Garage Door Opener Buying Guide

Buying a garage door opener can be a tough experience. While the cost of the average residential opener is not quite so much that it qualifies as a major purchase, it’s not to be taken lightly, either.

It’s especially a pain if you’re looking for a new one because your opener has suddenly quit. The prospect of an afternoon doing DIY also doesn’t make most of us terribly happy, and can come as a sudden blow to our wallets.

Garage door openers are products that we have to live with for years, so if you buy one that’s not right for you, the teeth-grinding may extend way past the actual purchase and installation. That’s why you should take the time to ask yourself a number of questions before picking up whatever is the cheapest thing on the Internet.

Repair or Replace?

Sometimes you can get a reputable dealer to replace a broken motor under a lifetime warranty or even get a free assessment and quote. This can be much cheaper than buying a new opener, and can save you the hassle of another installation. Keep in mind, though, that if your garage opener is old enough to be out of warranty it may predate the 1993 cutoff for new safety standards. Check out my article on why you should replace older garage door openers .

Newer openers also are likely to outperform older models and add convenient new features. Rather than going for a repair because it’s cheaper, shop around for a new product in your price range and weigh the improvements it will bring.

DIY or Professional Install?

Garage Door InstallationIf you are reading this buyers guide, I can only assume that you aren’t a professional installer. If you are a handy person in general, installing a garage door opener is not difficult, but it can be time-consuming.

Getting a professional to do it will generally result in a neater installation and far less anxiety. In the end, your budget is king, but if you can afford a professional installation I’d recommend it. Keep in mind that although a pro will install anything you have, some openers (such as those from Liftmaster) are not DIY products. They don’t come with everything you need to install them and they assume an installer will customize items such as the rail.

One situation where you may want to save some money and do it yourself is if you’re replacing a current installation. Some manufacturers will make new products to fit the mountings and wiring of older ones. So a phone call to find out if there are direct placements could mean a simple swap out and semi-installation. Of course, your mileage may vary.

How Important is Noise?

Garage door openers vary a lot when it comes to noise levels. It depends on the drive type and motor technology. In general, the quieter an opener is the more expensive it will be. If your garage is directly attached to your home and is near rooms that need low noise levels, such as bedrooms or nurseries, then you may want to pay for something that vibrates and jangles a little less. You’ll thank me when your kids come home at 1a.m.

How Much Power Do I Need?

Garage door openers come in a variety of power ratings. The unit of power is usually in horsepower (for AC motors) or horsepower equivalent. It’s better to pay attention to the size and weight rating the manufacturer specifies than the actual power rating, but I’ve written a short guide on what power rating to choose if you’re really stumped. Generally my advice is to get a product that’s overpowered for your door, since the price differences aren’t great. For most people a 3/4 HP opener will be perfect.

Do I Need Smart Features?

There are a lot of garage door openers that are catching on to the home automation revolution, so you’ll find yourself faced with a list of features not usually found on a machine that works a door up and down. How useful these will be are entirely up to you, but if you’re sure you’ll never use any smart features at all (e.g. this is for a boat house or something) save your money and pay less or buy a better quality unit instead.

Is my Door Too Big?

Almost every product on the market will handle a door that’s seven feet high, but beyond that you’ll have to buy an extension kit, if one is available for that particular model. This is another reason to go with a non-DIY product and hire a professional installer. The installer will provide a one-piece rail that fits your door perfectly. DIY kit rails come in sections, since they have to fit in a box.

Is it Secure Enough?

Garages hold some of our most expensive possessions and are often an easy way to access our homes, so it’s important that they prevent someone just waltzing in and taking your stuff. How much security you feel you need will depend on where you live and how much crime there is, but there are a couple of key features to look out for.

Always ensure that the opener you buy uses rolling code technology. You can read more about it in my article about garage door hacking, but a fixed-code system takes seconds to bypass. You may also want a product that has a physical locking system, so that the door can’t simply be forced open when the power is out

Some smart, Internet-connected openers have additional security features, including push notifications to your phone and IP-camera support. There’s no right or wrong answer here, so the important thing is not to overpay or under-secure your garage in the context of where you live.

Is it Safe Enough?

The standard safety features are determined by federal law; have a look at my article on that subject here. Apart from those, there may be additional safety features that may appeal to you. Make sure the opener you buy complies with federal regulations and has enough safety considerations for you to feel comfortable with it.

Do I Need Battery Backup?

If you experience power outages frequently enough for it to be an issue, you may want to consider buying an opener that either comes with battery backup or support it as a future upgrade. For all intents and purposes, this means you have to get an opener with a DC motor, but that’s becoming the norm now anyway.

Batteries are consumables, however, and will have to be replaced every few years, so that represents an additional running cost.

That’s All Folks!

If you’ve gone through this basic list of questions and answered each one to your satisfaction, you should be ready to make a purchase. You can get started by looking at my reviews of some of the products on the market today.