Unbalanced Garage Doors Can Wear Automatic Openers

Automatic openers provide convenience and safety that many Americans rely on every day. It is not uncommon for a family to live in their home for years without ever having to lift their garage door manually. Garage door openers can mask a significant garage door issue – a poorly balanced garage door.

Unbalanced garage doors are all too common in homes today due to our reliance on automatic garage door openers. Your average metal garage door weighs over 150lbs and is counterbalanced by a spring that does the heavy lifting. If your spring is starting to get weak or if the wrong springs are installed on your door, your garage door opener will have to lift additional weight, which it was not designed for.

Why Are There So Many Unbalanced Garage Doors?

There are many reasons why a garage door could be unbalanced. The first and most obvious is someone has added additional weight to their garage door. This can come in many forms including insulation, reinforcement, lighting, fishing pole organizers, etc. The most common being insulation. Below we go into greater detail on what may be causing a garage door to be unbalanced and how it can damage your garage door opener.

Insulation Added After the Garage Door Was Installed

DIY insulation kit installed on garage door
DIY insulation kit installed on garage door

This is probably the most common reason why a garage door is unbalanced. Many homeowners will purchase DIY kits and insulate their garage doors without thinking about how it will affect the operation of the door. Many home centers sell DIY insulation kits for garage doors that homeowners can install themselves. The individual pieces don’t weigh very much, but the combined weight of the complete insulation kit could add anywhere from 15–20lbs to your door. Some kits are much lighter than others, but the extra weight will have a negative effect on your garage door opener.

Reinforcement Added to Garage Door

Wood attached to garage door pick up arm center stile to reinforce the connection point
Wood attached to garage door pick up arm center stile to reinforce the connection point

If the connection point between your garage door and opener has ever failed, you might have installed additional reinforcement to prevent this from happening again. Going to your local home store and modifying your garage door with heavy lumber will only make your problems worse over time due to the extra weight added. They make heavy-duty opener brackets that are designed to be installed on the top section if you are experiencing this issue.

If your garage door has been hit by a car or is starting to sag when horizontal due to a crack in the section, you probably have some type of reinforcement installed to straighten the section. Any additional weight added to the garage door will affect the original operation designed by the manufacturer.

When a new garage door is ordered, the counterbalance spring will change in wire size and length based on the options you select. Manufacturers use a computer program that calculates the results based on the total weight of all the options selected. This is the right way to build a garage door. Some companies guess at the spring size, which causes issues down the road for the homeowner.

Accessories Mounted to a Garage Door

8′ fluorescent light mounted to wood garage door
8′ fluorescent light mounted to wood garage door

The garage door pictured above has an 8′ fluorescent light mounted to the third section. We sometimes see this because the homeowner wants good light in the garage while the door is in the up position. While it looks like a good idea, we don’t recommend doing this because it adds additional weight that could cause big problems down the road.

Another popular option is a fishing rod rack that is mounted to the inside of the garage door. Once again, while this seems like a great idea, it will change the weight of your garage door. It could also pose issues with your garage door catching on something in operation. I never recommend anyone changing the configuration and weight of their garage door. It will always lead to issues unless you have the proper springs installed for the additional weight that was added.

Torsion Springs Have Slipped

Winding cones on the end of a stack of torsion springs

Torsion springs have a mounting cone and a winding cone. The mounting cone is fixed and mounted to a spring pad which is attached to the wall. The winding code is tightened down on the torsion shaft and rotates one full turn per foot height of door. These winding cones can come loose and slip on the shaft a turn or two therefore making your garage door feel much heavier.

If you try to lift your garage door manually, it should be light enough to lift without any issues and the bottom section should stay up at the header and not sag down. If your garage door feels heavy on initial lift and the bottom section sags below the header, then you need to call a repair company to add tension to your torsion spring. It has most likely slipped a little on the torsion shaft.

Extension Springs are Sprung

A sprung extension spring will have a large gap like pictured above or it could have a smaller gap if the spring is just starting to loose its pulling power.

Extension springs fully stretch when a garage door is lowered and remain in that position, so there is enough pulling power to open a garage door when needed. Over time these springs will wear, and you will start to see gaps in between the coils. If you start to see this, your extension springs are sprung. They no longer have the correct pulling power to properly open your garage door. If you leave them in this state, it can cause significant strain on your garage door opener and possible cause premature issues.

Garage Door Springs Are Showing Signs of Age

Garage door springs will get weaker with age, just like everything else in life. A qualified technician can make a simple adjustment to the springs to compensate for this loss in pulling power. Occasionally, springs will break shortly after being adjusted which means your cycle life has expired. New springs will have to be installed.

Pro Tip: A rusty garage door spring does not mean the spring is about to break. Many springs mounted above a garage door will show signs of rust because the there is usually outside air drafting up past the top section, hitting the spring. This humid air could cause the spring to show signs of rust. A little garage door lube sprayed on the spring will help prevent any rust.

Wrong Springs Installed on Garage Door

Garage door springs vary in wire size and length, which determines how much weight they will pull. Some garage door technicians will install whatever spring they have on their truck, so they don’t have to make a special trip to the parts house. The homeowner never knows the difference because they push the button on the wall to open and close the door. This is a common problem that we come across quite often.

One Garage Door Spring Could Be Broken

Torsion spring on the left is broken. You can see the gap in the spring.
Torsion spring on the left is broken. You can see the gap in the spring.

If your garage door is equipped with two torsion springs, one spring might be broken. Some garage door openers are strong enough to pull a garage door up and down with only one good torsion spring. The opener is essentially pulling half the weight of the door as it opens and closes. This can be really dangerous if the emergency release rope is pulled on the garage door opener while the door is in the up position. The garage door will fall and slam to the ground.

Garage door spring repair will be needed to fix this situation. We always recommend replacing both springs if your door is equipped with two springs. This will prevent any inconvenience in the near future from another broken spring.

Garage Door Opener Damage

Broken sprocket on LiftMaster garage door opener
Broken sprocket on LiftMaster garage door opener

Garage door openers today are built very well, but they are not designed to lift the full weight of the door. Unbalanced doors will end up prematurely stripping drive gears, sprockets, carriages, and couplers on automatic openers. Drive cables, pulleys, limit switches, capacitors, and even motors can also be affected by an unbalanced garage door.

Stripped drive belt on garage door opener. You can see the shredded rubber laying on top of the opener.
Stripped drive belt on garage door opener. You can see the shredded rubber laying on top of the opener.

A properly balanced garage door should stay in place when you lift it halfway up. A ten-year-old child should be able to lift the door. If you have to strain or force your garage door up, then you have an issue that needs to be addressed by a professional.

How Do You Fix an Unbalanced Garage Door?

You can start by removing any extra weight that has been added to your garage door. If your garage door is still heavy, call your local garage door service company to adjust or even replace your springs.

A reputable garage door company can weigh your garage door to determine what size spring is needed. If your door needs to be weighed and custom cut springs need to be installed, there might be an additional charge for this service.

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