An unbalanced garage door can be an issue many homeowners are completely unaware of until one of two things happen: (1) you need to manually open or close the door and can't or (2) your garage door opener motor burns out prematurely, causing substantial expense to replace it. The average metal residential garage door weighs more than 150 pounds. Most of the time you’d never know it, even if you open or close it manually without the aid of an automatic opener. Powerful springs serve to counterbalance that weight, making the opening and closing action amazingly effortless—as long, that is, as the door remains properly balanced.
How Can You Tell?
When manually operated, a properly balanced door should feel easy to lift and safe to close. When raised to the half-open position, you should be able to release your grip and the door will remain in that position. When operated by an automatic garage door opener, action should be smooth and the opener motor and chain drive should not be straining or faltering. When a garage door is becoming unbalanced, however, certain telltale signs may give you advance warning:
• Observing the door, you may notice that one side closes flush with the ground while the other side doesn’t contact the ground and a gap becomes visible.
• While the door is opening or closing, one side may move upward or downward noticeably faster than the other side.
• The garage door opener motor makes loud, straining sounds due to the excess weight of an unbalanced door. Opening and closing may take longer than normal and you may hear other odd noises like gears stripping or popping and cracking as the door tracks absorb abnormal stress.
• The panels of a metal door may flex, buckle or bind as the door is ascending or descending.
• The door may not open at all as the motor is eventually unable to lift the weight.
• When attempting to open the door manually, it may be too heavy to lift. Closing an unbalanced door manually may be dangerous as the heavy door may abruptly slam to the ground with great force.
What Goes Wrong?
Professionally-installed garage doors are carefully balanced at the time of installation. However, a couple of changes may take place later to throw the door out of balance.
Often, the most frequent cause of an unbalanced door is weakening of the large springs that provide counterweight force against the weight of the door. Over time and many opening and closing repetitions, these springs may begin to stretch and lose their force. The door will gradually become harder to lift and will also close with greater force. If an automatic door opener is utilized, the motor, gears and chain drive will be subject to increasingly greater stress and shortened service life. An overstretched spring may eventually break entirely, usually making the door impossible to lift.
Adding any weight to the inside of the door after it was installed can also disrupt proper balance. Some residents choose to mount a long fluorescent light fixture to the inside of the door, for example. Even that modest amount of weight can tip the careful balance of the door. Another common addition to garage doors is insulation to reduce heat loss through the door in winter and heat gain in summer. DIY kits are available to insulate the inside of the door. Insulation typically adds up to 20 pounds to a door, more than enough to unbalance the door and affect easy operation.