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  • Feature Story

Behind this Door: The Evolution of Convenience and Safety of Garage Door Openers


August 10, 2016

The history of the garage began in earnest with the advent of cars. From carriage houses to the more modern day structure, garages evolved over time to add conveniences making it easier to open and close the large doors needed shelter cars. The first electric door opener was invented by C.G. Johnson in 1926 with the first automatic garage door opener following decades later.

The garage door is usually the largest and heaviest moving object in a home. The garage door opener, also called the operator, is a unit that hangs above the garage door to assist in opening and closing of garage doors. It is made up of a power unit that contains an electric motor. The garage door assembly also includes a track and a trolley connected to an arm that slides back and forth along the track.

Safety plays a key role

It goes up and it goes down. However, most people are unaware that garage doors and garage door openers need to receive a regular safety check.

Garage door openers have been tested to the UL 325 safety standard since the early 1970s and mandated to comply with Consumer Product Safety Commission guidelines since 1993. Before a garage door operator can be UL Certified, it goes through approximately 30 or more tests. These tests are designed to evaluate the garage door operator’s ability to perform its intended function (opening and closing the garage door), while complying with established safety requirements that reduce the risk of electric shock, fire, and mechanical injury including entrapment.

The UL 325 Standard, in part, requires that all residential garage door operators have an inherent entrapment protection system, plus a secondary device most commonly a photo-electric eye, for all operators that use remote controls. The photo-electric eye is usually installed on the track frame of the assembly about six inches from the bottom. These devices are intended to stop and reverse the door if an obstruction is in its path. Additionally, a manual release device – the cord that hangs down from the track inside the garage - is required to manually disconnect the operator from the door in an emergency. The standard also has requirements for safe use of technology-enabled conveniences, such as using your mobile phone to allow you to open and close the door when you are away from home.

Consumers may not initially think much of garage doors technology-wise, but these products have benefited from new technological advances over the years, which include rolling codes (the code embedded in wireless signal that the remote control uses changes each time the door is opened), biometrics (fingerprint verification), vacation settings (the garage door cannot be opened via remote controls for a certain time period when “locked out”), battery backup systems, door position sensors, and unattended operation (e.g. via mobile phone). These features can help improve safety, security, and convenience.

One thing consumers may not realize is that the manual (emergency) release latch for the garage door is required to be operational. Tampering with, modifying, or defeating this release device could result in this device not functioning properly to release the door, at the unfortunate time when the release device is needed.

UL works closely with many garage door operator manufacturers, administers the UL 325 Standards Technical Panel to solicit balanced input on standards advancement, and participates with industry groups including the Door & Access Systems Manufacturers Association International (DASMA), who publishes  a safety guide to help teach parents and their children about possible dangers of garage doors as well as how to check to help ensure your door is working properly. To help ensure continued safety, UL recommends following the instruction manuals provided with Listed garage door openers, which are required to indicate specific safety checks should be conducted monthly, including:

  1. Test your door operator monthly to ensure it reverses off a 1‐1/2 inch high object (or 2 x 4 laid flat). In the event the door does not reverse upon contact, adjust, repair, or replace the operator. The garage door safety label inside your garage and your garage door operator instructions provide additional guidance.
  2. Keep your garage door properly balanced, and in proper mechanical working order. An improperly balanced door increases the risk of severe injury or death. Have a qualified service person make repairs to cables, spring assemblies, and other hardware.
  3. When using the emergency release, when possible, use the emergency release when the door is closed. Use caution when using this release with the door open. Weak or broken springs are capable of increasing the rate of door closure and increasing the risk of severe injury or death.
  4. Follow other instructions recommended by the door operator manufacturer, such as for periodic checking of photo-electric eyes and other functions.

While these checks are easy to perform (Watch the UL Video), a professional needs to be called if there are other concerns such as a broken spring or track.