Springs Add Safety For Garage Doors
Snapping Extensions Have Caused Serious Injury and Property Damage.
By Thomas Fitzgerald

Of all the potential safety hazards in the typical home, one area that gets overlooked often is the garage door. According to local specialists, garage doors use a certain type of spring that can cause serious damage and injuries if it snaps.

"Garage doors can be extremely dangerous, especially as they relate to the springs" says Stephen Nelson, owner of Lowell Overhead Door. "Itís the springs that cause the most property damage and the most bodily damage."

Two kinds of springs are used in most residential garage door systems: extension springs and torsion springs.

The more dangerous type are extension springs, Nelson said. Extension springs come in pairs and they run along the sides of the two tracks.

If they snap, extension springs can wield enough force to kill.

"When one of these extension springs breaks, it can take your head right off," Nelson explained. "Iíve pulled them out of walls, Iíve pulled them out of ceilings and Iíve pulled them out of windshields of cars."

Because extension springs can be so dangerous, Nelson recommends that safety cables be installed.

Safety cables run through the center of the springs.

"They keep the springs from flying in the event that one breaks," Nelson said.

Most new garages come with safety cables already installed, Nelson said, although most older garages do not have them.

"There are tons of garage doors out there without safety cables," he said.

Tom Paradis, from the contract sales department at The Home Depot in Tewksbury, agreed that a snapping extension spring can be very dangerous if a person is standing in the wrong place at the wrong time.

"They could kill someone or seriously hurt someone," said Paradis.

Paradis added that an extension spring recently snapped in his sisterís garage, which caused great concern.

"She said `Thank God no one was out there because there was a loud and terrible noiseí," Paradis recalled.

Extension springs are found mostly on smaller garage doors with a width of 8 or 9 feet.

Nelson noted that normal wear and tear is what makes the springs go, and there is a quick way to test whether they may need to be replaced.

"Bring the door halfway to two-thirds of the way down, and let it go," Nelson said. "If the door slams to the ground, those springs need to be replaced. If the springs are in good condition they will hold the door in place no matter where you stop it."

Larger garage doors generally use the other type of spring, called a torsion spring. The torsion spring, a single spring, is in the center of the ceiling and is above the door. The torsion spring is usually safer than the extension type.

"This type of spring is a lot safer because it has a bar running through it," Nelson explained. "So if it breaks, it isnít going anywhere."

Because there are so many moving parts to garage door systems, Nelson recommends that they be inspected by a professional at least once every 6 months.

For example, rollers, hinges, and even the doors themselves all wear down after years of usage.

In addition, if there appears to be something wrong with a garage door, Nelson recommends that an expert be called in.

"If something doesnít look right or sound right, you should stay away from it and get a professional out there immediately," he said.

The other major safety issue with garage doors has to do with electric garage door openers.

A closing electric garage door, without modern safety features, can crush anything that gets in its way.

New electric opener systems are equipped with infrared detectors.

"All of these new electric openers of today come with electric eyes," Nelson said.

If the electric eyes detect an object below the door, the door will reverse direction and head back up.

If for some reason the electric eyes are not working properly, these new systems are equipped with a "pressure-down" feature that will "feel" an object below it.

"If the door hits an object, it will bounce back up," Nelson said.

One way to test the electric eyes and the pressure-down feature is to place a cardboard box under the door as it is closing.

"If it crushes the cardboard box and goes to the ground, then it needs an adjustment", Nelson said.

In summary, garage door systems have many moving parts that need to be maintained.

"There are so many moving parts in a garage door," Nelson said. "That means they need to be maintained and they need to be monitored."

Stephen Nelson
President, Lowell Overhead Doors