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Finding the best garage door openers

Garage door openers are a nice luxury under most circumstances, but become most appreciated when the weather turns nasty. Most are relatively inexpensive, especially if you are handy enough to tackle their installation on your own, and highly reliable.

Modern 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 person -- 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 (as an add-on) Internet connectivity. Using 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.

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.

Chain-drive garage door openers are the least expensive type. 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.

Belt-drive garage door openers use a metal-reinforced rubber belt instead of a chain. They are typically quieter and more expensive than chain-driven models.

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 one moving part. However, these openers are more costly than some belt-drive and chain-drive openers, including some that are equally well regarded.

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 rated garage door openers is a bit of a challenge. Quality professional reviews are hard to come by. ConsumerReports.com -- usually one of the most comprehensive and authoritative sources for product reviews -- hasn't reviewed garage door openers for more than a decade. Their report from 2002 is no longer available online. Top Ten Reviews has a report on garage door openers, however it appears to be based more on specifications and reputation rather than any type of rigorous testing, and in some cases it's hard to tell which model is being covered.

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.

Elsewhere in This Report:

Chain-Drive Garage Door Openers
Pros and cons of chain-drive openers are discussed, and best-rated choices are listed.

Belt-Drive Garage Door Openers
Is a belt-drive garage door opener right for your home and your budget? Editors look at the considerations and name the best models.

Direct-Drive Garage Door Openers
A German-made direct-drive opener draws rave reviews, but is it right for you? We look into the details and make our recommendations.

Buying Guide
Not sure what you need to consider before buying a garage door opener. This checklist will help make finding the right model easier.

Our Sources
Finding reviews of garage door openers is a challenge, but these sources helped identify the best-liked models.

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