All About Garage Doors

Learn about the different types of garage doors, how the operate and how to maintain them.


Related To:

  1. Garage
  2. Storage Space
  3. Doors

When choosing a garage door, it is important to consider the appearance, material, construction and method of operation (manual or automatic). Garage doors are usually either tilt-up or sectional roll-up. They are offered with flush, raised panel or recessed panel designs. Your decision will depend on budget, design and the structure of the garage itself — you may need more than one door in a double garage.

Automatic Door Openers

Today's garage-door openers offer photoelectric safety devices that reverse the door if an object breaks the light beam, door openers on key chains, openers with security codes and electronic openers, which also operate lights and other electronic devices in the home. Electric garage openers also function as the garage lock, making it very difficult for an intruder to lift your door from the outside.

With all of the safety devices, one of the surprise frustrations electronic door openers bring is the inability to open during a power outage. Installing an emergency release kit on your garage door will enable you to open the door manually in the event that there is no power to operate it.

Garage doors, traditionally made of wood, are now available in various materials. Steel and aluminum are commonly used, as is fiberglass. The latter is particularly popular, because it is lightweight, strong and easy to maintain. Weight is an important consideration; a lightweight door is particularly desirable if it is large, or if an automatic system is being installed. If you plan to install doors yourself, even lightweight ones will be difficult to handle alone, so make sure you have help during installation. Also remember to think about your old doors. They are not small items, and you may have to make special arrangements for their disposal.

Steel Tilt-Up

Although not as light as fiberglass doors, steel canopies still provide a relatively lightweight feel, and are easy to open and close by hand.

Fiberglass Tilt-Up

This type of door is made of lightweight material, and has a pivot mechanism allowing for easy opening and closing by hand.


©2007 Dorling Kindersley Limited

2007 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Garage doors have a wide variety of opening and closing mechanisms. Some are similar to those used by other entrance doors, and some are used only with garage doors. Sectional (roll-up) garage doors are the most popular type offered. One-piece doors are typically less expensive, but require more headroom in the garage. These doors are often called tilt-up or swing-up doors. Almost any type of door can be automated.

Tilt-Up: Canopy

Canopy tilt-up doors have a pivoting hinge mechanism that allows the door to be lifted upward and slid back at ceiling level into the garage. A portion of the base of the door protrudes from the garage, providing a small overhang or "canopy." This is the simplest tilt-up mechanism, and the system is secured to the sides of the frame, saving space.


©2007 Dorling Kindersley Limited

2007 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Tilt-Up: Retractable

A retractable tilt-up door operates in much the same way as a canopy door, except that the door retracts fully into the garage at ceiling level; it is suspended on a framework independent of the doorframe, and therefore occupies a little more space than a canopy mechanism.


©2007 Dorling Kindersley Limited

2007 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Sectional Roll-Up

Subdividing a door into four or more horizontal sections provides the basic structure of a sectional garage door. The divisions in the door allow it to roll straight up into a retracted position so there is no need for door clearance outside the garage. The sections slide through channels fixed to the doorframe, which keep the door rigid when shut.

Automated Retractable Garage Door

Photo By: DK - Do It Yourself Home Improvement ©2009 Dorling Kindersley Limited

DK - Do It Yourself Home Improvement, 2009 Dorling Kindersley Limited

There are three basic types of electronic garage doors: screw drive, chain drive, and belt drive. Most electronic systems are based on a ceiling-mounted electric motor, linked to the door through a mechanism that pushes or pulls the door closed or opens it. Another type of system, called torsion, does not need a chain, belt, or screw. And unlike other systems, a torsion-operated garage door does not require the overhead tracks and ceiling-mounted box.

Some systems can be added to existing doors, in which case it may not be necessary to purchase a new door. However, there may still be a need to modify the opening mechanism of the existing door in order to incorporate an electric opener, so if you are adding the electric system retrospectively, take the time to choose a design of opener that best suits your existing door. The systems illustrated here are for use with tilt-up doors, but there are other types available that work equally well with side-opening doors.


The motor is electrically operated and secured to the ceiling. A belt or chain held in the rail mechanism connects the motor with the door. Most motors are operated by remote control, and have safety devices that prevent the door from trying to close when obstructed. A 1/2 hp motor should lift most typical garage doors.

Automated Retractable Door

A typical installation for automating this type of door involves a central rail with a motorized belt or chain. This moves an arm, which in turn pulls the door up or pushes it down.

Like anything you use every day, you grow accustomed to counting on your garage door to function without problem. To keep your garage door running smoothly, tracks should be cleaned, rollers lubricated, and screws checked and tightened. Springs should not be rusty or have bulges. Also test your garage door's reversing feature monthly to make sure it is operating safely. For more information about garage doors and safety, visit the International Doors Association at

back garage door reserve

Blog Cabin 2010 vote image. Back of house with two garage doors.

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