Ask the Handy Woman!
By Kheli Mason, The Handy Woman LLC
We all open so many things throughout the day: doors, drawers, email (some snail mail), bank accounts, cans of worms, or eyes (sometimes). And among the various things we open very few require any special tools except perhaps a key or can opener. One thing that does get opened, as well as closed, sometimes several times in a day is the garage door. Nowadays, most seem to be equipped with garage door openers that also function as garage door closers (you could really play a chicken and egg thing with this in your head, since a door can’t be opened that isn’t first closed and vice versa).
These are fabulous devices, miraculous inventions from 1926 that allow us to never face the elements should we so choose. We easily take it for granted and then one day it won’t open, it won’t close, or it keeps going up and down and up and down. Now what?
Let’s talk a little about the components of the typical garage door opener* (or closer) of today. Though there are several brands to choose from, the basic design is similar. Openers consist of the electric motor (or power head) that is usually mounted on the ceiling of the garage above the door that it is opening. (Some are mounted at the top of the garage door on the large torsion spring rod but these are not as common so I won’t be talking about them in this month’s column).
Attached to this motor is a long carriage rail that is connected to the front of the garage wall just above the door. Within or along this carriage rail is a chain, a belt, or a very long screw that is driven by the electric motor to pull the door open or allow the door to close. Chain-drive openers are the most common, least expensive, and noisiest of the three. When activated the chain tends to slap the carriage rail as the sprocket on the power head moves the chain around, not unlike a super-long bicycle chain. These openers have a lot of moving parts and tend to need more maintenance than the screw-drive (or worm-drive) opener.
The screw-drive openers are mid-range priced, much quieter, have few moving parts and in general require the least amount of maintenance of the three types. (This is the one that I prefer) Belt-drive openers are the higher priced of the group and use a rubber belt rather than a chain for quieter operation. Again, this type of opener has many moving parts and requires scheduled maintenance to prevent premature failure.
All garage doors have safety measures builtin to help keep the door from closing on an object, pets/child or foot. All have the infrared safety beam that goes across the front bottom of the garage door. You’ve seen those little sensors on either side of the bottom of the door. If anything breaks the infrared light beam, the garage door reverses from down to up to avoid closing on something. Most doors are also equipped with a pressure sensor that detects slight changes in the downward pressure of the door travel and reverses the motion to up if too great a pressure is detected, as would happen if something were being compressed by the door.
A common problem that pops up with garage door openers is that they seem to reverse themselves and go back up when they hit the bottom instead of staying closed. Or as the door starts to go up, it hits a point and goes back down. Both of these situations may often be remedied by adjusting the ‘up force’ or the ‘down force’ of the door. These are two small adjustment screws on the power head, often on the back of the unit or under one of the light covers. By increasing or decreasing the force with which the opener travels either down or up you can adjust the settings to achieve smooth door travel. It is handy to have one of the car remotes in your hand as you are up on the ladder tweaking the settings.
Another adjustment screw that you will notice once you start looking around on the power head is the door travel limit adjuster. The door travel adjustment can often remedy the door going down and then back up again on its own. Lessening the door travel should help.
Noisy, squeaky, creaking doors often just need some WD-40 or other similar product to clean and lubricate the door hinges on each door section and the rollers that you find in the tracks on either side of the garage door. Keeping all of the moving parts clean and lubed or greased up will help ensure a long life for your opener.
And don’t forget about the light! Keep those bulbs changed and clean the light covers when you clean the power head. You’ll be glad you did when you come home late at night in the driving snow (wishing, wishing), press the remote on your visor, and feel the warmth as the garage door cracks open and the light streams out to welcome you in.
*It’s sort of a misnomer to say that the opener actually ‘opens’ the garage door. The springs on either side of or above the door do most of the work. Be sure to check those now and again to keep them in good repair.
With over 20 years experience in Home Maintenance and Repair, Remodeling and Building Inspection, Kheli started the Handy Woman LLC to be ‘not just your average contracting company’, but to also teach people how to take care of their homes by offering do-it-yourself coaching and how-to classes. Along with typical home repair and maintenance services, her focus is to help our elders age-in-place and teach women homeowners how to understand and care for their homes.
For more information please call Kheli @ 303.999.5812 www.thehandywomanllc.com