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A Brief Tutorial on Garage Door Safety and Installation

As a Garage Door Guys expert witness, I am called upon many times a year to evaluate garage door injuries. Garage doors come in many shapes and sizes. Their functions range from basic security of an area to cosmetic concealment. Most doors can be broken down into a few basic styles or categories. Typical modern garage doors for residential applications tend to be predominantly of the overhead sectional variety. That style of door comes in many configurations, materials, levels of insulation, and a wide range of appearance possibilities. They are available as a prefabricated kit, or built as a custom design to complement the dacor of any building. Commercial warehouse type installations often dictate higher security requirements. A good choice for this security type of door is the “roll-up” style that resembles a roll top desk type of door. This door can be manufactured with a variety of materials that can be as strong as the adjacent walls, making forced entry through this opening very difficult. Other common commercial installations include light weight aluminum single or sectional panel doors. These doors function more for closing off an already secured area than for assuring point security.

In the past, the biggest concern with operating an overhead garage door was the potential risks associated with the springs used for balancing the door weight. Pre mid 1960’s garage door installations typically relied upon a pair of stretched (tensioned) springs to assist the operation of the garage door pivoting hinges. These springs became loaded (tensioned) as the door was moved into the closed position. Unloading (releasing) of the stored spring energy occurred as the door was opened to the horizontal overhead position. One of the most dangerous aspects of these spring systems was that after a period of time, often without any maintenance or inspection, the points of attachment of these springs would rust or become weak. This weakening of the springs or points of attachment would often lead to an inadvertent explosive failure flinging the broken spring components across the garage, embedding the spring or steel components into the garage walls, cars or other items in the path of travel. Unfortunately, sometimes people were in the path of travel of these explosive occurrences. As these springs failed, as an attempted safeguard, some manufacturers devised a “caging” system for the springs. These cages were retrofitted onto the stretched springs in an attempt to capture the parts that would release if a failure occurred. While these caging devices were helpful, they were not completely effective. Some of these spring devices are still in use today. Whenever this condition exists or the quality of garage components are questionable, a qualified professional service technician should be consulted.

In response to the inherently dangerous old style garage spring issues as above, a newer and safer system for opening the overhead garage door was created. The idea was to transfer the load or weight of the door via a cable and pulley system to a vertical rod now equipped with a torsion (twisted) spring. This type of spring is installed with specialty hardware and bolts to a fixed plate at one end, while the entire spring is installed around a horizontal pipe. This load balancing device is normally installed directly over the header of the garage opening. Using appropriate cables, connectors and pulleys, the weight of the garage door is transferred into the torsion spring system. The difference between the old style stretched spring and the newer torsion spring is the way that the spring energy is stored. With the old style stretched spring, the energy is stored and released by pulling on the spring or returning the spring to its un-stretched condition. With a torsion type of spring, the energy is imparted or removed by rotating the spring clockwise or counter clockwise depending upon the direction of usage.

With professional installation, the complete loading of the torsion spring is controlled by the garage installer, and is determined by the weight and size of the garage door that it is operating. When this type of torsion spring fails, it remains attached and intact to the location on the horizontal control rod where it was mounted. I have not heard of or seen any torsion spring fly across a garage, creating injury from failed components as with the stretched older style garage door springs. This is not to say that injuries have not occurred with the torsion style spring. The installation of this type of spring is generally safe when left to a trained garage door installation professional. Severe and serious injuries have occurred when untrained, unqualified individuals have attempted to install or service this type of spring. In most installations, a warning tag is left attached adjacent to the torsion spring when the garage door is installed. This tag warns of the danger associated with the stored energy of this spring, and alerts untrained individuals to not attempt any repair, adjustment or to even touch the spring and associated hardware. When the label that should be attached to this spring becomes damaged, is removed or tampered with, it is important that a new warning label be reattached immediately to show the dangers of this spring tension