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The garage door, including its automatic opener system, is the largest appliance in the home. The garage door seals the garage from the elements and provides safety by sealing the garage from people or animals at the exterior. Most people don’t give a thought to ever inspecting the door or the automatic opener’s safety features on a regular basis.

Since 1982, all residential garage door openers manufactured in the USA are required to have an automatic safety feature which reverses the garage door, when in the closing mode, if the opener senses an obstruction preventing the door from fully closing. The sensor is built into the opener’s motor assembly and should reverse within 2 seconds of striking an object. Many garage door openers that I inspect do not properly reverse upon this test. If the opener does not properly reverse, it can crush someone or something in the way. Modern garage door openers have settings where the force in closing mode (often labeled “close force” at its setting location) can be adjusted. It is recommended to place a 2x4 under the center of the garage door and periodically (monthly) check the opener’s operation to ensure that the door reverses to the fully open position within 2 seconds of striking the 2x4.

Since 1993, all residential garage door openers manufactured in the USA are also required to have a safety reversing technology, such as photoelectric eye sensors. Photoelectric eye sensors are the most common type used and these should be installed approx. 4-6” above the garage floor at either side of the door opening. This height is specifically listed in the garage door opener’s installation manual. These sensors will cause the door to reverse (while in the closing mode) should someone or something block the sensors from seeing each other. This can be a pet or child walking under the closing door, a garbage can inadvertently left in the opening, or anything else. These sensors should also be checked monthly by the home owner to ensure that the sensors reverse the door when something is blocking the sensors from seeing each other. In a good number of garages, I find the sensors installed too high (sometime 12” above the garage floor) or installed nowhere near the garage door opening at all.

A pet or child can easily crawl under the sensors when they are installed too high. If so, the garage door will continue to close and may crush a pet or child before it reverses, or it may not reverse at all if the auto-reverse setting is also not properly set!

I will occasionally find garage door opener electric eyes installed on a wall or on the ceiling near the opener motor. This type of installation totally bypasses this safety feature and can result in injury or death of a child or pet. Federal law actually calls for a fine and/or jail time if a professional installs garage door opener photoelectric eye sensors in this way and someone is injured or killed.

Something else that should be checked is the balance of the garage door’s spring(s). Some garage doors have springs on either side of the tracks installed just below the garage ceiling. These types of springs are called counterbalance springs and should also have containment cables run down the counterbalance springs’ centers to help contain a spring if one or both were to break. Otherwise, a broken spring under considerable force could become a projectile in the garage and hit someone causing injury.

The other, more common, type of garage spring system is a central torsion spring installed above the garage door opening. Both types of springs help support the weight of the garage door. The springs’ balance can be tested by taking the garage door off of its automatic track by pulling the rope with the red handle. This is also how you’d manually operate the garage door during a power outage. Once the door is now able to be manually operated, the door should be lowered by hand slowly into the closed position. Then the door should be manually raised to about the half way open point. If the door stays in position half way open and also is easily controlled when manually closed (in order words, the garage door doesn’t fall by itself), then the spring(s) is properly working. If the door feels heavy and falls into the closed position or won’t stay in position when half opened, this indicates an unbalanced or damaged spring system that needs repair. This sort of repair should only be performed by a qualified garage door professional; these springs are under enormous force and can injure or kill someone not properly trained to work with them.

As noted above, the disconnect handle (to take the garage door from automatic operation into manual operation) must be red so that it’s easily distinguishable from the other components and it should be no higher than 6’ above the garage floor.

While inspecting the garage door, the condition and operation of the door panels, wheels/tracks, and hardware should also be checked to ensure proper operation and condition. The door panels should be in generally good condition; damaged panels may prevent proper door operation. The wheels should glide properly within the tracks and no wheels should come out of the tracks. The bolts that secure all of the door brackets (to hold the wheels to the door panels and those that connect one panel to the next) should also be intact and functional.

The wall mounted push-button (for operating the garage door opener) should also be at least 5’ above the walking surface and in clear view of the garage door. This is to help prevent a small child from operating the garage door opener by himself and possibly being injured by the door if left unattended. Newer garage doors (say, within the past 15 years or so) should also have various labels installed on the garage door’s interior and at the push-button.

Regularly checking your garage door’s operation and safety features can help prevent an injury or an inconvenience. Having your garage door and opener system professionally inspected on a regular basis is recommended.



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About the Author

Matthew Steger, WIN Home Inspection
2133 Andrew Avenue
Elizabethtown, PA 17022
717-361-9467

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