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Garage Door Openers – Reviewed
Class is now in session….
There are many types of garage door openers out there, so which one is right for you?? The first thing you have to realize, is that garage door openers are not a one size fits all application. Garage door openers are made to function better if its on the right type of door, most of our repairs are done on machines that are either installed wrong or the opener is on the wrong type of door, and in a lot of cases just a low quality opener.
Now so far I’ve used the words “opener” and “machine” both have the same meaning, they refer to the entire mechanized operation so when I say “opener” I’m not referring to the handheld device in your car…that’s called a “remote control” or just “remote”. With that being said there are several types of garage door openers on the market.. there are screw-drives, there are chain-drives there are belt-drives and last but not least direct-drives commonly referred to as “Jackshafts”. But lets take them one at a time and start with…
These machines have been popular (not necessarily good) on all types of doors for the better part of 45 years but…because of their design they do require regular maintenance. Back in the late 6Os,7Os and early 8Os, Genie used a very durable steel in the “carriage” or “trolley” and the machines were tough! Even without grease on the screw they would run for what seemed like forever then they switched to a lighter grade steel and all that went downhill, the openers would still go as long as any out there provided you regularly greased the screw but who ever does that!! So the average life of the Genie screw-drive trolley was about 4-5 years and that’s being generous, Liftmaster or Chamberlain or Craftsman,all made by the same mfg…(Chamberlain) also has a screw-drive and it has the same problem so to counter that they use a plastic inner trolley and a self lubricating housing around the screw to keep the heat and wear down, but the self lubricating housing really only lasts about a year..or the equivalent of your warranty then its back to the same ol,same ol,”grease-grease-grease”. My official opinion on screw-drives is…stay away from them, they are old technology with a new look to them.
This type of machine has been around for as long as screwdrives give or take 5yrs and they have come along way. Chain-drives have always been very durable machines but caught a bit of a bad rap when Sears started selling a do-it-yourself model from Chamberlain called the Craftsman, now this machine, although called a “chain-drive” was driven by a chain on one side and a cable on the other and it seemed like nothing could be done to make this thing quiet because the cable would stretch until it broke at the loop. So from then on the chain-drives started getting a bad rap as a “coffee-grinder” or noisy machine, although it wasn’t a true chain-drive.
The Liftmaster 1300 series of chain-drives…dollar for dollar are as good a machine as you can get, they are versatile, in that they can handle any type of door from heavy wood to light steel, one-piece or sectional and they are powerful and inexpensive and relatively speaking…low maintenance, but to get to this point they have had many good improvements along the way. Chamberlain has added a chain spreader which keeps the chain from slapping the rail,swapped the front sprocket to a pulley drastically reducing chain noise, they switched out the steel worm gear to a nylon worm gear inside the case to reduce heat on the helical gear and they removed the two tension springs off the inner trolley to reduce door bounce and its a solid one piece rail with a full wrap around chain.
The components on this machine can handle what the motor puts out, so in most cases you don’t need a 1/2 hp to lift the door, and as far as routine maintenance goes..there’s virtually none, just have the two nylon gears inside the motor case lubed every 7 yrs and that’s about it, in the rare case where you happen to own a house right on the beach and only use the opener in the summer then you can spray the chain with a good silicone to keep the links on the chain free. The two models I prefer that have been real work horses for us over the last two decades are currently called #1346=1/3 hp and #1356=1/2 hp.
Several manufacturers make belt-drives these days but I like to stick with the most reliable brand which to me is Liftmaster, we carry most brands but prefer to deal with the brand with the least amount of problems so lets focus on Liftmaster belt-drives for now. Keep in mind that belt-drive openers are a VERY door specific machine, they do NOT work on 1pc doors very well or for very long and should NOT be installed on a 1pc door. To keep it simple there are two types of belt-drives…AC and DC.
The AC model belt-drive known as a formula I, is one of the early model belt-drive designs and essentially its a chain-drive motorhead that’s driving a belt instead of chain. It is minutely quieter than a chain-drive minus the power and to me… not a good machine, but an easy one to sell because its cheaper than a DC model and the general public doesn’t know the difference, they just know belt-drives are supposed to be top of the line and this is a belt-drive, so they are none the wiser to the tricks, dealers can buy these types of machines much cheaper than their DC motor counterparts and sell them for the belt-drive (premium) price. What makes a “DC motor” belt-drive quiet is the motor! Otherwise why would they even offer it in DC, plus the other benefit is being able to have a battery back-up attached so it will run even with the power turned off.
In its simplest form a DC motor puts out more torque than an AC motor and the horsepower for DC is rated in “Newtons” rather than HP but the DC motors also have a “slow start/slow stop” feature which helps keep the entire operation quiet. When an AC motor machine is activated it goes O-60 or should I say “O to full speed” in one shot…the second you push the button, but the door on the other hand is not on the same page and wants to resist the sudden force and that’s where a lot of the noise comes from..basically its the jerky-ness of the door resisting the opener, where as the slow start of the DC machines act as a smoother motivator for the door to get it going without all the jerky-ness, and it does the same as it comes to a stop, so for the first two inches and at the last two inches it slows down, greatly reducing the clanky-ness of the entire operation.
The DC machines also electronically calibrate the pressure needed to operate a door based on its resistance and weight,
which leaves little room for installer error, in other words the installer cannot set the machine to crush your car hood or your cat, AC motors are at the mercy of the installer, if he sets the force adjustment too high, it crushes, if he sets it too low the door will bounce back up on a cold or wet morning while you are happily driving off to work not knowing your garage door will be open all day and that brand spankin’ new Craftsman tool box you just got for your birthday is about to be sold for a fraction of the price its worth at the local swap meet….all because you thought you got a belt-drive garage door opener for a bargain price!! Final thoughts…AC motor belt-drives= not good (better off with a chain-drive) DC motor belt-drives=Very good, very quiet, but very door specific. (Only works on a sectional door)
Jack-Shaft (Direct Drive)
This section is simple because there is literally only one available and its a Liftmaster # 3800, and it will only work on sectional doors. So for those of you looking for a machine that does not mount to the ceiling like a traditional machine does, the Liftmaster #3800 might just be what you’re looking for, its quiet, has (800 Newtons) or the equivalent of 3/4 hp and mounts on either end of the torsion tube provided you have atleast 10 inches of side clearance, so the idea behind this opener is that if you have a room above the garage, it removes completely… the vibration of a typical opener that hangs off the ceiling, or if you have a low beam in the garage that supports the second story of your house or have had a loft or storage shelving installed where a typical opener would be mounted you could still automate your door using this type of machine.
It can also be used on applications where you just simply don’t want an opener hanging down in the middle of your garage.I have found over the years that the #3800 likes the heavier sectional doors vs the light non-insulated models, another benefit of this type of machine is that it will lift a sectional door up to 13 feet high with no modifications while a normal machine only lifts doors up to 7’4″ with a normal railed machine you would need to get a longer rail to accommodate the added height of say an 8′–9′ or 10 ft high opening which is becoming more common in newer houses.The Liftmaster #3800 has been a very reliable alternative for us since 2004.
Everybody loves choices, but given the fact that when it comes to garage door openers there really are so many choices that it also makes it very easy to make the wrong choice for your particular garage door which could lead to many future service calls and repairs so hopefully this can clear up a few things for you when it comes to choosing the correct machine and you will have many “good” ups and downs with the right system.
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