Garage Doors

Home Inspection Garage Interior

Garages doors are a luxurious feature on our homes. An automatic garage door allows access to the outside world of the home without needing to step into the elements. Garage doors however have the potential to inflict serious physical harm and even death which makes them critical to have inspected in a home inspection.

What types of Garage Doors are there?

Today, garage door openers are very to find installed on homes although there is no requirement that a door have an opener. The three most common garage door styles are:

  • Overhead Sectional - These are the most common modern door which opens and closes in 4 or more accordion style sections. The advantage of this type of door is it follows quite closely along its vertical movement track meaning it installs and operates in the least amount of space. Sectional doors are the only overhead doors to commonly have automatic openers.
  • Overhead Solid Door - Overhead solid doors are less popular than sectional doors. While they still retain the advantage of lifting up and out of the way, they do have a larger swing to the bottom of the door which can hit cars or other objects in front of the doors. There doors are commonly manually operated.
  • Horizontal Barn Doors - These doors are the least common on residential homes but can occasionally be found. Rather than opening overhead, these doors open from hinges on the outside walls of the garage attaching together at the middle. While some high end architectural applications for these doors can use hydraulic openers, these doors are most commonly found on amateur built garages and open manually.

What Are Garage Doors Made From?

Garage Doors are comonly made from wood, steel, or fiberglass:

  • Wood - Wood is an excellent building material but it does have some challenges in a garage door environment. To keep doors light, the wood material is as thin as possible and this can result in a 'sagging' door over time. Thin wood doors are also susceptible to faster rot as exterior elements of sun and water penetrate and deteriorate a thin wood door.
  • Steel - Steel, while being similar in weight to wood, is resistant to rot and sagging that wood experiences over time making it very durable. It is also very good for home security. The downside of steel is it tends to show damage more than wood or fibreglass although there are finishes available to help protect these doors.
  • Fibreglass - Fibreglass doors have the advantage or resisting rot and mechanical damage. They also tend to hold their shape and are very light. The disadvantages for fibreglass doors are they become brittle and delaminate when exposed to UV from the sun for many years giving them a shorter life than steel doors.

What Types of Garage Door Openers are There?

There are four common opening systems on typical overhead sectional doors; chain drive, belt drive, screw drive, and manual. All these systems (except manual) have an overhead travel path for a 'car' which mechanically pulls the door along its guides from its vertical closed position up the to the overhead open position. Garage door openers are assisted by a spring which helps take the weight of the door off the mechanical system.

Chain, belt, and screw drive openers all move the 'car' along the path effectively. Chain drive systems tend to be noisier for home occupants than belt or screw systems and they are often used in strata garages where walls are shared with neighbours. Screw drive systems are much more rare as they are more expensive however they don't have any chain or belt maintenance needed.

What Does a Home Inspector Look for with Garage Doors?

The biggest focus for home inspectors with garage doors is on safety as the large door can cause serious injuries to occupants if not operating correctly. Manual garage doors need to operate smoothly, lock for occupant security, and be balanced by a spring such that the door does not close unexpectedly or out of the control of the operator.

Automatic garage doors create an additional safety risk as once activated, they can continue to operate without supervision. This lack of supervision while the garage door closes creates a risk to damaging property or more importantly people, particularly children, in the travel path of the door. To protect accidents, automatic garage doors typically have four safety features:

  • Pressure Sensor - All garage doors require a pressure sensor to detect if the door has encountered unusual resistance during its normal course of travel. When the sensor detects something in its path, it should automatically go back to the open position. This pressure sensor needs to be adjusted so it does not exert enough energy to harm a child and should operate even in the last 6" of travel. Incorrectly set pressure sensors is a very common deficiency found on automatic garage door openers in a home inspection.
  • Electronic Eye - Electronic eyes have been part of garage door safety features for over 20 years and garage door openers missing this feature should be considered for replacement. The electronic 'eye' is actually an invisible infrared beam projected on one side of the door and received on the other side of the door. When something 'breaks' the beam, the door electronics presume the door path is blocked and reverse the door to the open position. This beam should be mounted about 6" from the garage floor to provide the best protect from even crawling children. Electronic eyes are an excellent safety system as they require a complete 'circuit' to operate the door meaning the door only works when the eye works. The most common home inspection deficiency with electronic eyes is they are mounted too high for child safety.
  • Manual Release - In the event of a power failure or mechanical problem, it is necessary to have a manual release on the automatic door opener system. This is particularly important if the overhead door is the only access to the garage so people do not become trapped in the garage. This is most commonly accomplished with a pull cord that connects the 'car' on the automatic opener with the door system.
  • Door Spring - The last safety feature is not as apparent as the other but the spring on the door system helps manage the weight of the door which is critical if the door is operated in a manual mode. Large garage doors can be very heavy and when they have momentum, they can cause serious injuries and death to anyone caught under the door. A well balanced door can be operated with one hand and should remain in the open position without assistance.

In addition to the safety features of garage doors, inspectors will also be looking for smooth operation of the doors and any mechanical or rot damage to the door or the door or trim. In some cases, occupants of homes will add insulation to the back of garage doors. Many foam insulations can release toxic fumes in the event of a fire or are highly combustable and should be removed. Weather stripping is not as common a concern for home owners as garages are not considered indoor conditioned spaces however as a courtesy to occupants, it may be noted in a home inspection report.

Lastly, home inspectors do not typically test the remote openers and are not required to by the major professional association standards of practice. This is more of a practical issue as the openers are typically in the occupant vehicles and not all available to the home inspector to test.

Final Thoughts

Garage doors, much like many of our reliable home systems, can be easily taken for granted by home owners and maintenance of doors and safety systems are easily forgotten. If you are in the process of purchasing a new home, hiring a professional home inspector will help you keep your family safe from hundreds of potential risks in your new home.

By James Bell - Owner/Operator of Solid State Inspections Inc.