Garage Door Safety

032012-1I have covered many areas within your home over recent years, where safety steps need to be used; however, I realized I hadn’t given you one of the most hazardous home locations of all – your garage. This area has two separate areas of concern – the garage door and the garage area, itself. This month, I’ll discuss safety concerns with garage doors; and next month, I’ll cover the garage area. So, look for Part 2 next month.

The garage door … it looks innocent enough. For the most part, it’s safe; but there are safety issues, caused by worn hardware or people doing stupid things, that can create injury or even death. A woman I know shared these two stories with me from her past:

  • As a teen, she and her friends were hanging out in her family’s garage, using it like a clubhouse while her parents were at work. Of course, they were continuously pulling the door up and down throughout the day. On the last pull down, the springs broke as another teen walked under the door. It hit him on the head, creating a terrible gash. He survived, but the injury was serious and the headaches were bad for a long time. Yet, he was lucky; it could have been fatal.
  • As a parent of teens, herself, my friend was putting the garage door up in order to move her car out to go to work. Halfway up, the springs broke and the top half of the door went out of the track. Thankfully, no one was hurt this time and the heavy door hung there just above her car trunk until repaired.

These are just two real-life examples of garage door dangers. Because of such issues, homeowners should perform a monthly “do it yourself” inspection of their doors, hardware and openers; also, you should have a professional inspect them annually, according to the International Door Association. The remainder of this article discusses how to test and what to look for during your visual inspection.

Door Balance, Reversal & Force Setting Tests


032012-2A balanced garage door can remain in place when stopped in any partially-opened position, which is essential if someone is caught under it. To test the balance of your door, begin with the door closed. Manually lift the door (if you have a door opener, pull the release mechanism to allow manual use). The door should open smoothly and with little resistance. It should remain open and stable at only three or four feet above the ground. If it doesn’t, then the door is out of adjustment and needs to be fixed, or it can cause premature wear and tear on other door parts.


Do this test only after the door is in balance. Begin with the door completely open. Place a full roll of paper towels on the floor under the door. Close the door with your opener. It should reverse direction once it strikes the roll. With “one piece” doors, once they strike something, they will not close without first reversing. If the door does not reverse, the door or opener needs adjustment, repair or replacement. If your opener isn’t a reversing opener, replace it to prevent someone (especially a small child) from being trapped under the door and possibly killed by it.

Force Setting

Using the opener, begin with the door fully open. As it closes, grab the bottom of the door halfway down. The door should quickly reverse without hesitation. If it doesn’t, the force setting needs to be adjusted.

The Dangerous Springs

Springs can be the most dangerous part of the garage door. Typically, there are torsion or extension springs that balance it. Torsion springs are mounted above a closed door, parallel and horizontal to the top section of the door (see the illustration below), providing the power to lift the door by winding and unwinding during operation. Extension springs usually are mounted just above the horizontal part of the track at a 90 degree angle to the closed door, stretching to open the door and receding to close. Both types of springs are under a high amount of tension and can severely injure, or even kill, anyone who gets hit by one. They also can allow the entire door to drop as dead weight if they break.
Look for fraying or small areas that have been worn away during your monthly visual inspection. Also, check for loose hinges, tracks and other components that need to be fastened tightly with no movement.


Illustration borrowed from

The Correct Method To Lubricate the Mechanisms

032012-8Normal operation of the garage door can occasionally cause the springs to squeak or become noisy. The sound is caused by the metal springs rubbing against one another. Like anything mechanical, the spring system needs to be lubricated regularly.
If the spring mechanism’s moving parts and tracks need lubricating, use only a silicon-based spray that is recommended for garage doors (check your owner’s manual). And never spray the plastic rollers and plastic bearings. If you over-spray an area, use an old rag or paper tower to wipe up the drips.  Photo at right borrowed from

Safety Cables

You have safety cables only with extension springs, which keep broken springs contained. If your extension springs door does not have safety cables, seriously consider having them installed to eliminate some safety issues. (Torsion spring doors do not use them.) Do a visual inspection each month of all cables to ensure there is not fraying or worn areas. If the cables break, the springs could easily break with them.

Brackets Under Tension

The brackets at the bottom of door on each side are connected to the springs. They too are under extreme amounts of tension from the cables attached to them. If disconnected, they can fly in any direction if still attached to the cables. Newer doors have tamper resistant brackets as an added safety measure. If you door doesn’t have these, again consider having them installed to prevent someone who doesn’t know what they are doing from loosening them.

Issues With Ropes and Glass


Handles and ropes allow you to manually open and close a garage door. If you use an opener, the rope should be removed to keep it from catching on people or loose clothing during operation.


I032012-6f you notice cracked or broken glass in the door during your visual inspection, have it replaced immediately. When the door is in the open position, gravity is pulling that glass downward. Even a cardboard patch will eventually give way to gravity. Next to smashed fingers, serious cuts from falling glass ties with broken springs for the major cause of garage door injuries.

Joints & Fingers

032012-3Section joints are the areas between the garage door sections. NEVER put your fingers in this seemingly open area. What is open one second is tightly closed the next, whether there are fingers there or not. Only use the door handle to manually lift or close the door.

Photo Sensors, Additional Safety

Another safety feature that can be added to your garage door system that uses an opener is a photoelectric eye safety beams system. These should be mounted a few inches from the floor on both sides of the door. A sensing edge is attached to the bottom edge of the door that determines if the beam has been broken or not. If the invisible beam is broken while a motorized door is closing, a signal to your garage door opener causes the door to reverse direction to its fully-opened position. If you have a system with an opener but do not have this safety feature, seriously consider having it installed.
Review the operating manuals for both photo sensors and openers for monthly testing options. Since they are both separate products from the door spring system, the manuals should guide you on proper testing.

Installation Practices

Not Following Instructions

You might assume that door systems installed by professionals are done exactly as the manufacturer recommends. This, however, is not always the case. Take the photo sensors, for instance. Dealers know that these can be real pains and difficult to service. Just about anything, even cobwebs, dust, bumping the sensor or even sunlight, can skew the beams and cause the door to stall. Because of this, some installers will improperly install or even move the eye to an unsafe and/or unapproved location. Even a few inches too high of placement can cause the death of a smaller child. It may keep your repair bills down, but it also may not work when you need it most.

Ignoring Proper Ventilation

032012-7In a quest to offer you more value at (many times) a higher price, dealers oversell the R or U upper rating values of insulation and sealant for garage doors. Yes, this keeps the cold out and a lot of random dust; and if you have completely insulated and sealed the garage itself, it will feel warm and snug. Like the roof of your house, however, garages critically need to be properly ventilated. If they are not, they can explode! And if you are storing combustible material in the garage as well …? Ensure your garage is properly ventilated to keep your entire home and family safe.

Shortcuts and Haste

Both can compromise your garage door installation. Screwing a heavy component into sheet rock rather than a stud, using the wrong type of screw or putting it in wrong, installing the garage door opener incorrectly, or improper adjustments are just a few improper installation steps that can cause serious or fatal safety risks. For example, installing a button opener too low allows children access to the button; locating it in the wrong place may obstruct the user’s view of the door while in operation, causing injury to an unexpected child. Personally, once a new door is installed in my home, I’d call a certified technician to review the work to ensure my family and property are safe.


Safety features generally are optional and cost extra. When negotiating a price with your dealer, ensure these are included – even if they do cost more. You cannot place a value on the lives of your loved ones.

Door Repairs and Replacement

Many do-it-yourselfers love a challenge, and garage doors can be just that – a challenge. Because almost everything in the mechanism is under a high amount of tension, you should never attempt to adjust, repair or replace anything other than a glass pane replacement or lubricating the mechanism. Everything else should be done ONLY by a trained and certified door systems technician. Do-it-yourselfers may wish to read the article at:, called How Not to Repair a Garage Door.
If you are completely replacing the door or spring mechanism, don’t be tempted to use the current track. It costs only a bit more, and a new track will fit the new door perfectly. Remember, the track and door work together and are a complete system. When the proper parts are used, your new door should give you long life and maximum performance.

Door Repairs and Adjustments

Never attempt to adjust, repair or replace the door and/or its components yourself. Call an experienced, trained and certified professional.

  • Regularly do a visual inspection and testing of the door and its components monthly. Have a trained and certified professional do an annual service and maintenance check.
  • Instruct and show family members (or anyone else who uses your garage door) how to properly use it, especially how to engage the emergency release.

Children & Garage Doors

Warnings & Safety Precautions

Do not allow children to play inside your garage, explain it’s not a playhouse, and ensure the door is closed when they play in the vicinity. Warn your children of the potential hazards of a garage door. Store openers safely out of the reach of children, explaining they are not toys. Additionally, warn your children that walking or even running under a door in motion (like they see the heroes doing at the last minute on television) is very dangerous.

Riding The Door

Just as dangerous or even more so is riding the garage door, something that can be lethal. Children, especially the older ones, will hang on to the bottom of an opening garage door and let go just before it’s completely open. It’s sad but many children across the nation have gotten legs and arms caught up in the tension cables, severing limbs. There even have been cases where the child didn’t let go in time and got his/her head stuck between the door and garage opening – if this itself doesn’t kill a child, hanging in that position for only a short time will suffocate him/her – just like dying on a cross … a very painful death.

When You Are Away

Anytime you are away from home for an extended period, unplug the door opener unit or flip the wall console switch to lock.


Do not leave the remote control in your car or even with a parking attendant – it’s no different than a house key. Treat the door between your home and the garage the same as your front door – it should be sturdy and always kept locked. When you check to ensure your outside doors are locked each night before retiring, also check the overhead garage door, the side door of the garage, and the door from the garage into the house.

Additional Safety

If you don’t already have it, consider installing an opener with rolling code technology or a wireless keypad. The rolling code changes the access codes each time the transmitter is used, preventing someone from electronically grabbing and using your code – they can grab it, but it’s useless. The wireless keypad 032012-9activates the garage door opener with a personal identification number (PIN), allowing family members to open the door without using a key or remote.  Though it seems that I’ve given you a lot of negatives in this article, I hope you view it as lifesaving information you may not have considered. It takes a bit of time and effort to keep you and your family safe; however, it only takes a second to change your life forever. Ensure the change is a good one!

As always, keep us in mind for all of your home inspection needs!

Sydney Smidt

South Florida Home Inspection Associates

P.O. Box 1716 Hobe Sound, Fl 33475

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