Garage Doors and Electric Lift Systems
Installation Checkpoints
By Joe Mehaffey
Rev 2


Garage doors and lift mechanisms are fairly straightforward to install and BASICALLY,  you just need to follow the instructions furnished with the doors and lift mechanisms.  Unfortunately,  I find that even "professional" installers sometimes fail to adhere to the instructions and leave reliability problems for the homeowner.  Manufacturer's instructions are designed by their engineers to provide the necessary mechanical stability so that the door system and lift mechanisms will provide safe operation and a reasonable and troublefree life.  Failure to follow such directions may compromise all these goals.  READ the installation manuals for YOUR garage door and lift motor systems.  If your installer fails to "do it by the book" you should insist on knowing WHY and if any of the points listed below are the problem,  INSIST on them being put right.

Residential doors, (and particularly metal doors) can be made of metal as thin as 24 or 25 gauge.  This metal is formed so as to maximize stiffness but you can be sure if the designers (for the most part) could figure how to make a serviceable door with lighter gauge material they would do it.  As a result,  there are a few instructions that are not necessarily highlighted in the manual,  but are MANDATORY if you want troublefree operation of the door and lift mechanisms for the long term.  Here are some of the caveats to look out for when you buy or replace a garage door system.  Watch for these problems in NEW homes as well.

1) Most residential door installation instructions will tell you that you MUST install a 14 gauge or heavier 1.5" x 1.5" (or larger) steel stiffener along the TOP EDGE of the upper door panel if the door is to be lifted by an electric door operator.  (Some doors have this stiffener built in.  Your door installation manual will tell you if you need this item.)  Unfortunately,  many door kits do not include the necessary stiffener and require that you purchase it separately.  (Door manufacturers do not include this stiffener with the door kit because not all garage doors are fitted with lift motors.)  This stiffener omission from the kit  frequently results in a failure of the installer to install the required stiffener.  (Unfortunately,  this happens with some few "professional" installers so the homeowner needs to check to be sure the stiffener is in place when his door installation is complete.)  Failure to install this stiffener can result in the jerk of the electric lift unit slowly bending the top panel of the door until it jams the system.  Often this problem does not appear until the door tracks and wheels need lubrication and begin to drag.  I have seen this problem take years to occur and then the door is out of warranty and the owner has to pay for a service call to fix what is basically an installation mistake.  Make sure YOU do not let this "door installer's service call generator" happen to you!  (Photos HERE.) (And HERE)

If upper door panels are bent and damaged as a result of failure to have a stiffener across the top,  it may be necessary to use a 2" or 2.5" steel angle to provide the forces to bend the door back into "flat" and prevent further damage of the weakened panel.  (Photo HERE.)

2) The lift motor should be connected to the CENTER of the door,  not off to one side.  This is because an off-center attachment of the lifting connection tends to twist the door each time the lift motor starts.  This can cause binding of the door which can then cause bending of the panels,  and ultimately binding in the door mechanism.  There MAY be a tiny fraction of cases where the lift mechanism MUST be attached off center because of some structure in the way of a centerline mounting.  However,  every reasonable effort should be made to mount the lift attachment on the CENTERLINE of the door as this will provide the most balanced and troublefree operation of the door system. (Photos HERE.) (And HERE.)

3) Insulated panel doors are not essential unless you intend to keep your garage warmer (or cooler) than the outside air.  However,  there MAY be a reason why you should consider insulated panel doors even if you do not intend to heat (or cool) your garage.
    a) Insulated panel doors are slightly stiffer than uninsulated doors and will resist twisting and distortion during operation somewhat better than uninsulated doors.
    b) If your home has a common wall with the inside of the garage,  having an insulated garage (and garage door) can reduce the heat loss (or gain) of the adjacent room by moderating the temperature range of the garage interior.
    c) Insulated metal doors block noise coming from the outside (or inside) slightly better than uninsulated metal doors.

4) The selection of a lift motor system depends on many factors.  I have used chain driven,  and screw driven actuators and all have been satisfactory.  I personally like the chain drive units best for lightweight residential doors,  but others have good reasons for the other choices.  The reasons I like the chain drive units include:
    a) They have proved reliable and easy to service.
    b) It is much easier to SHORTEN a chain drive slider bar (if needed) than the screw types.  With a chain unit,  all you have to do is cut off the slider bar and tailor the end to fit the assembly and shorten the chain.
    c) Generally (personal opinion),  I think a 1/3 HP lift motor should be the minimum size used on an 8 ft garage door.  For 10 and 12 foot doors, I like to use 1/2 HP motor units.  Larger sizes of doors should have a motor selection based on the weight of the door and manufacturer's recommendations.

5) Smoke detectors,  light fixtures,  power outlets and other items should NOT be mounted  in the garage ceiling near the centerline of the garage doors unless care is used to insure that they will not interfere with the installation of the electric motor lift system.  Avoiding such obstacles is often the reason that garage door lift motors are mounted off center in a particular garage.  In particular,  light fixtures are often mounted on the centerline of the door and if so,  they should be carefully mounted far enough from the door so that they will not interfere with the door lift motor assembly.

6) Never use nails to mount ANYTHING associated with the garage door or the garage door motors and accessories.  This means use LAG SCREWS or other large screws to mount any necessary wood blocks or mounting hardware to the ceiling or walls.  The use of nails will often result in the nails pulling out over time due to the jerking and vibration of the motor.  Nails pulling out can cause loose motor or actuating arm supports which  can cause jamming of the door mechanism or worse.  Make SURE that the door tracks,  motor and front slider arm support and everything else is screwed to WOOD STRUCTURE or otherwise securely connected to the garage structure.  Toggle bolts and such holding tracks or other items to sheet rock or screws into thin plywood cannot hold the loads which will occur in a door operating system.

7) Make sure the liftmotor attachment is positioned and adjusted so that it presses the rubber gasket on the bottom of the door to the floor so as to keep rain from coming under the door when it is down.  Usually about 1/4" to 1/2" of downward "overtravel" after the rubber gasket first touches the door is about right.  More and the door can be overstressed, less and you may not have a good seal.  You need to measure this overtravel at the TOP panel of the door.

8) Make sure the counterbalance system is adjusted so that the door will "stay put" about every foot as the door is raised.  If the door is disconnected from the lift motor,  the door should neither "slam down" if let go, nor should it spring upward.  Caution: Counterbalance springs or torsion bars can be dangerous.  Do not try to adjust these unless you know what you are doing.

9) When assembling the panels,  make sure they have the tongue and groove edges positioned properly in accord with manual instructions to prevent rain blowing in and to prevent  binding of the door.

10) Above ALL,  follow the manufacturer's instructions for mounting the door and the lift motor system.  The vendor's engineers prepared the instructions as a MINIMUM guideline to follow for safe and reliable operation.  Cutting corners may result in a door system that works,  but usually the price is paid later in maintenance costs and inconvenience of having to get the system repaired.

11) Be sure to TEST the safety shutoff features as directed to insure that the door will turn around if it encounters some obstruction.  Typically, the door should stop and reverse if a one inch thick by four inch wide board is placed anywhere along the gasket area under the door as it is closing.

12) SAFETY NOTE:  The linear and torsion bar springs used on garage doors store a LOT of energy! If you do not know what you are doing, do NOT try  adjusting these items.  They can cause severeinjury and even death to the unwary.

Questions,  Comments,  Criticisms, Additions?  NOTICE:  WE DO NOT SELL GARAGE DOORS.

Email to: Joe Mehaffey