A Garage Door Safety Checklist
By Mike McClintock
Special to The Washington Post
Thursday, May 27, 2004; Page H02
Older homes may have charm that's difficult to find in a new house today, but often they do not compare well when it comes to meeting current safety standards. In fact, even houses built only 15 years ago may have major components that don't measure up. Case in point: automatic garage doors.
Although these sometimes massive doors are spring-loaded and move at the touch of a button, maiming injuries and several deaths (mainly to children) occur every year. There are many contributing factors. One is that a garage door is the largest and heaviest moving object in a house; another, that the convenience of mounted keypads and portable remote controls means garage doors are often used more than any other entrance.
Safer garage doors
There are two main ways to make automatic garage doors safer. The first and most obvious is to install a modern system that meets current standards.
Since January 1993, the Consumer Product Safety Commission has required that all garage door openers have what's called an external entrapment protection system. In practical application this translates to an electric eye (or similar system) aligned with the opening and mounted four to six inches off the floor. These will reverse the door before it hits anything detected by the sensors in the door's path.
Many older systems reverse only after contact (sometimes quite a collision) or don't reverse automatically under any circumstances. If your garage door is more than 10 years old, consider upgrading, says the CPSC, and replace pre-1982 openers that do not reverse.
The CPSC offers this strong recommendation because the auto-reversing feature has significantly reduced personal injury and property damage -- so much so that in 2001 the standard was extended to include automatic security gates that are increasingly common at the entrances of apartment and condo communities.
The second basic safeguard is to test your door periodically (the CPSC suggests a somewhat rigorous, once-a month schedule) and perform regular maintenance and repairs as needed. Although basic guidelines apply to all automatic openers, check your owner's manual or contact the opener manufacturer about specific (and sometimes different) procedures.
Most of the safety guidance is aimed at parents of young children; No. 1 on the list compiled by door manufacturers, the CPSC and the National Safety Council, is not to let kids play "beat the door." Backing up a sensible step, the groups also advise parents not to let children play with or use garage-door remote controls.
As a further precaution, you should mount the keypad wall control out of children's reach -- at least five feet from the floor -- and in a location where users can clearly see the moving door.
In case all else fails and someone is pinned by the door, it's also important to know how to use the emergency release. Generally, you simply pull down on the short rope hanging from the operator motor. This feature, a standard since 1982, disconnects the opener system from the door so you can lift it by hand.
Testing old and new doors
In older houses, the garage door may be original or a replacement. Not sure of its vintage? You might be able to track the door's manufacturing date through a model type listed in the owner's manual. If not, conduct this series of tests in order to discover if the door does not have a reversing feature or is a modern model with the feature in need of repair.
• Balance. To check balance, start with the door closed and trip the release mechanism so you can maneuver the door by hand. If the door is balanced (properly spring-loaded and running freely on its tracks), you should be able to lift the door smoothly without much effort and it should stay open about three or four feet above the floor.
If the door flies up or down when you let go, the balance needs adjusting. Because the springs store so much power, you should have their tension corrected by a qualified service contractor.
• Force setting. Test the force setting of the opener by holding the bottom of the door as it closes. If the door does not reverse as you apply moderate resistance, the setting is probably excessive. (Consult your owner's manual for specific details about adjusting the setting.)
• Reversing test. Place a 2-by-4 block on the flat in the path of the door. If it does not promptly reverse on hitting the block, you should repair a modern opener or replace an older one that lacks the reversing feature.
The humdrum part is basic maintenance, mainly cleaning, oiling and a shot of graphite in the lock. Many manufacturers recommend cleaning the tracks and then applying a light machine oil, except to plastic parts.
One of the largest door makers, Genie, says to oil door rollers, bearings and hinges monthly, using a silicone lubricant or light oil.
There are some fixes any homeowner with a level and socket wrench can take on, such as aligning the tracks. Though door wheels have some leeway, if the tracks are not parallel and plumb, the wheels can drag and also wear out prematurely.
The solution is to loosen the bolts in the track mounts just enough so you can realign the tracks before retightening.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company