Finding the best garage door openers
Garage door openers are a luxury under some circumstances, but become most appreciated when the weather turns nasty. They are also a near necessity if the task of opening and closing a garage door is too challenging, as might be the case with an older driver. Most are relatively inexpensive and highly reliable, though unless you are very handy, you should probably budget for professional installation.
Modern garage door openers include basic to advanced features that improve safety and deter break-ins. Examples include an automatic stop if a descending door encounters a solid object such as the hood of a car and light beam sensors that detect the presence of an object -- or a person or pet -- and stop a garage door's downward movement before accident or injury can occur. Available security options include remote lockouts for when you will be away from home for an extended amount of time, remote codes that change after each use, and lights that turn on automatically when your garage door opens or if movement is detected inside.
Most garage door openers include a remote that lets you open and close the door from the comfort and safety of your car. Some garage door openers support Internet connectivity, either as an add-on or built in. This allows you to use an app that lets you open or close the garage door from your smartphone or tablet, and monitor your garage door's status (open or closed) from anywhere that you can connect to the net. Some are compatible with HomeLink, a remote control technology that's built into some automobiles. However, due to a technology change, many older HomeLink-equipped cars are not compatible with new HomeLink-enabled garage door openers without the purchase of an optional interface; you can also simply ignore the built in controls in favor of the remote control, but that's a solution that seems to annoy owners.
At first glance, there appears to be a wide variety of garage door opener brands, but a closer look reveals that most openers are made by just a handful of companies. For example, Chamberlain garage door openers are well regarded in their own right, but the company also makes garage door openers for Craftsman and LiftMaster. Likewise, the Overhead Door Co. manufactures Genie garage door openers in addition to its own brand.
Garage door openers can be broadly classified by the type of mechanism they use. Each type has advantages and disadvantages.
Belt-drive garage door openers use a metal-reinforced rubber belt to raise and lower the garage door. They are the most popular type of opener, but are also more pricey than chain-drive openers, and can be a challenge to install for DIYers.
Chain-drive garage door openers are the least expensive type of garage door opener. These models use a chain looped around a rail to raise or lower the door. The downside is that they tend to be noisy -- a particular concern for garages that are attached to the house.
Direct-drive garage door openers eschew using either a chain or a belt. The most popular ones are made by a German company and are sold under the Sommer and Direct Drive brand names. Instead of a stationary motor moving the chain to lift the door, the opener's motor glides along a stationary, spring-tensioned chain. Reviewers praise these openers' quiet operation, and they trumpet its reliability, thanks to its high-quality construction and use of only one moving part. However, these openers are more costly than some belt-drive and chain-drive openers, even those that get equally good feedback.
Screw-drive garage door openers are another type of direct-drive garage door opener. Once popular, and still available, screw-drive openers typically have less feedback and poorer ratings than other types. The screw-drive's relatively simple mechanism, which moves up and down a threaded steel rod, makes for a powerful, low-maintenance garage door opener; but screw-drive models are both noisy and slow.
Finding the best garage-door openers
Finding the best rated garage door openers is a bit of a challenge. Quality professional reviews are hard to come by. The most current ones are from technology publications, but these typically focus on one model and deal with the new connected features, such as the ability to control and monitor the garage doors from your smartphone or tablet anywhere you can access the Internet.
Fortunately, owners aren't bashful about weighing in on their garage door openers. Though some models get only a handful of reviews others receive hundreds of unique ratings on sites such as Amazon.com, HomeDepot.com and Lowes.com. If you are interested in a Craftsman garage door opener, Sears.com is the place to visit.
While our research reveals that no garage door opener is perfect, several models jump to the fore as offering good performance and good value in the eyes of owners. These are the openers that we've named Best Reviewed for this edition of our report.