all decisions, you’ll find pros and cons to each garage door opener type. Considerations include noise level, maintenance, durability and cost. You also need to look at your available space as some drive mechanisms are larger than others. These are the four main types of garage door opener drive mechanisms:
- Chain Drives: Chains are the most popular garage door opener drive mechanism. That’s because chain drives are economical and dependable. Chain drives operate with a stationary motor using a sprocket to revolve a long chain that’s attached to a J-bracket on the garage door. The chain rotates along a track and pulls the door up in one direction, then reverses itself to lower the door. The main criticism people have of chain drive openers is the noise factor. They tend to rattle during operation.
- Belt Drives: Next to chains, belts are common drive mechanism options. Belt drives work on the same revolving pulley principle as chain sprockets. However, a smooth and quiet belt replaces the rattling and groaning chain. You’ll find belts made from steel-reinforced rubber, polyurethane or fiberglass. The clear advantage of belt drive openers over chain drives is the low noise factor. Keep in mind, belt drive garage door openers are more expensive than chains.
- Screw Drives: Screw drive garage door openers are sometimes called worm drives. With a screw drive mechanism, a long threaded rod replaces the chain or belt. The opener motor turns the rod, which screws into a coupling mounted on the garage door. As the screw turns, it winds the door back and forth along its track. Screw drive door openers are exceptionally quiet and dependable. The downside is the cost. Screw drive openers are higher priced than belt and chain drives.
- Direct Drives: This is an entirely different concept than the chain, belt and screw drive garage door openers. Where the common three opener types all have fixed motors that energize moving parts, direct drive motors mount on the garage door itself. The motor becomes a trolley that travels back and forth along a track, taking the garage door with it. You’ll hear a variation of direct drives called jackshaft openers. Their advantage is in space saving and, to some degree, security. Their disadvantage is in availability. Direct drive garage openers are popular in Europe but slow to catch on in America.
Garage Door Opener Safety and Security Features
Early garage door opener models had considerable safety and security risks. Like most inventions, many of these bugs worked out over the years, and today’s garage door openers are exceptionally safe and secure. A challenge when buying a modern garage door opener is sorting through all the features offered by manufacturers and then deciding what benefits you’ll gain from them.
The first garage door openers lacked safety-stop features. Once the door was in motion, nothing short of shutting it off or reversing direction could stop it. In the 1990s, United States federal law made sensors mandatory on all garage door opener systems. This legislation prescribed two safety devices:
- One was photo-electric eyes at the garage floor level that sensed an obstruction and signaled a closing door to stop and reverse direction.
- The other security device sensed contact. If a closing door slightly sensed foreign contact in its downward travel, the device signaled the opener to halt. Then, the opener program directed the door to raise back to full open height.
Other Garage Door Opener Safety Features Beyond the Standards
Those two auto-sensing devices come standard with all new garage door opener systems. There’s no doubt these safety features have prevented many injuries and deaths. But these excellent additions aren’t all the beneficial features found in modern door openers. Here are more features to consider when buying a garage door opener:
- Rolling Code Technology: Early garage door opener manufacturers offered remote controls. These exceptionally handy devices worked on a fixed radio frequency code built into the motor control. However, this fixed code presented a security problem. It was easy for burglars to crack the code and open the garage door. Another security problem existed, and that came from track builders who used the same door opener model in many houses. There were only so many codes available, and one remote could open many doors. Today, rolling code technology constantly changes the opener frequency. It’s virtually impossible for a thief to defeat the opener.
- Smartphone Technology: Early remote controls had distance limits as well as code issues. You could only activate your garage door opener from the end of your driveway. You also had no idea what was going on with your garage door once you left. Many homeowners returned to find their door accidentally up and inviting intruders. Now, advanced garage door opener technology like LiftMaster® Security+ 2.0® includes smartphone compatibility. You can open, close and monitor your garage door from anywhere you can get a Wi-Fi signal.
- Battery Backup: It used to be that when your power went out, your garage door opener went dead, too. That’s no longer a problem with today’s LiftMaster® garage door openers with a battery backup feature. Direct current batteries provide emergency current to your door opener. You can use the opener in battery mode for a limited time until the electricity comes back on. Then, the battery automatically recharges and is ready the next time you need it.
- Security and Motion-Sensing Lights: Another handy feature in LiftMaster® garage door openers is the selection of security and motion-sensing lights. You can program different timing and light levels for when you arrive in your garage and leave. There’s no more fumbling for a switch in the dark or forgetting to shut off the light. Now you can activate or deactivate your garage lights from your phone app.
How to Know What You Need in a Garage Door Opener
The first place to start in knowing what you need in a garage door opener is with your door itself. Decide if your current door is right for you or if you’re ready for a change. Once you know what garage door you’ll have, then it’s a relatively simple matter of selecting the compatible opener.
You determine the power requirement based on your door’s height, width and weight. Then, you decide on the drive mechanism, select what safety and security features you like, and settle on the brand of garage door opener you’d like. All this will determine your cost.
Installing Your Garage Door Opener
If you’re a handy person, you might consider installing your new garage door opener. It’s not difficult provided you possess the proper tools, have sufficient time and follow the directions. However, unless you’re an experienced professional, you should never attempt to install an actual garage door. Those energized springs are far too dangerous.
If you’re like most people, you likely don’t have the tools or time to install a garage door opener even though you can follow instructions. The best advice is to call Aaron’s Garage Doors in Nashville, Tennessee. We’ve been in the garage door and garage door opener business for over 20 years.
LiftMaster® garage door openers provide the most reliable service at the most economical cost in today’s market. Here are a few of the most popular LiftMaster® garage door openers that Aaron’s recommend:
- Contractor Series 8155: For a quieter 1/2 HP opener, the 8155 has a belt drive. It’s also sturdy, reliable and only a bit more expensive than the chain drive contractor model.
- Premium Series 8360W: The premium series is a step up from LiftMaster’s contractor line. Our 8360W is a half-horse, chain drive with Wi-Fi capability.
- Premium Series 8355W: If you’re looking for great value in a 1/2 HP belt drive opener, you’ll want to consider the Premium Series 8355W. It also has MyQ® and Security 2.0+ smart technology.
- Elite Series 8587W: With a 3/4 horsepower motor and a tough chain drive, the Elite Series 8587W will open heavy doors with dependable operation. It also has full smart technology features.
- Elite Series 8550W: For heavy loads with a quiet ride, the Elite Series 8550W is a popular belt drive opener. It also has full Wi-Fi capability and comes with a battery backup.
For more help, contact Aaron’s Garage Doors today at 615-456-6654. We’d be happy to help you pick out the right garage door opener for your home as well as repair, service or install a new garage door for you. You also can reach us through our online contact form.