8 Tips for Preventing Automatic Garage Door Disasters
The heaviest moving object in your home needs just a little attention each month to keep it safe
It's a simple concept, really: They go up. They go down. Automatic garage doors are a convenience we (and our backs) take for granted. But being the heaviest moving objects in ours homes, they deserve a little attention to prevent unfortunate accidents.
Follow these eight tips and your garage door should give you many years of reliable and safe service.
Related: Disaster-Proof Your Garage
1. Test the self-reversing mechanism. All garage door openers installed since 1993 have an “electric eye” that senses if something crosses the path of the door while it goes down. If something or someone triggers the sensor, the door is supposed to stop and go back up.
However, a study from the National Institutes of Health tested 50 garage door openers and found 40 percent of them did not reverse direction when a child-sized mannequin was in the door’s path. That same study showed 85 children died or suffered permanent brain damage between 1974 and 1996 as a result of accidents with automatic garage doors, meaning some incidents occurred even after the sensors were mandated. In fact, in 2013 a three-year-old girl in Maryland was crushed to death by a garage door that had sensors but didn’t reverse direction when she ran under it.
If your opener doesn’t have this self-reversing feature, consider replacing it with one that does, advises John Drengenberg, UL’s consumer safety director. And if your opener does have an electric eye, it’s a good idea to check it monthly by putting an object such a roll of paper towels under the door as it closes to make sure it self-reverses.
2. Watch the door go all the way down. Have you ever returned home to find your garage door open when you were sure you pushed the button in your car as you drove away? It’s a common occurrence, says Drengenberg. Perhaps something got in the path of the electric eye and caused the door to reverse. Even a leaf blowing into the garage can reverse the door.
“It’s happened to me,” he says. “Push the button and watch the door go down. It’s important not only for the security of your home but the safety of kids.”
3. Check the working parts. Once a month, take a few moments to visually inspect the garage door. Run the door up and down a time or two. Is the door moving more slowly or making more noise than usual? Check the cables, springs, rollers, pulleys and hinges for wear, Drengenberg advises.
If you see anything that needs serious attention, don’t try to make repairs yourself. The mechanisms are under a lot of tension and can be safely serviced only by a qualified person with specialized tools, Drengenberg warns.
4. Lubricate the chain or gear drive. Here’s a little maintenance you can do yourself: During your monthly visual inspection, check the chain or screw drive that operates the door. If it looks dry, squirt it with household lubricating oil, such as 3-In-One, according to Drengenberg.
5. Keep the door clear. Don’t store anything near the garage door that might fall against it, and never lean anything against the door. Sure, you meant to put the ladder there for just a minute but then the phone rang, and you forgot about it. Then your spouse came home, opened the door, and that ladder almost fell on her car. The only way to make sure no one opening the door will get a dangerous surprise is to keep the door clear at all times.
6. Keep remotes and switches out of reach of children. Make sure kids can’t operate your garage door by keeping remotes in a place little hands can’t access, Drengenberg says. And make sure the opener switches by the garage door are mounted too high for small children to reach.
7. Keep the remote safe from burglars. Don’t leave a portable remote control in your unlocked car in the driveway. Even if you lock the car, stash the remote out of sight, Drengenberg suggests. And just in case a burglar gets his hands on your remote or even the combination to the opener, be sure to lock the door (if there is one) between the garage and the house.
8. Know what the red handle does. There’s a red handle dangling from a cord on the garage door opener. Pulling that handle releases the door from the automatic opener so you can push the door up manually. You may never have to use it until the day you need to get your car out of the garage during a power outage. And in the event that the auto-reverse fails and someone gets stuck under the door, it’s important to know you can pull that red handle to free them.
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