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How Garage Doors Work – The Ups and Downs of It All by Gareth Marples

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How Garage Doors Work – The Ups and Downs of It All by Gareth Marples

Although we can jokingly say that garage doors have their ups and downs, they’re mostly ups. There have been very few downs for garage doors since their invention. There was the safety issue, with children being trapped under automatic garage doors, but that’s been all but rectified now. And the future looks very promising for the garage door industry. So we’re going to bring you up-to-date on everything that’s going on with a simple explanation on how garage doors work. We’ll show you those ups and downs and all the parts that make them go. We’ll branch out a bit into the actual garages, and see how their styling has affected the design of the door itself. So push that remote, close that garage door, and come on in – the class is about to begin.

The evolution of the garage door

For hundreds of years, the material used for almost every kind of construction was wood. It wasn’t because wood was the best insulator, or because it looked the best. It was because that was all there was. So builders did what they could with what they had. But when you look at it, they did pretty well. Garage doors evolved fairly quickly, from the old barn-door style of the carriage house, to the folding overhead door that we know today.

The first overhead garage door, which swung outwards, was built by Overhead Door Corporation, back in 1921. Since then, that company has introduced many innovations in the garage door industry. But they’re not the only one, by far. One of the largest garage door manufacturers is Wayne-Dalton, who offer a full line of garage door openers and hardware, as well as their own line of high-quality doors, crafted by the meticulous Amish craftsmen. Clopay Building Products is another company that started early, and developed superior technology in their garage doors and openers. In fact, today, Clopay is the largest manufacturer of residential garage door systems in the United States.

There are a number of other companies that have made significant contributions to the industry. Stanley is probably one of the most well-known. Although there’s been a split in the Stanley company, they’re still contributing to the relevant technology. For example, their StanVision Door Automation and Surveillance System has been installed at the Jacksonville International Airport in Florida. And their sister company, Stanley Hardware, has a complete selection of garage door replacement parts.

And then there are the companies that specialize in garage door openers, like Liftmaster and Craftsman. Liftmaster’s latest claim to fame is their EverCharge™ Battery Backup System, which keeps an automatic garage door opener running, even when the power goes out – a valuable tool if you need to get your vehicle out of the garage in an emergency. They also have their own line of opening systems for garage doors. Craftsman’s latest contribution is their “Silent Drive” garage door opener. It uses a polyurethane belt that provides the quietest-opening door on the market. And that’s important if you have a room above the garage where somebody may be sleeping.

What kind of doors are these companies producing?

There are several types of garage doors available. The oldest, as we mentioned, is wood. Wood is a great insulator, but doesn’t stand up well to excessive weather. And wood is heavy, too. That’s why manufacturers knew they had to come up with something lighter, that could insulate as well as wood. The industry’s first answer to that was the steel door.

Steel garage doors are made from galvanized panels of steel, attached in the same way the wood panels are in wood doors – in hinged sections that fold as the door travels up a vertical track and onto a horizontal track. The systems are the same – only the material has been changed.

But steel isn’t a good insulator, so to compensate, they double up the panels and fill the space between them with polystyrene or polyurethane insulation. Polyurethane insulates better than polystyrene, but it tends to break down after a period of time, whereas polystyrene lasts forever. Of course, if you don’t need insulation, like for an outer shed or similar building, then a single-thickness steel door will do the job. Steel is very low maintenance, so the manufacturers can offer longer warranties – up to several decades longer than wood.

These days, we’re getting more and more synthetic materials – composites made of combinations of substances specifically designed to work together to create a desired effect. Garage door manufacturers make good use of this technology. You can now get a wood door that’s combined with resin for extra strength and durability. Or you can get a fiberglass door that’s also very durable. Vinyl is also a very useful material when used strategically in the manufacture of garage doors. Although it’s more expensive than other materials, vinyl is popular because it’s dent resistant. And if you have children that are constantly hitting the door with bikes or balls, then a dent-resistant door is very important.

What about the garage door opener?

The most complicated part of a garage door is the opener and its hardware – the drive mechanism, the springs, the tracks, the brackets – all the parts that combine to make it work smoothly over and over and over again. There are all kinds of garage door springs and parts. One of the most important parts are the actual springs themselves. These powerful springs are under very high tension – that’s what gives them the strength to lift the weight of the door. If you look at a garage door, you’ll see either a set of springs, one on each side, or a long spring running across the top above the door.

The springs mounted on either side of a door are called extension springs. They’re usually used on single-car garages, because their mechanisms aren’t strong enough to hold the weight of a double door. You can see these springs stretched along the horizontal part of the track when the door’s closed.

Since there are more double garages than singles these days, the more popular spring system is the tension spring. You’ll see this spring mounted to the header, just above the top of the door. Tension springs can be extremely dangerous if tampered with. It’s a wound spring, which means it winds up into a coil, as opposed to the extension spring that expands and contracts. And because it winds up as the door closes, it holds a tremendous amount of tension. Any manufacturer will tell you that garage door installation of a tension spring type is a job for a professional only – it’s not to be tackled by amateurs. They say that skydiving is safer.

And then there are the bottom brackets, the cable drums, the vertical and horizontal tracks with their track hangers, and all the screws, hinges and plates that hold them in place. All this hardware is designed to work together to create the smooth operation of your garage door. So make sure you keep it maintained. Oil the bearings and spray WD-40 on the springs regularly – it’ll work better and last longer.

Your actual motor drive can be one of three types – chain drive, screw drive or belt drive. Many people are going with the belt drive today, even though it’s the most expensive, because of it’s smooth and quiet operation. But the chain drive system is also very popular because it’s the most affordable. The screw drive mechanism is slow-moving, so it’s used the least. But whatever type of garage door opener you use, especially if you have an automatic garage door opener to go with it (and most people do), then you probably love the convenience of not having to get out of your car in that horrible weather to open the door.

The garage – a part of the house

Almost all garages these days are attached to the house. Because of this, garage builders look for ways to create continuity with the house, designing it to blend with its style and color. And they’ve done well. You can get a wide variety of glass or acrylic windows for your garage door, to match the windows in the house. And garage doors come in many styles and colors now, for the same reason. And you know that screen door you have on your patio? Well, you can get one for your garage, too. Garage door screens allow you to leave the door open while you work in there, without being bothered by bugs and dust.

And here’s another unique idea. Do you have a boat or an RV, or something you need to keep covered that doesn’t fit into your garage? Then you need a portable garage. Portable garages are great for storing larger items. They also come in a variety of shapes and sizes. They usually consist of a clear or colored UV-resistant, fire-retardant plastic sheeting or tarp that stretches over a frame of metal tubing. You can even get an instant portable garage for those temporary situations where you need shelter.

The glorious gallery of garages will guarantee a grand-looking home

Check out all the garage blueprints and designs available – you’ll be amazed at the variety. You can get complete garage packages that include everything you’ll need for your new or remodeled garage. There are literally hundreds of different garage building plans available online. Browse through them and you’re sure to find one that’s just right for your house.

The garage door is the largest, heaviest moving object in the house, and that’s why it requires so much care and attention when you’re building. But once it’s installed, you can pretty well forget about it (except, of course, for that little monthly maintenance job, which only takes a few minutes). So follow procedure, and you can have a delightful garage, with an attractive garage door, and an efficient garage door opener. And then you can be the pride of the neighborhood!

About The Author

Gareth Marples is an experienced freelance copywriter providing tips and advice for consumers about purchasing Stanley garage doors, window well covers and pre fab home plans. His numerous articles offer moneysaving tips and valuable insight on typically confusing topics.

This article on “How Garage Doors Work” reprinted with permission.

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