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How to install a garage door opener

by Leon A. Frechette

For increased safety and tighter security in your home consider installing a garage door opener!

How many times have you found yourself in this situation? It's Friday, you worked late, you're tired, it's raining, and you had to go grocery shopping. With a car full of groceries, you head for home. A wishful thought comes to mind, "I hope the kids left the garage door open tonight." As you start down the driveway, which by now seems endless, you stare out your fogged-up windshield while your headlights search for the front of the garage. Did they? Yes— Yes— NO! You dash out to lift the door and barely get back to the car when you hear the door roll back to the ground.

My guess is we have all been in a similar situation at one time or another. Perhaps you just couldn't get the door open. I would also guess that you thought about solving the problem but never got around to it. Whatever your reason, there is a simple solution—install a garage door opener. This is something you can handle yourself and is one sure way to cure those garage door blues. Imagine not having to get out of the car in bad weather to open the door. A click on the remote button will lift that door as if by magic.

So what are you waiting for? This is a great weekend project, so invite your buddies over to help. You'll be able to automatically close that door as you leave for work on Monday morning.

First check to make sure you have at least 7 feet (or more) above the garage floor. This is the recommended distance for installing an opener. Then determine the type of door you have—track operating (straight track or curved, the most popular) or trackless (one-piece with jamb or pivot-type hardware). Once you reach your local home improvement center, you'll discover that garage door openers come in two styles: chain-driven or screw-type. You may want to check out the chain-driven type because it requires no periodic greasy lubrication in the screw mechanism. It is easier to assemble and tends to work better in colder climates.

As long as you're going to install an opener, purchase one that has all the bells and whistles: safety light, hand-held units that accept a personal security code, security vacation lock and a radio signal lock. A reversing system is an important consideration, especially if you have children. Because of new federal regulations, garage door openers now come with both non-contact and contact built-in features, as well as other devices, that activate the reversing system. Don't forget to compare warranties.

Manufacturers like Stanley or Genie provide a great selection of openers, all accompanied by complete step-by-step instructions, along with how-to videos, available at your local home improvement center. Both help to eliminate the fear that some homeowners associate with home improvement projects. It is important that you follow the manufacturer's instructions during the different phases of the project to achieve a correct installation. It is also a good idea to check the parts against the parts list before getting started.

To extend the life of your new opener, be sure your garage door is properly balanced. Raise the door about 3 feet off the floor. If the door moves up or down on its own, have the door professionally adjusted. Because of the amount of tension on the main door spring, do not work on or remove this spring! A sudden release of spring tension can result in a serious (possibly fatal) injury. Call in a professional.

An opener does provide security; therefore, using the manual lock on your door is not necessary. As a precautionary measure, remove all locks and ropes to help prevent motor burnout, especially if the manual lock should accidentally engage.

Regardless of what type of operator you buy, before you can hang it, you will have to install a header bracket in order to attach the operator to the wall. Mount it on a solid surface at least 2 1/2 inches above the highest point of the door's travel. If you have an overhead tension spring and it is in the way, don't worry—install the header bracket above it.

Just like an erector set, assemble the entire unit, motor, and track on the ground, following the manual as you go. With the help of those extra hands, lift the unit so the front end of the track can be placed into the header bracket and secured with the retaining pin. Lift the motor end and place on a tall ladder. Using wood scraps placed under the motor and on top of the ladder, level the entire unit, making sure that the power head is at least 2 inches lower than the header bracket.

With the unit in place, attach an angle iron to the ceiling joist and make the final installation by attaching the motor to the angle iron using the mounting straps.

Do not forget to install the door bracket. It is important if you have a lightweight door or one made of fiberglass, tempered fiber board, or metal, that you have a solid backing to support that bracket. Consult the local distributor for your make of door to see if he or she has backing or bracing instructions for an automatic door operator.

Now you are ready to install the door arm assembly to the release carriage located on the track.

Have you forgotten anything? How about a four-function wall console with a pedestrian access door light which automatically turns on your lights when you step into the garage?

By the way, only the hand-held units of your automatic garage door opener run on batteries. The actual operator requires electrical service. You may want to consult with or hire a licensed electrician to complete this portion of the job.

A Word to the Wise

A good time to inspect your garage door is while you are replacing your garage door opener. To ensure the life of your new opener, your garage door must be in top working order, according to Pat Lohse, director of market development for Clopay Building Products Company, one of the largest manufacturers of residential garage doors in North America. She says the last thing you want is to wear out your new opener by making it work harder than is necessary. If the spring isn't balanced properly or the rollers are worn out and the door catches as it opens, your new opener will be overtaxed.

"Before installing the new opener, manually open and close your door. If it's balanced correctly, the bottom of the door will hang into the opening 4 to 6 inches below the header without falling closed," says Lohse. "If the garage door flies back up or slams down on its own as you're opening or closing it, the spring is not balanced, and it may shorten the life of the opener as well as that of the door."

Lohse offers this final note. "Never lock your door when the opener is attached," she says. "And always hire a trained professional to inspect and perform all your garage door repairs.

Some points to consider:

  • A good time to inspect your garage door is while you are replacing your garage door opener.
  • Garage door openers are designed for fast, do-it-yourself installation and require only a few hand tools to install.
  • To assure correct installation, follow the step-by-step manufacturer instructions during the various phases of the project.

Quick step-by-step instructions to installing the garage door opener:

  • Assemble the rail of the garage door opener and connect the power head.
  • Measure the gap at the bottom of the door, and adjust it so that it comes down flush against the driveway.
  • Attach the opener's power header to the door header and ceiling.
  • Plug in the garage door opener and make any necessary adjustments.

Copyright © 1995 & 2008 LAF/C.R.S., Inc. All rights reserved.
The previous article, in whole or in part, appeared in the Jan./Feb. 1995 issue of Builders Square HomeImage.

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