Garage Door Buying Guide

Garage doors can take up the bulk of your home's facade and be a big part of the curb appeal. Before you buy, learn about the options, cost and how well they are insulated.


Image courtesty of Amarr.

By: John Riha

First impressions, curb appeal, best foot forward: Your garage door does it all when it comes to the appearance of your home. That's especially true of suburban homes built in the last several decades. Designed for drive-right-in accessibility, many have in-your-face garages that occupy up to 30 percent of the front facade.

Small wonder that upgrading a garage door is a popular home improvement project. According to the 2010 Cost vs. Value Report from Remodeling magazine, a garage door replacement is the only project in the survey that recorded an uptick in value compared to the previous year.

Dazed and amused
If you're ready to scout out styles and options for your new garage door, take a deep breath: There are so many choices you'll be seeing garage doors in your dreams for weeks. Wayne-Dalton, for example, boasts 12 design options, 10 window patterns, and 15 colors for its Model 9700 door alone. Let's do the math: That's a possible 1,800 combinations! Exhale!


Photo By: unknown


Image courtesty of Clopay.

Technical rescue
Thankfully, many manufacturers are aware of option overload, and their websites are equipped with digital visualization tools that help you sort through possibilities with a click of the mouse.

  • Wayne-Dalton's slick Garage Door Design Center lets you upload a photo of your own house, then overlay hundreds of styles, window shapes and colors. No photo? Choose from stock images to approximate your home.
  • DoorView from Overhead Door Corp. lets you choose a house style to play with as you decide garage styles and colors. For a more personal touch, you can upload a shot of your house and receive a phone consultation.
  • The Door Designer from Amarr Door is a simple program that uploads architectural renderings onto stock house designs. When you're done, e-mail the finished design to Amarr for a price quote tailored to your area.

    Back to the basics

    Manufacturers have their proprietary techniques and methods for putting together garage doors, but the basics are these:

    • Single-layer construction features a simple outer layer of steel, fiberglass, or engineered wood. The basic doors are lightweight, which is easy on springs, and low cost. Their insulating value is negligible.

    • Double-layer construction has an inner and outer skin sandwiched around a layer of polystyrene board for rigidity, and an insulating value between R-4 and R-7.

    • Premium construction has inner and outer layers of high-quality steel, wood or fiberglass sandwiched around a thick layer of polystyrene or polyurethane insulation for maximum stiffness and insulating values that exceed R-15.

    Types and flavors

    Aluminum and glass
    An escapee from the world of car washes, this modernist construction is essentially tempered, all-glass or acrylic panels set in anodized aluminum frames. Choices of frame finishes and glass types make for contemporary cool.

    Heads up: Glass is fragile.

    Insulating value: negligible

    Cost for a 16-by-7-foot double door: $1,500-$2,000.

    Premium-quality steel doors feature outer layers of heavy-gauge steel that's embossed to mimic wood grain or stucco. Overlays, such as moldings and cross-buck designs, give the look of carriage doors. Foam cores add strength and insulating values.

    Most steel doors can be purchased with factory-applied finishes. Although color choices are somewhat limited, these doors are virtually maintenance-free. Also, steel can be ordered primed, or painted to match house colors.

    Heads up: Steel can dent.

    Insulating value: R-6 to R-17

    Cost for a 16-by-7-foot double door: $750-$3,500.

    All wood
    Architectural purists, rejoice. All-wood garage doors made from moisture-resistant cedar, redwood and cypress give you bragging rights for the best-looking garage in the neighborhood.

    Not as strong as steel nor as tough as fiberglass, wood still provides je ne sais quoi curb appeal like nothing else. Note, however, that even wood comes in various prices — and levels of quality. The best doors feature all-wood frames and panels.

    Opt for polystyrene backing to add insulating value. The prefinished stain options are beautiful.

    Heads up: Needs periodic refinishing.

    Insulating value: R-3 to R-6.

    Cost for a 16-by-7-foot double door, low quality: $400-$700; superior quality: $1,200-$4,000 and up.

    Rapidly gaining market share, fiberglass doors are known for their resistance to moisture, insects, warping and changes in humidity. Thick outer skins of fiberglass surround an inner foam core and a steel framework that provides strength and stability.

    Fiberglass excels at mimicking the colors and grain patterns of real woods such as cherry, oak and mahogany.

    Heads up: Single-layer versions can be brittle.

    Insulating value: R-4 to R-12

    Cost for a 16-by-7-foot double door: $1,100-$1,800.


Image courtesty of Clopay.

    Composite wood
    This sandwich-type construction features a strong, insulating core of polystyrene wrapped in composite wood: panels made from wood fibers and weatherproof resins. Many manufacturers use recycled wood fibers for the panels, providing a bit of green factor.

    Molded with grain patterns, composite wood can be difficult to distinguish from the real thing. Unlike wood, however, composite doors won't split, crack or rot. Composite doors come factory finished, or can be custom stained or painted.

    Heads up: Nearly as costly as real wood.

    Insulating value: R-5 to R-8.

    Cost for a 16-by-7-foot double door: $1,200-$2,200.

    DIY composite
    Turn your old door into a carriage door look-alike with glue-on urethane and resin plank kits from companies such as Garage Door Refacing and GarageReface. These smaller companies may be localized, so check your Yellow Pages.

    Cost for a 16-by-7-foot door: $1,200-$1,400.

    Standard construction sees layers of durable, weatherproof vinyl surrounding an inner core of foam insulation, although the cheapest models lack the foam core.  Lightweight and impervious to insects and rot, vinyl doors are durable players. Colors extend throughout the vinyl layers, so scratches don't show.

    Unlike steel, vinyl is resistant to dings and errant baseballs; many types come with lifetime warranties. Despite their higher price, over the long run vinyl doors may be a more cost-effective option than steel.

    Heads up: Polyvinylchloride (PVC) is considered environmentally unfriendly.

    Insulating value: R-4 to R-12

    Cost for a 16-by7-foot double door: $900-$1,500.


Image courtesty of Clopay.


Image courtesty of Amarr.


Image courtesty of Wayne Dalton


Image courtesy of Jeld-Wen.


Before and After. Image courtesy of Garage Door Refacing


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