The home can be a dangerous place, more so than we might expect and often in ways we’ve never imagined. For example, the dangers of an unfenced swimming pool are obvious, but how many people think about the dangers posed by a bathtub? Garage door openers are another potentially dangerous device at home. Apart from your car, this is the heaviest moving object around. Even single-car metal doors can hit 300 pounds. Add to that the pressure of half a horsepower of power from the opener itself, and it could easily cause serious injury or even death to a child or animal.
In fact, before 1993 this is exactly what happened in the Unites States. Although it was pretty rare, there were enough cases of death or injury by garage door opener that lawmakers passed legislation to require garage door opener manufacturers to include a certain minimum set of safety features in order to sell their products at all.
Check the Checklist, Dude
According to Public Law 101-608, the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 1990, any garage door opener made after January 1, 1993 has to meet certain entrapment protection requirements.
These are detailed in the third edition of UL 325, the relevant standards document. So what are these requirements?
First, every door should have a photo-eye system, usually infrared, that will stop or reverse the door if the beam is broken. Secondly, if the door encounters an unusual force while closing it will also halt and reverse off whatever is blocking it.
It seems to have worked. Since the law was passed, the number of child deaths related to garage door openers has dropped to nearly zero. The same thing happened when laws on locking fridges changed. Kids got locked in those old fridges all the time, which led to far too many cases of suffocation tragedies. Now it’s basically impossible to get trapped in one.
However, the law won’t magically make an opener from before it was passed any safer, so it’s important that you make sure the one you have–or a used one you may buy–won’t be the cause of a tragic accident at some time in the future.
It’s important to make sure that your existing garage door opener is functioning safely. This is pretty simple to do. Check if the door has photo-eyes or other beam-sensing units installed. These should be no more than six inches off the ground. Put something in the way of the beam and try to close the door. If this is working right, the door shouldn’t budge. If the eyes are missing altogether…well you can guess the rest of this sentence.
The other test is for force sensing, put something ( a piece of wood for example) under the door. When the door closes on the object it should immediately stop and reverse, returning to an open position. If it doesn’t, that’s a bad sign.
If your opener was purchased after 1993 but fails the safety test, make sure to have it repaired or replaced. If it lacks these features, then you owe it to yourself and your family to get a newer, safer model.
You’ll be surprised by how much garage openers have improved since your old unit was made. These days, garage openers are quiet, reliable and affordable. In fact, your existing opener might even have a directly swappable modern replacement, minimizing the installation effort.
Fancier models of openers can interface with your smartphone now, letting you know when the door has been opened or letting you give people access via an app, without using a remote. Smart garage door openers are taking up an important role in home automation and safety, so you might has well get with the program and have a more convenient life in the bargain.
Smarter than the Average Bear
It’s just good sense to junk a piece of dangerous equipment from the time frosted tips and a windsuit were the height of fashion.
If I’ve persuaded you that it’s time to make your home safer, your life easier, and yourself much cooler (garage openers are a babe magnet, dontyaknow?) then go over to our Buyers Guide or straight to the review section. I’ve picked out some of the best available products for your budget and every one is far safer than the old opener you’re currently using.