The garage door opener is becoming an almost universal feature of modern homes. There are still few die-hards out there who continue opening their garage doors the old fashioned way — either to get the exercise, to avoid the bother of yet another piece of technology that could break down, or even out of a sincere anti-consumerism streak.
But it’s hard not to be convinced of the utility of these devices when you’ll be forced to leave the comfort of your car on a stormy day in order to open the garage door.
For senior citizens and the less physically inclined, the best garage door opener will not be just an option, but a necessity, especially if they have a heavy wooden door to contend with.
With 1,25 horsepower at its disposal, this chain-driven Chamberlain can handle the toughest jobs.
It features all the latest innovations in the industry, can be connected to your smartphone via an app and controlled from virtually anywhere.
The range of the remote is nothing to scoff at either, working from up to 1,500 feet. As a nice touch, you can also voice control it through appropriate software and a warning lets you know when the device opens and closes. This model is also programmable and can memorize a number of settings so it conforms to the schedule of everyone in the household.
Besides the opener itself, the package contains a pair of remotes, two safety sensors, a wireless keypad with +2.0 security encryption and a back-up battery. The experts over at The Spruce report that this model operates surprisingly quiet and vibration-free for a chain-drive opener. Really, the Chamberlain Group B1381 is an all-rounder and there’s nothing more you can ask from a device of its type with the current level of technology.
Naturally, it comes at a hefty price, but most won’t find it prohibitive especially as it’s easy enough to install that the owner can do it, which means those with enough technical ability can save a pretty penny by setting it up themselves.
What we like:
- With a 1,25 HP electrical DC motor, the B1381 is strong enough to handle any job; it can lift double doors or whole wood doors.
- The device also has a back-up battery which makes it a good choice for those living in areas that experience frequent blackouts.
- It features the latest in security options, with +2.0 encryption and a function that lets you know when it is being activated.
- A very smart device, it can connect to your smartphone and be operated from virtually any area with coverage.
What we don’t:
- It’s not the cheapest option available, but more than makes up for it by being easy to install, although we still recommend those with insufficient skills to employ a specialist.
How we chose the best garage door openers
Like with any other product we end up recommending, we started our investigation into the top garage door openers available by churning through scores of models currently sold through online retail sites.
By comparing scores as well as customer reviews, we reduced this huge list to twenty or so of the most popular products, taking good care to consider more than the star rating in making our selection. Sometimes, newer devices haven’t been reported on enough for the “grade” alone to paint an accurate picture of their quality, while some very fine models might have their scores pushed down because of rare incidence of malfunctioning in particular units.
With our selection in toe, we proceeded into looking at how each one was received by the more authoritative testers and professional reviewers out there. Judging by how good of an impression these made on the experts, as well as criteria we will elaborate below, we settled upon five top-of-the-line garage door openers, that we hope can cover as wide a range of consumer needs as possible.
For those that don’t really need a heavy-duty model the latest Chamberlain Group model in the 0.5 HP range, the B550 should offer excellent service at a surprisingly low price.
It uses a belt made from steel-reinforced rubber for the transmission which makes it very quiet and smooth. Given that it won’t be needed to handle particularly tough jobs, the belt and motor should last quite a bit of time, which is also suggested by the 10 and 15-years warranty Chamberlain offers for these two parts respectively.
Like any Chamberlain product it offers a good deal of connectivity and can be accessed from anywhere there is network coverage via a mobile app and the myQ service. However, it is important to note that you will need to pay an integration fee to subscribe to the smart home hub, which is also something common to all the manufacturer’s products.
There are, of course, other options, namely the two remote controls, that thanks to Chamberlain’s signal boost technology, can work from up to 1,500 feet. The package also contains a couple of safety sensors, a wireless keypad, wall-mounted controls, and back-up batteries. The rail on the B550 is optimized to work with 7-feet tall garage doors but extensions for either 8 or 10 feet can be acquired separately.
What we like:
- A belt-driven model, nearly all users found it to run extremely quiet and smooth, ideal for houses with a room above the garage.
- Although it normally draws power from the electrical network, it can also operate on either a single or a pair of lithium cell batteries during black-outs.
- It has a good number of security features, including +2.0 code encryption and a function that lets you know when the door is opened or closed.
- This product is also surprisingly good value. For a relatively low amount of money, you will get a lot of items, including a wall-mounted control panel and batteries.
What we don’t:
- Unlike most other brands, Chamberlain asks for a fee to connect to their smart home service, although admittedly the amount demanded is trivial.
It also comes with all the security and connectivity features you would expect from a modern garage door opener.
This jackshaft drive from LiftMaster garnered rave reviews from satisfied customers as well as professional testers. And what’s not to like? It is extremely quiet, very reliable and quite powerful.
LiftMaster didn’t rate this product in HP but instead reported that it can be used to lift doors of up to 650 pounds, so it should cover most people’s needs. Also, one user noticed that it significantly cut the door opening time compared to his former ¾ HP model, which wasn’t itself a slouch. However, since it’s wall-mounted, it isn’t compatible with a headroom track, or roll-up door, but on the plus side, it allows for plenty of headroom.
You can command the 85000 via a smartphone and it also informs you when the door is opened and closed. Folks report it is easy enough to install in a couple of hours, although some chose to pay for a professional inspection of the garage door prior to this (which we, of course, recommend ourselves).
What we like:
- This garage opener is considered extremely reliable, a fact supported by the confidence the manufacturer places in it, with a lifetime warranty for the motor.
- Many people remarked how quiet the 8500 runs, with many satisfied customers not being able to even hear it from inside their houses with the door leading to the garage closed.
- The unit has also been found to be extremely fast, even when compared to ¾ HP chain-drive models.
- It has all the features you would demand from a modern opener: smartphone connectivity via myQ, you can program the doors to close after a set time and receive information when these are open.
What we don’t:
- Like all models employing this type of drive, the LiftMaster 8500 isn’t compatible with certain types of doors and garage set-ups. However, it makes up for it by occupying very little space.
No less popular than the LiftMaster we’ve previously looked at, the RJO20 really gives the competition a run for its money.
Like the LiftMaster 8500, it uses a form of direct drive which allows it to run smoothly and fast. It takes very little space, mounted on the wall next to the door, so you won’t have a big ugly opener hanging from the ceiling. As you would expect with a Chamberlain, the device allows for plenty of connectivity through myQ.
You can receive notification or operate it remotely, as well as program it to close the door after a set period through its own panel. A feature found useful by many people is the wireless light, which can be installed anywhere in the garage, or even outside to increase your level of security. Speaking of which, this unit has a deadbolt to close the door shut when not in use.
The package also comes with 2 sensors and a couple of control panels (one wall-mounted and one remote) so you will be getting everything you need to use it with this single purchase. However, expect to dig pretty deep into the piggy bank for this, since the RJO20 is not exactly cheap.
What we like:
- It is very discrete and takes little space on the wall. We also find this to be one of the most handsome products in our selection.
- It has all the connectivity and security features you would expect from a modern opener, including +2.0 anti-hacking solutions.
- People report that it runs very silent, thanks to the small number of moving parts inherent in the construction.
- Since it uses a direct drive, it should have quite a long service life, Chamberlain itself offering a lifetime warranty on the motor.
What we don’t:
- All this quality doesn’t exactly come cheap. It is significantly more expensive than other similar products we’ve looked at.
The 1.25 HP motor is strong enough for most residential needs and the drive is said to be incredibly quiet.
You really don’t need to sacrifice on power for smooth operation with this belt-driven model from Genie. The unit uses DC current to operate from a rechargeable battery in the event of a black-out, which should provide enough juice for at least 50 cycles.
Its connectivity features seem to be a mixed bag. On the one hand, it has integrated Wi-Fi and you don’t need to pay for any app or service to connect it to a mobile device. Furthermore, it is compatible with Alexa and can accept voice commands with the appropriate app. On the other hand, some users reported that the signal strength of the Wi-Fi can be sometimes low.
Regarding the quietness of its operation, we find significant to mention that the manufacturer included visual and sound alarms to alert people nearby when the door is being opened via Wi-Fi. The light system it comes with is also somewhat interesting, as it sports a security function that disables all the means of opening the doors when lights are off.
What we like:
- An extremely quiet model, it needs a sound alarm to let people know when it’s working.
- Despite this, it is very powerful, and with 1,25 HP, it can easily lift even the heaviest of insulated garage doors.
- Very nice security features, you can monitor it via Google Assistant and Alexa, it can be programmed to close the door automatically after a set time, and offers a number of lighting settings.
- The options offered for connectivity are also good, including Wi-Fi and compatibility with Google Assistant and Alexa.
What we don’t:
- Some people noticed that the Wi-Fi signal isn’t particularly strong. However, this might be due to their failure in understanding the instructions provided by the manufacturer.
What to look for when choosing a garage door opener
As with everything else, the best garage door opener will always be the one that fits closest to your personal needs.
There is some room for differentiation when considering the general quality of the product, which can most often be indicated by brand reputation and by consulting specialist reviews. Another thing that should dictate your decision is the safety rating of the product since garage door openers can be responsible for many household accidents.
Otherwise, manufacturers offer a wide array of options and features apparently to suit every preference under the sun. You’ll find everything from simple and reliable, good value models with few parts that can go wrong; to high-tech gadgets that can be programmed to fit the habits of every member of the family.
Main Types of Garage Door Openers
Residential garage door openers all follow the same basic operating principle. They feature an electric motor that is used to move a rail-mounted trolley, which is connected to the garage door through a J-bar. As the trolley is pushed back and forth, the garage door opens and closes. The way power is transmitted to the trolley makes the difference between the various systems currently available on the market.
As the name suggests, this type of garage door opener uses a chain to drive the trolley. This can vary in size depending on the power of the unit using it, but the system is generally considered to offer great durability throughout the range.
Chain-driven models are also very cost-effective, both in regards to their long lifespan, and the initial investment — as they tend to be cheaper than alternatives. A chain will almost always hold better over time than the belt or screw employed in other models, which means lower maintenance costs overall.
Many experts consider the chain drive to be a good choice when paired up with a powerful motor for operating a heavy door. Also, those living in northern states will find it a viable option, as the all-metal internal workings of this garage door opener allow it to be impervious to cold.
Its sturdy construction does come with some downsides, however. Metal grinding on metal makes for quite a deal of vibration and noise, which might prove bothersome for house occupants inhabiting rooms above the garage. This has not been found to be a problem when the garage is separated from the main body of the house, as the structure effectively muffles the sound.
Furthermore, manufacturers have taken great lengths to make these models quieter in later years, with some impressive results.
This construction uses a reinforced belt instead of a chain to do the heavy lifting. The drawback of this is quite obvious, as even with today’s technological advancements, a belt made of polyurethane, fiberglass, or steel-reinforced rubber (among other materials) won’t hold out as well as a metal chain.
The possible problems go further than a worn-out piece of rubber giving up at the worst of times. Some materials have been reported to experience severe cold damage when operating in freezing conditions. If that’s a concern, we recommend checking consumer reports about how a particular belt-driven model will handle winter temperatures before purchasing.
For a significant number of people, however, the extremely smooth and silent operation of a belt-drive more than makes up for any of the downsides. The reduction in noise and vibration over the chain drive is significant, and anyone occupying a room above the garage will barely know the door is being opened. However, this marked increase in comfort will usually come at a slightly steeper cost.
On a final note, a belt won’t require as much lubrication as a chain or screw, so there’s somewhat less maintenance involved with this system. Until you will have to replace a dodgy-looking belt, at least.
Somewhat different than the two types we’ve looked at above, this system uses a screw to circulate the trolley along the rail. The screw basically acts as the driveshaft, with the trolley “riding” directly on it. This gives the benefit of both fewer moving parts, and significantly increased torque.
Consequently, the screw-drive does its job the fastest out of all available options, cutting the time required to open a door by half in some instances. In regards to noise and vibration, this system comes in between the two we’ve looked at so far, closer to the belt drive than the chain operated one.
Due to a small number of moving parts, it’s also significantly more reliable than the competition, although far from an “install it and forget” system. The screw needs to be oiled with somewhat greater regularity than the bicycle-like chain of the chain drive. This is because the weight of the garage door will exercise quite a deal of strain on the screw threads, which will cheep away with time.
All else being equal, a screw should wear faster than a chain, and significantly more so when heavy wooden doors are concerned. Although powerful screw drives can work effectively with the heaviest of old-style doors, a chain drive will always present for the more economic option over time.
Besides the cost of the unit itself, more frequent replacement might also translate into having to pay for someone to replace the screw more often, as most experts recommend these devices be serviced by a specialist for anything past basic maintenance.
One of the newer additions to the market, jackshaft door openers usually come with a lot of automation and connectivity features. Another thing that might make these attractive is their discrete placement, right next to the doorframe.
This saves you space, especially important if your garage ceiling doesn’t allow for a lot of headroom already, but also contributes to an added level of security, both against accidents and burglars.
Many models incorporate a deadbolt that automatically triggers whenever the door is closed and the manual release is located at hand level, which makes it both easier to access by the owner, as well as impossible to be triggered from the outside by using a long hook or other such implements.
Expectedly with all new technology, the initial purchasing cost of a jackshaft is fairly high. Another drawback is that these can only be used with sectional doors.
The term “Direct drive” used to be associated with any garage door opener that didn’t employ a chain or belt, but its definition has narrowed in recent years to encompass only one particular type of mechanism.
Significantly distinct from other available options, the direct-drive uses a stationary chain or belt, along which the motor itself moves to open and close the door. Since this is the only moving part of the whole system, the direct-drive offers a good deal more reliability compared to other solutions.
Another plus of this system is that it operates remarkably quiet, with some consumers remarking that it can run smoother than even a belt drive.
A technical novelty on par with the jackshaft drive, this system is also pricey, and not all that widespread in America. This means there aren’t so many models to choose from.
AC or DC?
All garage door openers plug into the household’s main electrical supply (meaning AC), but specific motors work with DC current in order to be able to feed off a battery in the event of a blackout.
This feature is particularly useful for people that live in areas where blackouts are frequent due to remoteness or severe weather. Since a snowstorm or hurricane is the last time you would want to exit your car for manually opening the garage door, this feature should be closely considered by residents of states like Florida or Minnesota.
The only drawbacks are an increased cost over the alternatives and the fact that the DC converter adds another part to the system that can break down.
Another note is that DC openers are most often rated in “equivalent” horse-power, as the “power” of battery-operated electrical devices is usually expressed in Volts, by the amount of charge its source of energy provides.
There are two main schools of thought when considering the number of horse-power needed for a garage door opener. Some cautious experts recommend that the more horsepower at your disposal, the better, as this will increase the speed of opening the door and place less strain on the device.
Others emphasize efficiency, and advise pairing a garage door with an opener just strong enough for the job, as the amount of HP delivered is most often directly proportional to the amount of electrical energy used.
The power needed from the opener will be in this case proportional to the weight it will be required to pull or lift (i.e. how heavy the garage door is), roughly following the indications below:
- ⅓ HP will be able to effectively lift a one-car garage door of a newer variety
- ½ HP does a sufficient job for a dual car door or a sectional door of up to 300 pounds.
- ¾ to 2 HP are considered high-powered and can be used with any door over 400 pounds.
No matter your energy concerns, underpowered openers are never recommended, as this will cut the product’s service life by a significant margin or even create some safety hazards, like unsteady opening and closing.
To help you estimate the weight of your garage door, we find it necessary to note that older doors, made out of whole wood tend to be significantly heavier than their newer counterparts, and devices of over 1 HP are generally recommended in this instance.
As we’ve mentioned before, garage door openers can be at fault for many household accidents. In fact, according to the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System, in 2007 alone, 13,325 people were injured by garage doors in a multitude of ways. Needless to say, selecting advanced safety features should be a top priority.
All garage door openers made for the US market after 1993 are outfitted with an automatic reversing function in compliance with federal law. This function either uses electronic sensors or photovoltaic eyes at the base of the door which automatically engages the reversing mechanism when detecting an obstacle.
As an added measure of security, some units switch to reverse automatically when the door makes contact with an obstructing object. This is useful if the sensors employed by the “remote” automatic reverse happen to fail.
Rolling code technology
One of the latest developments in anti-hacking technology, the rolling code system will keep you safe from unwanted intruders. It works by automatically changing the remote control code anytime the device is used. Switching through millions of possible permutations, it is nearly impossible for a thief to crack the safety code on one of these.
Nearly all the best garage door openers today feature rolling code technology, and some manufacturers were outfitting all their models with it as standard since the 90s.
Another near-universal feature, a manual release lets you manually open or close the door by disconnecting the opener. The feature itself has obvious utility during blackouts or when the user intends to weight-test a new door. However, it can have some downsides as far as security is concerned. Thieves have been known to employ hooks at the end of thin rods to get to the wire operating the manual release from the outside.
A battery back-up is seen as useful during short power outages, as the energy source used by most models tends to drain fairly quickly. It is a good idea to check how many batteries and what type the model takes to ensure for the longest use if living in an area with frequent power outages.
Security lights should be a given for the best garage door openers. These usually turn on and off automatically when the device is activated but can also be programmed by the user or deactivated entirely if in need to save battery life.
However, we don’t recommend this approach as garages tend to be cluttered places, where it is surprisingly easy to bump and trip over things. What’s even worse, hard obstacles like wooden boxes and chairs can contribute to very serious injuries if hit by a falling person. You might remember the way one of the main protagonists in Clint Eastwood’s Million Dollar Baby ended up paralyzed.
For some added safety, some garage door openers are outfitted with a motion-sensing device that turns the security lights on when it detects movement in the garage.
Some models can go into lockdown mode and won’t allow the garage door to be opened by any means (except perhaps the manual release) until this is disabled. This is extremely useful when you can’t find the remote and have reasons to suspect foul play, but should also be considered as a means to ensure safety when you don’t need to use the garage for an extended period, such as when taking a vacation.
As mentioned previously, wall-mounted openers will often feature a deadbolt, which ensures that the door will be almost impossible to force open.
Other features to consider
Garage door openers are becoming increasingly complex devices that offer a myriad of options for programming and inter-connectivity. If you need maximum control over the garage door or are just a tech-head, you might be interested in opting for a system that offers the following:
- Home-automation connectivity has been around for some years and lets you control the opener from anywhere in the house. A more advanced version uses Wi-Fi to access your home’s wireless internet network. This allows you to access the device from virtually anywhere via a mobile app.
- There is also vehicle compatibility to consider, as some models can be operated through built-in controls that certain cars may have. This is a nice back-up feature, as it basically allows you to control the garage door opener even if you misplaced the remote.
Also, we should note that, while driving, it is a lot more comfortable to operate the car’s dashboard than it is a smartphone or remote, especially as most of the time, these objects will have to be taken out of a pocket.
- A number of models can be programmed to automatically close the door after a set period of time, which adds an extra measure of security, as it basically guarantees that the door won’t remain open independent of the user’s mindfulness.
While some might scoff at the possibility of forgetting to close the garage door, we would remind you that this is a process that might be repeated thousands of times a year, and failing it only once can have dire repercussions.
Regarding compatibility with the garage door itself, it is important to know that most rails are made for a 7-foot or shorter garage door, but many manufacturers offer extensions for up to 8 feet or 10 feet.
Installing garage door openers
Installing the garage door opener is, in a word complicated. Nearly all experts who wrote about these devices online recommend that the installation should be left to specialists, who generally demand reasonable fees for this job. Setting up the system incorrectly opens you to considerable risks, a bent garage door at best, and severe injury for a pet or family member at worst.
If you trust your technical abilities enough and have the appropriate tools, you shouldn’t proceed without carefully reading the manufacturer’s instructions and consulting with several online guides on how to install garage door openers.
How to maintain a garage door opener
A garage door opener will need maintenance once or multiple times per year, depending on the transmission system it employs. Direct drives and jackshafts will require the least amount of attention, as these employ few moving parts. The screw on a screw-drive might need lubrication every few months and the same goes for a chain. A belt won’t require lubrication, but other moving parts of the device, such as the driveshaft, will.
Chains and screws are best lubricated with lithium grease, while a spray lubricant should be used for roller springs since it makes the job a lot easier.
The more vibration a garage door opener causes, the looser its internal workings will get. Make sure to tighten all roller brackets and bolts from time to time.
If the garage door isn’t properly balanced, the opener will need to put in more work, which will decrease its service life. Test the door balance every year or so by manually raising it halfway after you disconnect the opener through the manual release (usually a red chord). If the door won’t stay put, then its tension springs need adjustment.
The rollers should be inspected once every two years and replaced every seven years or so, sometimes more often if the door sees frequent use.
Never tinker with the high tension cables lifting the door, as they store enough force to maim or kill a person. However, yearly inspections are advisable for these parts.
Hopefully, we’ve provided you with a useful tool for finding the best garage door openers for your needs.
To give a final verdict for the products we’ve looked at, the Chamberlain Group B1381 might be viewed as the best-performing overall, although many people might find some of the other options we recommended preferably.
The Chamberlain Group B550 impressed reviewers with the quietness of its operation and the amount of security and connectivity features it offers in such a small package.
The LiftMaster 8500 Elite Series is a reasonably-priced jackshaft model that surprised many people with the quietness and speed of its operation.
The Chamberlain RJO20 is a good overall option for a direct drive model, but it comes at a premium cost.
Our pick for a heavy-duty belt drive model, the Genie StealthDrive 7155-TKV is as silent as it is powerful, and the only flaw people found with it is far from a deal-breaker.