While there are several different types of garage door openers, the two most popular use either a rubber belt or a steel chain to open and close the door. Unfortunately, there isn’t one “best option,” but there are definitely situations where one or the other is better.
This article will look at the pros and cons of each so that you can make the right decision for your garage.
Belt-Drive Garage Door Openers
The biggest advantage to belt drive openers is that they’re considerably quieter than chain drive openers.
You’re not going to hear a clanking chain or the sound of metal grating against metal. Instead a rubber belt drives the mechanism. There are much fewer metal parts to make noise.
Setting up a belt-drive garage door opener is generally easier than a chain-drive opener. They’re also easier to maintain because you don’t have to worry about lubricating a chain. Finally, belt drive garage door openers are slightly faster than chain drive openers.
All this makes them extremely popular with most homeowners, which makes parts for belt drive models easier to find at most big-box home centers or garage door companies.
However, belt drive garage door openers are more expensive than chain-drive ones.
While they’re strong enough to handle most residential garage doors, they work best for single-door garages or split multi-door garages.
You’ll need a higher horsepower garage door opener to work well with oversized, heavier garage doors.
Finally, the rubber belts struggle under extreme heat or humidity and break more easily than chains. Even though they don’t need to be lubricated, the belt drive mechanism still must be properly maintained.
Chain Drive Garage Door Openers
If your parents had a garage door opener growing up, the odds are that it was driven by a metal chain. That technology is still around today, running a large percentage of garage door openers.
Chain-drive garage door openers are more powerful and have a much higher weight capacity than belt-drive garage door openers. This makes chain drives ideal for all wood doors or double residential garage doors.
It’s common to see chain-drive garage door openers in commercial applications like garages and warehouses. Because they’re made of metal, the chains last longer and work well in all kinds of weather.
More importantly for many homeowners, chain openers cost less money than similarly powered belt garage door openers.
That said, the biggest disadvantage of chain drive openers is the noise.
As the metal chain moves the trolley along the track, each link causes vibrations that echo throughout your garage. Manufacturers have made significant improvements, so they’re not as loud as they used to be.
Still, they may not be the right solution if you have bedrooms or another living area above your garage.
Finally, a chain garage door opener requires more maintenance. If you want them to last, they must be oiled at least once a year to stop corrosion.
Belt vs. Chain Drive Garage Door Opener: Which Lasts Longer?
The average garage door opens between 3-5 times per day.
To put that into perspective, on average, your garage door opener should last long enough to see your baby through freshman year of high school. If you only use the door when you leave for work in the morning and come back at night, you’ll have paid off your mortgage before you buy a new garage door opener.
Belt-drive garage door openers typically last, on average, three years longer than chain-drive garage door openers.
In both cases, proper maintenance is the key to making your garage door opener last longer. This involves lubricating the door tracks, rollers, and springs.
Garage Door 101
If you’ve never looked at your garage door, now is a good time to scope it out. You’ll figure out how everything works with the opener and drive, and we’ll all be on the same page when discussing the components.
- The torsion spring is the coil around the pole above the garage door. This does all the lifting, allowing you to open and close the door easily.
- The door tracks run vertically on both sides of the door and then continue horizontally near the ceiling. When moving, the door runs along these tracks through rollers.
- The rail lines up with and in between the tracks. It holds the belt or chain. The door bracket connects the door to this rail through a trolley.
- The garage door opener is the box at the end of the rail opposite the door. It contains the motor and gears that make everything work. The motor uses either a belt or a chain to pull the trolley toward it to open the door and push the trolley away to close the door.
- The supports hang all the components from the ceiling.
When replacing an existing garage door opener, you’ll usually just replace the motor housing and the rail that holds either a chain or belt.
You’ll also have to worry about adding a torsion spring, tracks, and supports for bigger jobs. But that’s the exception, not the rule.
When to Repair or Replace Your Garage Door Opener
Garage door openers can fail, usually at the most inopportune times. However, if you see any of these signs, it may be time to either repair or replace your garage door opener.
- Strange Noises: Beyond the usual hum of the motor or the friction of the chain, unusual noises like groaning or squeaking indicate that the motor or gears are wearing out.
- Vibration: Even mild vibration every time you use your opener can loosen screws or supports. Eventually, the operator may free itself from the ceiling and fall on your vehicle.
- Slow Movements: After a time, you’ll begin to notice if your garage door takes longer than usual to finish its movement. If your motor isn’t worn out, something may interfere with the gears.
- No Movement: When your door occasionally doesn’t move, pressing the button on the remote usually gets it going again. However, if you hear the motor running after the button push but there’s no movement, the motor may have lost the power to move the door.
- Inconsistency: Your garage door may show a combination of all of these issues or only work correctly some of the time. If the tracks, rail, trolley, spring, and supports are okay, the operator and motor probably need replacing.
Another reason to replace your garage door opener is age.
- The mechanism may be on its last legs if you’ve been in the home for more than 15 years. You don’t want it to fail while a thunderstorm rages around you as you wait to get in with your car.
- You may also want to take advantage of safety advancements in newer devices such as photo eye sensors that prevent the door from closing on a person.
- For greater security, the latest openers may have more remote code combinations that tech-savvy thieves remote cannot decode. Some can even send you a text or email whenever the door opens.
Chain vs Belt Drive Garage Door Openers: Which to Choose
Most garage door opener manufacturers will put their newer technology into their belt drive openers. Its rare to find features like a battery backup or security camera in a chain drive opener.
If you want quiet operation or need something easier to maintain, and are okay with paying more, go with a belt drive opener. I chose this type of garage door opener, but I must admit that it sometimes struggles. Probably because Florida gets much too hot and has high humidity.
If you live somewhere with severe weather, have a detached garage, don’t mind a noisy garage door, are OK with performing regular maintenance, or want to save money, the chain drive opener is a better choice.
If you need a new opener, a good place to start is by checking out my overview of the different garage door opener brands or my article on choosing the right garage door opener for you.