…on the way out, or the way in, or ever, really. A June 2015 article in the ASHI Reporter claimed that about 70% of people with attached garages used the garage as the main access point to their homes. With that much in-and-out, garage door safety is something that should not be overlooked, but often is.
Garage doors have two main safety features: the infrared sensor and the reverse-on-contact sensor. If your garage door was manufactured before 1993, it may not have the infrared sensor (as these were not required prior to 1993). LiftMaster, one of the largest garage door manufacturers, estimates that the number of pre-1993 units still in use is around four million. These sensors work by aligning a beam from one side of the garage door opening to the other; when the beam is broken, the door won’t close. This way, if someone walks under the door or if something large (like a small child) is in the way of the door, the door will not come down and hit them.
The reverse-on-contact is a similar idea, but is designed for things that might slip under the infrared beam or as a backup to it. The door is set to know how far down ‘closed’ is, and if the unit encounters resistance before reaching that ‘closed’ position, the door opens again automatically. This way, if someone left a bike under the door, or the infrared sensor fails and someone is under the door, the motor will not keep trying to close and crush whatever is in the way.
There is an easy three-step safety check to ensure that your garage door is working properly. Our inspectors do this check on every garage door, and LiftMasters recommends that homeowners perform it periodically as well.
Step 1: Check the sides of the garage door for the infrared sensors. These are the small black boxes attached to either side of the door, typically on the outside of the door track. These sensors must be no more than six inches off the ground (and should be a couple of inches off the floor, to make them harder to just step over).
Step 2: Block the sensor with an object like a box or board. Press the garage door control. The door should not close. If it does, the sensor is not working properly. (Inspector’s Note: The sensors work by having the beam connect from one sensor to the other. If you place something against the sensor itself, there’s a good chance you can move the sensor out of alignment. Then, the door won’t close until you realign the sensors. So, just put something like a box in the middle of the doorway.)
Step 3: Lay an object, that is at least 1.5 inches high but shorter than the sensors, on the ground in the doorway. A thin box or a couple of boards works well. Press the garage door control. The door should come down, contact the object, and reverse. If the door does not reverse, the reverse-on-contact is not working properly. There is often times a turnscrew on the motor unit that controls the sensitivity of the reverse on contact; if the door doesn’t reverse, check this setting to ensure that it isn’t set too low. Additionally, do not set it too high, or the door will read the contact with the ground in the proper ‘closed’ position as too much, and reverse, making closing the door impossible. (Inspector’s Note: Typically, I will start the door closing, and then catch the door with my hand to provide the resistance for this test. This way, if the reverse isn’t working, nothing gets crushed by the door. If you choose to go this route, make sure you let go of the door if it isn’t reversing; if you try to hold on, the door will pull you down with it.)
If your garage door fails the safety test, you should contact the manufacturer or a qualified repair technician to get it back into working order. If your garage door does not have the infrared sensors, we do suggest that you look into replacing the unit, for increased home safety.
If you’d like to see LiftMaster’s video instructions for the safety test, you can find that here.
Hurlbert Home Inspection