Column: How to adjust your overhead garage door ... and why you shouldn't
What is the largest moving object in your home? No, not your mother-in-law. I'm talking about the overhead garage door. Home inspectors are required to inspect overhead doors, including the automatic reverse feature.
Since 1982, overhead doors are required to have a quick release to release the door from the opener. This is a logical device, in case you need to open the door in a power failure. Also since 1982, overhead doors are required to reverse if they hit an obstruction. Some models prior to that would stop, but not reverse. If the door does not reverse, a child can be trapped under the door. Most of these openers have failed by now and have been replaced with newer ones, but I still see an occasional 1980 home with the original overhead door opener.
Since 1993, overhead doors are required to have a secondary reversing feature, usually the "beam" at the bottom of the door. If the beam is interrupted, the door will automatically reverse. There are a couple of doors and openers that don't require the beam, such as the Wayne Dalton I-drive opener. I do not see these very often - 99 percent of the doors I see are required to have the beam.
I have been asked how I test the overhead door. First, you test the automatic reverse both by interrupting the beam and by physically stopping the door when it is closing. Most manufacturers recommend placing a 2x4 on the floor to test the "obstruction" feature. I have damaged two overhead doors in my home inspecting career when testing the automatic reverse feature. I know I'll get some emails about this, but I don't use the 2x4 method. I grab the door when it's mostly closed and use just my wrists. When I feel there is enough force to hurt a body and the door has not reversed, I let go. I have tested thousands of overhead doors. If you have not, then you probably shouldn't try this method.
Time for a quick war story. The last door I damaged did not have the beam at the bottom of the door. I put the 2x4 on the ground and closed the door. When the door hit the 2x4, it kept closing. It bent the top section of the door, which was at an angle. Two of the windows in the top section exploded out onto the driveway. Neuman Overhead Doors may remember this episode, because I immediately called them to come replace the top section. Then I called a painter. Then I grabbed my dustpan and broom to clean up the glass. Of course it was a paver driveway, not concrete, so I was on my hand and knees sweeping the glass out of all the crevices when the seller came out. Anyone remember Fred Sanford and "the big one," when he claimed he was having a heart attack? That's what the seller reminded me of. She put her hands over her heart and kind of staggered back into the garage while crying, "What did you do to my door?"
In a rare case of ideal timing, Neuman Doors was just pulling into the driveway. I assured the seller that the door would be fixed, and that a painter would be calling her the next day to paint the door. That was the last time I used a 2x4 to test the automatic reversing feature.
You should also release the door from the opener and operate it manually occasionally. If the springs are perfectly adjusted, the door will stay in any position. But of course there is very little perfection in the world. Make sure the door will stay fully open, so you can get your vehicle out. And that the door does not slam closed and that you can open it manually if you have to.
Most manufacturers recommend you release the door from the opener with the door in the fully closed position. This is because if the springs have weakened, the door could fall/slam closed if you release it when it's open. But I have a word of caution. I always close the door with the opener and watch it as it fully closes. If the opener "pushes" the door after it's down, there will be a lot of tension on the release latch. I pulled the release once and it sounded like a shotgun going off because of this tension. Fortunately, it did not break anything.
You can adjust how far the door closes, and it should be adjusted so it does not 'push' the door after it's fully closed. There are knobs or screws on the opener, usually called "down travel" or "down stop." This is how you adjust how far the door closes. There is another adjustment usually called "down force" (and an "up force") that adjusts the automatic reverse feature.
Now another word of caution. I damaged that door because the "down force" was way out of adjustment. If the down force is out of adjustment, and you adjust the "down travel" to try to close the door farther that it can go, you may be sweeping glass off your driveway. So it is important that the obstruction automatic reverse feature is adjusted properly before trying to adjust the travel.
Now my "do not try this at home" disclaimer. I do a very careful visual inspection of the door and hardware before testing the reverse feature or operating the door manually. The overhead door springs are under a lot of tension, and the door can be very heavy if the springs are out of adjustment. If you are not familiar and comfortable with working on an overhead door, you should have an appropriate contractor service and adjust your door once a year.
Randy West owns Professional Building Consultants in Prescott. He is state-certified and has performed more than 7,000 home inspections in the Prescott area. West serves on the Home Inspector Rules and Standards Committee for the Arizona Board of Technical Registration. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit http://inspectprescott.com.