If you are in the market for a new garage door opener, you are probably trying to decide between a chain or belt drive. You might even be considering a screw drive opener, but their popularity has dwindled over the years.
In this article, we are going to first break down the differences between chain vs. belt drive openers. Later in the article, we will answer some common questions related to screw drive openers.
Is Chain or Belt Better for a Garage Door Opener?
My initial response to this question is, if you are looking for a basic garage door opener that is quiet, I would get a chain drive opener equipped with a DC motor like the LiftMaster 8160W. You should be able to find a similar configuration in the Chamberlain brand as well.
These newer openers feature a quiet DC motor that is equipped with Wi-Fi, which allows for smartphone control. The chain drive will be quieter since DC motors feature a soft start and stop, which eliminates that abrupt take off found on other openers.
If you are looking for premium features like LED lights or a camera, you may have to opt for a belt drive opener. Belt drive openers have always been considered a premium option with most manufacturers, so that is where they naturally add more features.
There is nothing wrong with this choice, and we will explain some differences further down in this article.
Chain vs. Belt History
Years ago, chain drive garage door openers were all that was available. Everything was louder and stronger because most of the technology that first hit residential markets came from the commercial sector.
Fast-forward several years, and belt drive garage door openers were introduced because homeowners were seeking a quieter solution. Belts were first installed on garage door openers with AC motors, and then quiet DC motors were later introduced with features like soft start/stop.
How Long Do Chain and Belt Openers Last?
While the chain drive part itself may last longer than the belt drive part, there is a little more to the story. Both a chain and belt drive opener under normal usage will usually need service around the ten-year mark.
For a chain drive opener, it’s typically the drive sprocket on top of the motor that will need to be replaced. Chain drive units that feature 100% chain often last longer than the motor itself. It’s hard to wear out a chain.
For belt drive openers, the belt itself will be the item you are replacing around the ten-year mark. Belts are softer and more forgiving than chains, and the top sprocket doesn’t typically wear like on a chain drive unit.
Overall, it’s not uncommon to get 15–20 years of life out of a chain or belt drive garage door opener with routine maintenance. We have seen some homeowners go longer, but what frequently determines its useful life is when the main circuit board fails.
What is the Difference Between Chamberlain and LiftMaster Belt Drive Openers?
There are very few differences between a Chamberlain and LiftMaster belt drive garage door opener. Both use the same 100% solid rubber, steel reinforced belt to drive the trolley down the rail. The rail itself is where you will see the most significant difference.
Chamberlain uses a multi-piece box rail that needs to be assembled. The reason for this is so it can be put in a convenient box for anyone to grab at their local home store and take it home. The rail is actually reliable and has proven to hold up over the years.
LiftMaster uses a 100% solid steel t-rail that is superior in strength and has been used for years with their garage door openers. If you have an application where your opener will be pulling a heavier garage door, I would opt for the LiftMaster.
Where you will see the most differences between these two brands is with their chain drive openers. LiftMaster uses a 100% chain drive, while Chamberlain uses a chain and belt combination.
The article we wrote titled LiftMaster vs. Chamberlain vs. Craftsman Garage Door Openers goes into greater detail about the differences between these brands.
What are the Disadvantages of a Belt Drive Garage Door Opener?
I wouldn’t say there are many disadvantages to belt drive openers, apart from the belt will eventually fail. Garage door opener belts are steel belted, which means they have steel wires running inside the rubber belt. On average, they fail around the ten-year mark.
When a belt fails, the first thing that happens is the cogs on the belt start to come off, causing it to slip on the drive sprocket. If the unit is continually run with a damaged belt, you will eventually start to expose the steel belting on the inside.
Chain drive openers do not have this issue, as the chain itself will usually outlast the motor or circuit board. What typically fails is the chain drive sprocket, which breaks around the ten-year mark on older units.
Is a Belt-Driven Garage Door Opener Quieter Than a Chain Driven?
Yes, in most circumstances a belt drive opener will be quieter than a chain drive opener. Any time you have a metal chain going around a metal drive sprocket, you are going to hear metallic sounds from the metal on metal contact during operation. With belt drive openers, you don’t have that.
One of the quietest belt drive openers on the market is the Linear LDCO801. Their DC motor does not make a whining noise when running like you find on other brands.
With that being said, the LiftMaster 8160W would be my choice for a quiet chain drive opener with a DC motor. The unit has a great look, a heavy duty t-rail, is quiet in operation, and has Wi-Fi built in.
Can a Belt Drive Opener be Used on a Two-Car Garage?
Yes, if you have a standard double car garage door, a belt drive opener will work just fine. A belt opener will even work good on a heavier steel back insulated double car garage door.
Where you start to run into issues is with your heavier wood carriage house doors, overlay garage doors, and anything thicker than two inches. These larger 3-4” thick doors can weigh well over 300 LBS, with many tipping the scales over 400 LBS.
If you have a heavy overlay garage door or intend to have one installed, look into purchasing the LiftMaster 85870 or 87802 heavy-duty chain drive openers. This unit features a unique I-beam rail that is only found on this model. It is by far the most heavy duty residential opener on the market.
How Much Weight Can a Belt Drive Garage Door Opener Lift?
What most people don’t realize is that an automatic opener is not lifting the weight of your garage door. The spring on your garage door lifts the full weight of the door, while the automatic opener is only there for convenience.
Most standard garage door openers are not designed to pull more than 15-30 LBS of weight; otherwise the force will kick in, stopping the motor from pulling the door up. This is why so many garage door openers will lift a door a few inches off the ground and stop when there is a broken spring.
With that being said, I would recommend a belt drive opener can be installed on garage doors up to 260 LBS max. Anything over that and we recommend a chain drive opener to our customers.
If their door is well over 300 LBS and getting closer to 400 LBS, we only recommend LiftMaster’s 85870 or 87802 chain drive models with the I-beam rail. It features two sprockets on top of the motor that give you the option to gear down the unit for doors with a lot of mass. Nothing on the market comes close.
Can You Convert a Chain Drive Opener to a Belt Drive?
Yes and no.
It depends on the brand of your garage door opener. LiftMaster, Chamberlain, and Craftsman openers integrate the drive sprocket into the motor head. Swapping out a chain drive rail for a belt is not possible. Linear, on the other hand, does things a little differently.
The rails for Linear garage door openers come pre-tensioned from the factory and the sprocket is included on the rail, not the motor head. This allows you to swap change from a chain to a belt rail if you so desire. Some newer Genie models are similar in design and offer the same functionality.
How Much is a New Belt Garage Door Opener?
You can expect to pay anywhere from $179-$329 for a new belt drive garage door opener found at your local home store. Units with a single light configuration and basic accessories like a doorbell style wall button will be on the lower end. More expensive units that feature deluxe wall buttons, battery backup, LED lights, and cameras will be on the higher end.
Installation of your new garage door opener by the home store you purchased it from will run you around $128-$228 depending on what you need. As illustrated by the image above, there is a question asking if you already have an opener installed. If not, you are required to purchase a $99 kit for doors over 10’ wide.
If you are purchasing a new belt drive garage door opener from a garage door company, you can expect to pay anywhere from $450-$700 depending on which model you choose. This pricing should include parts and labor, depending on where you live.
A professional garage door company will use premium installation parts for your installation because all warranty will be running through them. You usually get a much better installation going this route.
Here is a more detailed article we wrote explaining how much garage door opener installation is along with what’s included from a garage door company.
Do Belt Drive Garage Door Openers Use Springs?
Yes, most belt drive garage door openers use a spring to keep the belt tight. If you have a loose belt on your opener, make sure the spring has been released. We have seen on many occasions where a LiftMaster, Chamberlain, or Craftsman belt drive opener spring was not released, therefore causing the belt to sag.
Now, with that being said, the spring on the belt tensioner is not what lifts your garage door. That credit goes to the almighty torsion or extension spring. Many homeowners we speak to think their automatic opener is actually lifting their door, when in reality it is the spring above or on the sides of your door doing all the heavy lifting.
Why is My Belt Drive Garage Door Opener So Loud?
Belt drive garage door openers are usually quiet, but yours could be making some noise for a few reasons. Take, for instance, the LiftMaster Formula 1 opener, which is a belt drive opener with an AC motor. Openers with older style AC motors were always louder than newer openers with DC motors.
AC motors feature large copper wound motors that make a humming noise when operating. These AC motors do not have the soft start/stop feature found on newer DC motors, and many did not include vibration isolation inside the motor housing.
The metal covers on these older units were known for making noise if the screws came loose over time. Make sure to also check the metal hangers used to install your garage door opener. If the bolts have come loose, the vibration from the motor will be exaggerated, therefore making it seem louder than it really is.
If you want the quietest belt drive opener, you need to purchase one with a DC motor. YouTube is a great place to start researching as there are many videos demonstrating garage door openers running, so you can hear their noise level.
Why is My Chain Drive Opener So Loud?
In years past, chain drive openers were always louder than belt drive openers. Today, that is not always the case. If your chain drive opener is loud, it could be due to the type of motor you have or a bad design by the manufacturer.
Take, for instance, the Linear LDCO800 garage door opener, which is a chain drive unit with a DC motor. It features one of the quietest DC motors on the market, but recently, their chains have started rattling. So much so, we have stopped installing this model because of the ridiculous number of return visits we have had to make.
If you have a Genie chain drive garage door opener, it may be louder because of the rail design. Many Genie openers use a box rail with a chain that runs inside the rail. If you don’t keep this chain tight, it will rattle inside the rail, therefore causing more noise.
If your garage door opener is making grinding noises during operation, you may have a stripped drive sprocket on top of the motor. You can usually see this by grabbing a stepladder and looking on top of the unit. If the teeth are missing on the sprocket, it will need to be replaced.
Are Screw Drive Openers Any Good?
The Genie Company made screw drive openers popular with their legendary model, the Genie Pro screw drive. This was a simple unit that featured a 100% solid screwdriver rail that was strong and reliable.
The motor itself was highly serviceable, the one-piece rail could handle the heaviest of garage doors. Genie chose to remove this unit from their line-up and go after the home builder business, which resulted in lower quality products being produced.
There are not a lot of screw drive garage door openers on the market today that I would recommend. Let’s take a look at a few reasons why in the following sections.
DIY Screw Drive Openers
I would steer away from any DIY screw drive garage door openers you can purchase from a local home store. The reason for this is the screw assembly inside the rail is not one-piece, and it uses a connector piece during assembly.
This connector piece has been known to cause issues with the trolley hanging up as it goes down the rail. The trolley seems to get hung up due to the teeth not aligning properly, which ultimately ends up causing damage.
LiftMaster, Chamberlain, or Craftsman Screw Drive Openers
The screw drive garage door opener manufactured by the Chamberlain Group was not their best moment. Their screw drive opener design was at best “ok” and many times it sounded like it was falling apart.
It was a loud unit with a weak plastic coupler on top that was notorious for breaking. If possible, I would steer clear of any LiftMaster, Chamberlain, or Craftsman screw drive openers and choose between a belt or chain drive.
Trying to decide between a chain or belt drive opener is simple. If you’re looking for a basic opener that is quiet and reliable, purchase a Chamberlain or LiftMaster chain drive opener with a DC motor. Most newer models feature Wi-Fi, allowing you to control them with your smartphone for the ultimate in convenience.
If you want to guarantee your opener will be quiet, a belt drive opener with a DC motor will fit the bill. I prefer the Chamberlain or LiftMaster brand, but options from other manufacturers will be as quiet and possibly even quieter. Belt drive openers will usually be equipped with more premium features, which are popular with modern households.
Staying away from screw drive openers is probably a good move, as the Genie Pro is no longer manufactured. You’re going to be hard-pressed to find an equivalent screw drive model that can provide the same level of legendary performance.