Belt Drive vs Chain Drive Garage Door Openers


Now that I look back, I’m surprised my it didn’t need replacing sooner.

My garage door opener isn’t something I think about a lot.

I push a button on the remote and it opens. I push the same button and it closes. It’s been doing the same thing day in and day out for years. Just like any door in the house, I expected it to work, without problems, forever.

Except unlike every door in my house, the one for the garage only moves because of an electric motor and a bunch of rollers and gears.

And one day, that garage door opener stopped working. So I needed to replace it. I hope all the stuff I learned can help you out when your time comes.


Garage Door 101

If you’ve never looked at your garage door before, 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 I start talking about parts.

  • 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 with either your hand or an opener.
  • 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. Using the belt or chain, that motor pulls the trolley toward it to open the door and pushes the trolley away to close the door.
  • The supports hang all the components from the ceiling.

When you’re replacing an existing garage door opener, you’ll usually just be replacing the motor housing and the rail that holds either a chain or belt.

For bigger jobs, you’ll also have to worry about adding a torsion spring, tracks, and supports. But that’s the exception, not the rule.


Belt Drive vs Chain Drive: Overview

Unfortunately, there isn’t one “best option”when you’re shopping for a new garage door opener. Whether you’re looking at a belt drive opener or chain drive opener.

Each has its pros and cons.

Belt-Drive Garage Door Openers

Belt drive garage door openers are considerably quieter than chain drive openers. You’re not going to hear a clanking chain or the sound of metal grating against metal.

In general, setting up a belt-drive garage door opener is easier than a chain-drive opener. They’re easier to maintain as well, because you don’t have to worry about lubricating a chain. Finally, they’re also slightly faster and strong enough to handle most types of residential garage doors.

That makes them extremely popular with most homeowners.

Their popularity makes their parts easier fine at most big-box home centers, or garage door companies.

However, belt drive garage door openers are more expensive than their chain-drive counterparts. While they work well for single door garages, or split multi-door garages, they don’t do so well with larger, heavier garage doors. Belts struggle under extreme heat or humidity and break more readily than chains.


Chain-Drive Garage Door Openers

For decades, chain-drive garage door openers were the standard. Chances are, if you have an older home and haven’t replaced it, the garage door opener runs on a chain.

Alternately, if you have a heavier, wooden garage door, you likely have a chain-drive garage door opener. They’re stronger and have a much higher weight capacity then a belt-drive garage door opener.

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, work well in all kinds of weather and are cheaper to produce.

The biggest disadvantage of chain-drive garage door openers is the noise. That’s a big issue if your bedroom, or another living area is above your garage.

Chain drives don’t operate as smoothly as belt drives, which makes them slightly slower. Finally, regular maintenance is an issue. If you want them to last, they need to be oiled at least once a year to stop corrosion.


Which Lasts Longer

The average garage door opens between 3-5 times per day. That means, 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. Either way, proper maintenance is the key to making your garage door opener last longer.

This involves lubricating the door tracks, rollers, and springs.


Replacing Your Garage Door Opener Yourself?

If you’ve been following along with my garage transformation, you know how much I encourage doing projects yourself. You save a lot of cash, learn new skills, and feel like you’ve accomplished something.

That doesn’t apply to replacing your garage door opener though.

Here…go with the pros.

Installing one isn’t like filling a crack in the floor or installing a TV mount. Even a simple installation needs at least two people because of the length of the rail and tracks. If you don’t line everything up correctly, the door opener won’t work.

There’s also a safety issue: a heavy garage door could suddenly come crashing down on you while you’re trying to set up the opener.

The exception to that is if you’re replacing an existing garage opener setup with the same model. Then, all the supports, rails, and tracks will already exist, so you won’t have to worry about lining up anything.


When to Repair or Replace Your Garage Door Opener

In Hollywood, garage door openers break in spectacular fashion. The belt or chain splits and the door falls in slow motion on the victim while scary music rises in the background.

In real life, failures are not so dramatic.

Instead, you’ll have to contend with these more usual signs of when it’s time to either replace your opener or at least get it checked out.

  • 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: With years of experience, you’ll definitely notice if your garage door takes longer than normal to finish its movement. If your motor isn’t wearing out, something may be interfering 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.

  • If you’ve been in the home for more than 15 years, the mechanism may be on its last legs. It may fail while a thunderstorm is raging all 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.

The Verdict: Which to Choose

If you want quiet operation or need something that’s easier to maintain, and are okay with paying more, go with the belt drive. I chose this type but have to admit that it sometimes struggles sometimes. Probably because Florida gets much too hot and humid for it.

If live somewhere with severe weather, don’t mind the noise because your garage stands apart from your house, or want to save money, the chain drive is a better choice.

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