Garage door overview
An older double garage door can weigh anywhere from 250 to 450 lbs. This weight, coupled with deteriorating hardware, makes older garage doors a frequent scene of home accidents. Yet many of us enter and exit our homes through the garage door far more often than we do through the formal entry door.
In this article, we’ll tell you the difference between a safe door and one that’s unsafe. We’ll also give you the helpful tips you’re not likely to find in the manufacturer’s instructions to correctly, and safely, install a new door with a torsion spring and do-it-yourself tensioning. Installing a new, double garage door yourself will save you several hundred dollars and should take eight to 12 hours if you’re fairly handy. You can do most of the project yourself, but you should recruit help for removing the old door.
Hire a pro to release the tension on an existing torsion spring system.
Two types of springs
Photo 1: Release tension on side-mounted springs
Release the tension on side-mounted extension springs by lifting the door and locking it in place on each side with a pair of locking pliers. Tie the extension spring to the roller track, then detach the cable from the bottom bracket with a pair of pliers.
Safety tie for springs
Keep the springs in place by tying them to the track before you detach the cable.
Pros only: Dealing with torsion springs
A pro will use special tools called winding bars to release the tension. Doing this yourself is extremely dangerous without the right tools and experience.
Photo 2: Remove the old door
Lower the door and dismantle it by removing the hardware. Lower a double door by recruiting at least two helpers to help with the weight, and place a 2×4 block under the door to prevent smashing a foot or finger when it’s lowered. Remove the sections one at a time by disconnecting the rollers and brackets. If you have windows, tape them to help control flying shards if they break. Then remove the old roller tracks and remaining hardware.
Photo 3: Install the first section
Center and level the first section after you install the brackets. The door must be level even if the floor isn’t, so use shims under the section to level it. The rubber gasket on the bottom section will fill the gaps created by an unlevel floor. To hold the level in place, tape it to the section. To hold the section in place, lightly toenail a 16d nail into the frame and bend it over the section. Add brackets and rollers before setting them in place and stack one section on top of another, toenailing as you go up.
Photo 4: Install the strut
Install the stiffening strut on top of the top section of steel doors with the section lying flat. Then install the opener bracket that replaces the center bracket between the top two sections. While you’re working on the sections, protect them from scratches by putting carpet scraps on top of your sawhorses. Now, slide the rollers into the roller brackets.
Garage door springs come in two styles: torsion (see above), which mounts on the header above the door, and extension (Photo 1), which floats above the upper roller track. In the past, extension springs were safer to install but didn’t have containment cables running through the center of the spring. Without cable, these springs become dangerous, heavy whips when they break. They also tend to be noisier than torsion springs, and we recommend you use them only if you don’t have the 12 in. of headroom above the door that a torsion spring requires.
Torsion springs have three advantages over extension springs: They’re quieter, safer and easier to fine-tune. Torsion springs are quieter because you don’t have a spring knocking against a roller track. They’re safer because when a spring breaks, it usually stays on the bar. Finally, you can fine-tune the tension on a torsion spring so the door is perfectly balanced. Setting the tension on torsion springs has always been very dangerous, but torsion and extension spring systems with easy, do-it-yourself tensioning (Photo 7) are available. If you don’t use one of these DIY-friendly, easy tensioning systems (Clopay EZ-Set Spring and Wayne-Dalton TorqueMaster are two brands), you should hire a professional to release and set the tension on a torsion spring.
Buying a steel door
Photo 5: Install roller tracks
Install the vertical roller tracks first by wrapping the curved lip around the rollers. The top of these tracks should be approximately 8 in. below the top of the top section. Wait to install the upper tracks until this step is complete. Check the level of the top section to make sure the tops of the vertical roller tracks are level with each other. The bottom of the roller tracks should be at least 1/8 in. off the concrete floor. After leveling and mounting these tracks, install the upper roller (horizontal) tracks.
Photo 6: Align the upper tracks
Align the upper roller tracks by carefully lifting the door halfway. Lock it in place with two locking pliers, and install the supporting brackets on the back of the rails using 1-1/4 in. perforated angle iron (available at home centers and hardware stores). Install 1-1/2 x 1/4 in. stop bolts, with the threads to the inside of the track, at the end of each upper track.
Photo 7: Set the torsion spring and bar
Place the spring and bar in their brackets and attach the cables, following the manufacturer’s instructions. (Shown here is the EZ-Set Spring, made by Clopay.)
Tensioning the spring
Using your drill, add tension to the torsion spring. This system uses a single spring for a double door, but many manufacturers use two springs for a double door. The painted line on the spring acts as a gauge for the number of turns you put on the spring. To keep the bar from turning while you’re adding tension, attach a locking pliers to the bar on both ends of the spring. Apply lubricant for garage doors to the spring.
A standard double garage door is 7 ft. high by 16 ft. wide. Standard single doors are 7 ft. high by 8 or 9 ft. wide. Because the doors are so large, few home centers and only some garage door stores keep many doors in stock, so expect to order one instead of buying it off the shelf. Garage doors are available in wood, fiberglass and steel. Steel doors, like ours, are light, maintenance-free, affordable, readily available, and have an insulating value as high as R-19.
You can choose from three basic types of steel door: (1) steel only; (2) steel with insulation on the inside; and (3) steel on both sides with 1-3/8 to 2 in. of insulation. Other features that add to the cost are thicker insulation and windows, especially insulated windows. The do-it-yourself tensioning systems also add a little to the door’s cost. Be sure to specify exactly what you want.
When you install a new garage door, replace all the hardware as well. If your automatic opener doesn’t have an automatic reversing system that includes photoelectric eyes, replace it. Doors with openers also require two extra pieces of hardware that you’ll see in Photo 4: a support strut (usually included in the door kit) and an opener bracket (not included). For doors with torsion springs located over the door, spend the $50 or so to have a garage door professional release the tension.
After your new door is installed, remove the old stop material on the outside of the door and replace it with the type that has a rubber weatherstrip gasket (available at home centers). Install the stop material with the door closed and with the gasket resting against the door at a 45-degree angle.
Seven Key to a Safe Door System
Light weight. Insulated double steel doors, even the heaviest ones, usually weigh 150 to 200 lbs., less than half the weight of the wood or hardboard doors they replace. And although weight isn’t an issue if the springs are properly tensioned, all springs eventually weaken and break.
Pinch resistance. The most common garage door injury is a finger that gets smashed, or even amputated, when it’s caught between sections as the door moves. To help prevent these accidents, look for a door that offers pinch-resistant section designs.
Containment cables. When old extension springs break, the springs and cables become heavy whips that damage cars and even injure people. To solve the whipping problem, manufacturers now offer containment cables that run through the center of side-mounted extension springs. If you have extension springs and don’t plan to replace your door, make sure the springs have these containment cables, or have a professional install them.
Safe automatic door openers. All automatic openers must now have an auto-reversing mechanism and photoelectric eyes located near the floor on both sides of the door (see photo). If the door is closing and the beam between the eyes is interrupted, the door will automatically reverse. If the eyes aren’t connected, the door won’t operate. For instructions on how to install a new garage door opener, see How to Install a Garage Door Opener.
Securely mounted hardware and rails. Torsion spring brackets should be firmly mounted to the wooden header above the door. Roller track support brackets and the opener should be securely bolted to the rafters.
Annual maintenance. Make an annual check of all nuts and bolts on rails and rollers to make sure they’re firmly tightened. Check the condition of all cables to make sure they’re not worn or frayed. Lubricate rollers and springs with a garage-door lubricant (see How to Fix a Noisy Garage Door for maintenance and problem-solving tips). The door should operate smoothly and be properly balanced. Check the balance by disconnecting the opener and lowering the door halfway- the door should hold its position. If it doesn’t, adjust the spring tension or replace the springs.
Opener switch location. Children like to play with automatic door openers. To prevent them from doing this, mount any opener switches at least 5 ft. above the floor.
Required Tools for this Project
Have the necessary tools for this DIY project lined up before you start—you’ll save time and frustration.
- 4-in-1 screwdriver
- Adjustable wrench
- Cordless drill
- Locking pliers
- Safety glasses
- Socket/ratchet set
Required Materials for this Project
Avoid last-minute shopping trips by having all your materials ready ahead of time. Here’s a list.
- Cord or rope
- Easy tensioning system
- Garage door kit
- Garage door lubricant
- Garage door stop with rubber gasket
- Masking tape
- Operator bracket