Garage-Door Openers Are Getting Smarter
Selecting the best garage-door operator now means choosing mount location, battery power, lighting capabilities, and more.
Garage-door openers (or “operators” as they also are called) look increasingly like many other internet-connected devices around the house. In addition to making the door go up and down on command, they also allow homeowners to monitor the inside of the garage remotely with a camera, open and close the door for a delivery driver or a neighbor, and lock up even when no one is at home.
The most inexpensive openers have basic safety features, no internet connectivity, and AC motors rated at ½-hp that are suitable for relatively light doors. Mid-priced openers add features such as smartphone controls, motion-activated lighting, and dual-lens lights, says Gregory Martell, senior product manager at Chamberlain, a garage-door-opener manufacturer. Top-end openers can lift heavier doors with motors rated at 1 hp or more, have battery backup, and use a belt-driven or wall-mounted lifting mechanism for less noise.
Installed prices range from about $300 to $900. If you want to do the installation yourself, models are available for under $150. Here are some features to consider:
Belt or chain drive: Chain drives are inexpensive and reliable but noisy. Replacing the chain with a steel-reinforced belt will make the system much quieter, Martell says.
Screw drives: In addition to belt- and chain-driven openers, Genie, another manufacturer, also offers a direct screw-drive mechanism designed for heavy doors.
Overhead or wall mount: Standard openers include a ceiling-mounted motor that powers a chain-driven traveler to open and close the door. A wall-mounted unit is attached directly to the shaft of the opener, which both saves space and makes less noise.
AC or DC motor: According to Martell, some openers have built-in inverters allowing the motor to run on direct current. These typically make less noise than AC models and are often found on openers with greater lifting capacity.
Battery backup: Openers with an integral battery are required in California but are available anywhere in the United States. A battery is mounted inside the unit and remains charged. When the power goes out, the door can be opened and closed a number of times. (Doors also have pull cords that disengage the door from the drive mechanism so it can be opened when there’s no electricity.)
Lighting: If high-intensity lighting is a priority, look for a model with integrated LEDs. Although homeowners can replace incandescent bulbs with off-the-shelf LEDs, Martell says these standard bulbs will interfere with the operation of the remote or reduce the distance at which the remote works. Integrated LEDs don’t have that problem.
Door openers are designed to overcome the “moment of inertia” and get the door moving. Once that happens, the springs should do all or most of the work. Choosing the correct opener means matching the power of the motor with the weight of the door, Martell says, rather than trying to calculate how much horsepower the motor should have. Basic openers are designed to lift doors of up to 330 lb., according to Martell, but more powerful units with wall-mounted drive mechanisms will get an 850-lb. door going in the right direction.
—Photos courtesy of LiftMaster
Learn more about garage doors in the article, “All About Garage Doors” from Issue #301.