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Chances are that you thought choosing a new garage door opener would be a piece of cake. And then you started reading about motor AC and DC models, horsepower variations, and Home Link connected openers and you ‘froze’. That’s natural.
Finding an opener is hard. Finding the best garage door opener for your home is even harder. Why? Because your needs are different from your neighbor’s requirements. And then garage doors are different too. And consequently, openers vary in order to meet requirements and expectations. As you would probably already noticed, my friends, there is not one opener fits all.
What to ask yourself before start searching garage door openers
- Do you want a silent opener?
- Is your garage attached to the house?
- How much does your door weigh?
- Do you have the right springs installed?
- Will you need a remote or wireless keypad?
- Will you be interested in internet connectivity?
- Will you need a battery backup system?
Once you answer these questions, you will know more or less what you need. Of course, it’s important to know your options and the definition or utility of the opener parts. What we are trying to do here is pinpoint the basic features of modern garage door openers to help you decide. So, stick around a bit longer.
The most important part of each opener is the motor. This is the wired part, which transfers power. If the motor is not right, the door won’t move in the way you expect it to.
So, let us introduce you to the main features of garage door motors.
AC/DC – no relation with the band
Both AC and DC garage door motors turn electric power into a mechanical one. Alternating Current (AC) motors are the traditional types. They are still used today although Direct Current motors (DC) tend to take their place. Many modern openers these days integrate DC motors.
- DC motors are smaller. Thus, they occupy less space in the opener box. Therefore, manufacturers can choose to either use the available space to fit more parts or simply make the openers smaller. And that’s often a good thing – aesthetically speaking. But the domination of DC motors resulted from their capacities. They make less noise and are more durable. Thus, they last for much longer. They also work with the new technology and hence can support backup batteries and the soft start and stop system.
What’s the difference with AC motors?
- AC motors are heavier and bulkier and make more noise. They have more parts in order to transfer power and hence need maintenance more often. And they won’t support new technologies. So, if you decide that you want an opener with a backup battery, you need to get a DC motor.
The little secrets about horsepower
The horsepower of the motor indicates the lifting capacity of the opener. It ranges from ½ and ¾ hp to 1 and 1 ¼ hp motors. HP stands for horsepower. So far, so good. How will you know which hp to get? Most residential garage doors will operate fine with a ½ hp motor.
The rumor is that the larger and heavier the door, the higher the horsepower should be. And although this is basically true, pay attention to the spring system.
What makes a difference to the door’s balance and lifting is the right choice of garage door springs. If they are the wrong ones, the door won’t move right – even with a powerful motor.
The job of electric garage door openers is to enable automatic operation – not to balance or move the door.
With this detail explained, let us just move on to one more significant point.
When it comes to AC motors, their lifting power is measured in horsepower. But DC motors are not measured with horsepower. You will have to find the equivalent one for your door.
So, you might come across the terms HPS or HPC
What do they stand for? HPS is horsepower similar and HPC is horsepower comparable. Such abbreviations often come along with DC motors to help you understand their equivalent AC horsepower. For instance, if you see a ½ HPS or ½ HPC, it would mean that the opener has a similar or comparable lifting power of a ½ hp AC opener.
The journey in the world of motors is not over just yet
Consider the drive options
There are three drive options and their variations have mainly to do with the price and noise level.
- Chain drive garage door openers are actually some of the most popular choices. They don’t cost too much and are very durable. The only drawback is that they are very noisy. And they make noise because they actually work with a chain (which looks like the chain of your bike), which moves on a rail to push and pull the carriage on the door that will in turn push or pull the arm to move the door up or down. The good news is that the newest chain driven motors, which operate with a DC motor, are much quieter.
- Belt drive openers are also very popular. They work exactly like their chain counterparts with the only difference that they don’t use a chain, but a rubber belt. And so they make no noise. They would cost a bit more though. But if noise is an issue at your home, these types worth the extra buck – it’s not too much more anyway.
- The third choice is the screw drive This drive type works in a slightly different way since the carriage (trolley) rides on a threaded steel rod while the motor rotates the rod. These drive types don’t have too many parts and practically need less maintenance. But they are not ideal for all weather conditions. Temperature fluctuations might affect their operation. And so they are not very popular. Actually, Genie is the only manufacturer, which still makes screw drive openers.
It’s important to say at this point that most openers are mounted on the ceiling. But what if there is not sufficient space on the ceiling? What if there is a sloped or cathedral garage ceiling? In such cases, you have the choice of getting a jackshaft opener.
- Jackshaft openers are mounted on the wall next to the door. They will also give you the chance to keep the ceiling free for other garage storage solutions.
- Another choice is direct drive openers. At first glance, these European openers would give you the impression of screw drive openers. But they are actually different. They are made in Germany by the company called Sommer and have one moving part. This is the motor instead of the trolley. The motor glides along a stationary chain, which is hosted in an overhead rail. The motor connects to the door with a J-arm. These types of openers are considered durable, noise-free, and maintenance free. You might want to check them out.
Important garage door opener features
Apart from the motor, garage door openers integrate more parts. Although each drive type would have different components, they should all share some safety features.
The main safety features are the sensors and the release cord. Under the federal law, all openers made after 1993 should adhere to the UL 325 safety regulations and thus be made with safety sensors. UL stands for Underwriters Laboratories. They check and confirm that the new openers integrate the necessary safety features for the avoidance of accidents.
With these eyes, lives are saved…
- The main safety features are the photoelectric eyes at the two lower parts of the door. They transmit an infrared beam and that’s why they should be aligned. If their beam is interrupted (by a child or pet passing by), they should stop and reverse the door. The opener should also have safety sensors, which would reverse the door if it comes in contact with an object or human.
- Now, the release rope is used to disconnect the opener and thus give you the chance to move the door manually. This is not only useful during a power outage but also when someone is entrapped and you want to quickly move the door and free him/her. That’s why it is often referred to as an emergency release cord.
Over the last decade, manufacturers didn’t just try to ameliorate the safety features but also focused on extra components for the improvement of security as well.
Remember that the electric openers are all about your convenience. With the press of a button, your garage door opens and closes. But since the code transmission between the remote and opener was fixed, nearby frequencies interfered and so instead of closing your overhead door, you would open the neighbor’s. That was solved years ago with the rolling code technology. Today, all branded openers are made with this technology.
If you are not familiar with it, let us just say that every time you press the garage door clicker to open the door, the code used to convey the message to the opener is chosen among billion combinations. And so nobody can use any remote to enter into your garage. Each button of your clicker is programmed to work only with one opener and their communication is done with codes chosen randomly among billions of combinations.
All openers have lights and you can usually adjust how long they will stay on (usually up to 6 minutes). This will give you the chance to get your stuff from the car and move in the house.
Extra security features?
- Some modern openers also integrate motion detectors. They will keep the lights on for as long as you move around in the garage.
- Another convenience is the timer to close. What you do with this security feature is prearrange how long the door will remain open before it closes down on its own. This feature is important for those who forget to close the garage door behind them.
- Internet connectivity is also one extra convenient feature. Today, you have the option to choose openers, which are activated via your smartphone or computer. This way you can operate the garage door even if you are miles away and get alerts if someone has opened the door without your authorization.
Another choice is the Homelink system. This is a car-based wireless control system, which will enable you to open and close the garage door, turn on and off lights but also home appliances and other electronics and security systems.
It’s a very convenient system since you don’t fear about losing or breaking the garage door remote control. Beware that some older systems though might not work with new openers. In this case, you might need to install a repeater. The built-in remote will send a message to the repeater which in turn will activate the opener. But this system with the repeater won’t work with the battery backup (in times the power is out).
Backup battery or not?
And this brings us to another great feature: the backup battery. This is a very useful feature since it will allow you to get in the garage even if there is no power – unless you have a repeater. Don’t get confused with the release rope here. Both the release cord and backup battery will open the door when there is a power failure but they are both important. The former for emergency situations and the latter for the convenience of having an automatic door till the power comes back on.
Should you get a branded opener?
By all means, YES! The most popular manufacturers are Genie, Marantec, and Chamberlain. The latter also makes the following brands: Liftmaster, Raynor, and Craftsman. And Craftsman products are sold at Sears.
When you get branded openers, you get products which have been tested and tried out by thousands of consumers. Such big brands adhere to the safety standards in order to remain competitive and trusted. And then it’s a matter of getting warranties and having support and help when you need it. They usually provide it.
DIY or professional garage door opener installation
Always find a pro to install garage door openers. It’s essential to be sure that the new opener is installed correctly from the start and in accordance with its features and safety regulations. For instance, the photo eyes must be installed 6 inches over the floor and be aligned properly. The opener unit must not vibrate nor sag or your garage door will get damaged.
Although there are instructions, a professional garage door opener installer will do the job much faster and right. Since these units have to do with your daily convenience, the home’s security, and your family’s safety, it’s always recommended to leave such jobs to the pros.
With that said, we hope the trip in the world of openers has been concluded to your satisfaction. Having an idea of what’s out there and how to approach the huge subject of openers is vital. So have fun shopping your new opener.