The last time I bought a garage door opener, I only looked at the horsepower and ended up buying more than I should.
I mean…more is better, right?
Maybe for cars, but not for your garage door opener.
How much horsepower does a garage door opener need? If you have a single car, steel garage door (roughly 8′ wide) you only need a 1/2 horsepower garage door opener. If you have an single insulated door, single wooden door or any material double garage door (roughly 16′ wide), you need at least a 3/4 horsepower garage door opener. You only need more than 1 HP if you have a garage door weighing more than 350 lbs, like a heavy wooden carriage door.
Horsepower is really just a starting point for garage door openers. There are features that are more important that you don’t get until you more to a higher horsepower model. We’ll get into some of those later on.
Hopefully by the end of this article, you’ll know enough so you don’t make the same mistake I did and buy a garage door opener based on how much horsepower it has.
Why garage door opener horsepower matters…
At a basic level, how much horsepower you need depends on the weight, size and material of the garage door you’re lifting.
Garage doors come in all shapes, sizes, materials and (most importantly) weight. The heavier the door, the more work the motor in your garage door opener will be doing.
More work, means more horsepower. (Insert Tim Allen grunt here)
Wooden garage doors, insulated garage doors, or doors with windows will weigh more than your basic steel door.
As a general rule, a single-car steel garage door is about 8′ x 7′ and will weigh roughly 80-90 pounds. Although adding garage door insulation will push that to between 100-110 pounds on average. Changing to a wooden door or adding windows will increase the weight to upwards of 130 lbs.
Double garage doors are usually 16′ x 8′ and weigh in at between 150-210 pounds. Going with windows or a wooden garage door here and the total weight balloons up to almost 350 pounds.
…and why it doesn’t
Horsepower gets our attention and the garage door opener manufacturers know it.
Most people don’t really care about smartphone integration or extra safety features like automatic locking. I mean…they’re nice innovations, but they’re not going to get me to run out and buy a new garage door opener.
Imagine you’re walking through Lowe’s or Home Depot and you see a new garage door opened with 1 1/4 HP. Your old one has a measly 1/2 HP.
On some level, you start thinking that the bigger motor is going to work less or your garage door is going to open faster.
Then you’re hooked.
YOU MUST HAVE IT!!!
But that’s wrong.
That extra 3/4 HP doesn’t open my garage door any faster and it’s not the motor that actually does most of the work.
So if garage door opener horsepower isn’t that important…then what is it good for?
Bottom line: More horsepower = more features
Manufacturers know that men especially buy more horsepower because we think it’s automatically better,
In order to really make their products stand out, they’ll need to add some new features as well: things like extra remotes, smart-home integrations or safety features.
You know, the stuff that we really should be focusing on instead of HP.
So using horsepower as a guide, let’s look at what else is included in those models first. Then we’ll talk about how much horsepower you really need to lift your garage door.
What will garage door opener horsepower cost you?
1/3 HP ($?): When I was doing my research before buying a new garage door opener, I found a few articles that suggested a 1/3 HP as the entry level. There’s just one problem: Most major manufacturers stopped making a 1/3 Horsepower garage door opener. You may still be able to find old stock lying around, but I’d steer clear of these.
1/2 HP ($130-$190): This is the new entry level garage door opener. You won’t find too many bells and whistles. The major selling point here will be the number of remotes that they include. On some of the more expensive models you’ll also get an exterior keypad entry. If you’re looking at a garage door opener that’s pushing the $200 price mark, I’d move to the 3/4 HP models instead.
3/4 HP ($180-$250): Now you’ll start to see some of the cooler features like smart home integrations or smartphone apps. The more expensive models will include a battery backup or an LCD wall-console.
1.25 HP and up ($200+): This is the cream of the crop. Every opener I found with over 1 1/4 HP had an external keypad included, smartphone integration and most of them had a battery backup. You’ll also find some really cool innovations here like automatic locking as well.
This does the heavy lifting – it’s not what you think
The more the door weighs, the more horsepower your garage door needs. Easy right?
Not so fast.
Horsepower isn’t everything.
Believe it or not, the garage door opener doesn’t do most of the work. The torsion spring does the heavy lifting – literally.
With a properly balanced garage door, the torsion spring and garage door opener work together to raise and lower the door easily. If the spring isn’t calibrated correctly (too tight\too loose\wrong size\etc.) then the entire system is going to suffer.
You’ll also want to keep your garage door properly clean and lubricated. For a quick guide, check out this article I wrote about how to spend five minutes, once a year to keep your garage door lubricated.
Think about how the opener actually pulls the garage door up and down.
Chain drive and belt drive garage door openers are the most common – and least expensive. Chain drive garage door openers are usually less expensive than belt drive units, but they’re also much louder.
There are a couple of other options that are pretty innovative as well.
Sommer has a Direct Drive garage door opener that actually moves along the track while it’s working. Because the unit is moving and not the chain, there should be almost no noise. Its a little pricey so I’d like to see this one in person to get a better idea of how it sounds.
The one I’ve got my eyes on for my garage renovation is the Liftmaster 8500W, which is a totally new idea for garage door openers. Instead of being on a track hanging over the center of your garage, it is mounted directly to the wall next to your door. Just imagine what you can do with all of that extra space!
Five features you should be looking for instead
OK…so adding more horsepower to a garage door opener is a marketing gimmick.
What should you look for instead? Here are five of my suggestions:
Mobile App: Have you ever left home and wondered if you forgot to close the garage door? Wouldn’t it be great if you could open and close your garage door from your smartphone? More and more companies are jumping on that bandwagon and offering some kind of mobile integration with their higher-end models.
Smart Home Integration: Similarly, integrating your garage door opener into your smart home has its benefits too. Imagine your door opening automatically as you pull into the driveway, or integration with your Google Assistant or Alexa to open or close the door from anywhere in your house?
Battery backup: If you lose power in your home, you really don’t want your car to be stuck inside the house. Especially for my elderly mother who can’t lift the garage door by herself, I want to make sure she has the ability to get in and out of the house anytime she needs to.
Auto-close for safety: Have you ever forgotten to close the garage door at night? Some garage door openers will automatically close after a certain period of time so that your family and belongings are safe.
Wall mountable: I mentioned this one earlier. There are garage door openers that mount on the wall next to the door, which gets rid of that ugly center rail down the middle of your garage. That gives you more space for overhead storage or even a ceiling fan to help cool down your garage.
Most people, especially guys, put a lot of emphasis on horsepower. Too much in this case.
Hopefully this changes the way you’re looking at buying a garage door opener. I know it did for me.
Have you spent more on a garage door opener just because it had more horsepower? Let me know in the comments below.