Types of Garage Door Openers [How They Work Explained]

If you’ve walked into your local Home Depot or Lowe’s, you’ve probably seen a handful of garage door openers for sale. But did you know there are many different types of garage door openers to choose from, and what they have on the shelf might not be the best type for your home? 

The first time I replaced one, I totally did it the wrong way. Instead of focusing on the specific type, I focused on the brand of garage door opener. 

In this article, we’ll dig into the different types of garage door openers, how they work, their features, pros, and cons to see which is right for you.


Chain Drive Garage Door Openers

If your parents had a garage door opener when you were a kid, chances are it was a chain drive garage door opener. It’s a simple design that hasn’t changed much over the years.

As the garage door opener’s motor turns, it moves the chain running along the track length, pulling open the door. The concept is similar to how a bicycle works. 

Because they’re so simple, chain drive garage door openers are usually the least expensive, ranging in price from $100 to around $250. 

Garage door opener chain

In addition to being affordable, chain drive garage door openers are more powerful than their belt-drive counterparts. Commercial garage doors, which are often much larger than residential doors, will often have chain-drive openers to handle the additional weight. 

Although the chain does need regular maintenance, it’s more durable than a rubber belt and rarely fails. That makes chain drive openers perfect for doors that are opened and closed frequently. 

While chain drive garage openers are affordable and reliable, they also have drawbacks. The chain can vibrate as it moves up and down the track, making them much noisier than belt drive openers. This makes them less suitable for attached garages below living areas.

Finally, chain drive garage doors require frequent upkeep. Depending on the garage door opener manufacturer, you may need to: 

  • Lubricate the chain
  • Grease the door rails
  • Adjust the chain limit
  • Tighten any loose hardware

Without proper maintenance, a chain drive garage door may wear out prematurely, resulting in accidents. 


Belt Drive Garage Door Openers

Belt drive garage openers work like their chain drive counterparts, except they use a rubber belt instead of a chain. 

The rubber belt is significantly lighter than a heavy metal chain, with fewer moving parts. This results in several significant advantages.

Belt drive garage door openers weigh considerably less than chain drive units. This, in turn, lets them run with smaller, more efficient motors. You’ll usually need a smaller horsepower motor in a belt-drive garage door opener vs. a chain drive opener

Garage door opener belt

Fewer moving parts make belt drive garage door openers ideal for dusty workshops. Metal chains, especially if properly lubricated, are magnets for leaves, dirt, and sawdust particles that eventually foul the chain. Rubber belts don’t have that liability. 

That said, rubber belts will eventually wear out and must be replaced. Still, getting at least ten years out of a garage door opener belt is common.

However, the main reason why homeowners prefer belt drive garage openers is that they are much quieter than chain drive models. This makes them ideal for attached garages near bedrooms and other living spaces. 

Unsurprisingly, these advantages make belt drive door openers more expensive than similar chain drive openers. The average cost of a belt drive garage door opener starts at $200 and can easily be as much as $400, depending on its features. 


Screw Drive Garage Door Openers

Screw-drive garage door openers were incredibly popular, but you won’t see them very often these days. In fact, only the Overhead Door Company (who owns Genie) still makes them for residential use. 

So what makes screw drive garage door openers unique, and why did they fade away?

Screw drive garage door openers feature a threaded metal rod (like a screw) fixed into a track running from the opener to the door. As the screw turns, it moves the door trolley to raise or lower the door. 

Garage door opener screw

Because of how they’re designed, they have several HUGE advantages. 

First, a screw drive opener can lift a much heavier garage door than a belt or chain drive garage door opener with similar horsepower. This makes them ideal for homeowners with heavy wooden garage doors or one-piece (non-sectional) garage doors of any material. 

Not only can they lift a heavier garage door, but they’ll also do it faster than a chain or belt-drive garage door opener. 

Finally, screw drive garage door openers are incredibly reliable, needing less maintenance than both belt-drive and chain-drive openers. 

Screw drive garage door openers were a great alternative to chain-drive openers because they were much quieter. 

Unfortunately, the long metal screw is harder to manufacture, making them more expensive. Eventually, consumers started purchasing more belt-drive garage door openers, which offered similar noise levels at a significantly reduced price. 

As I mentioned, only one company still makes screw-drive garage door openers. The Overhead Door Company has two models, the Odyssey 1200 and the Destiny 1500. They also market two premium models under the Genie brand: the 4062 and Wi-Fi enabled 4063. 


Direct Drive Openers

The three types of garage door openers we’ve discussed up to this point all work in basically the same way: A stationary motor with a belt, chain, or screw moves the trolley along the center rail to open or close the door. 

A direct drive garage door opener is slightly different. 

The motor is attached to the trolley, and the combination moves along the track. 

Direct drive garage door opener
Image: sommer-usa.com

This results in a more efficient motor that can lift a heavier garage door (up to 1100 lbs). 

Although a few residential models are available from Sommer USA, you’ll commonly find direct drive garage door openers in commercial applications. 

Direct drive garage door openers aren’t easy to find and are more expensive than both belt and chain drive openers. Finally, they’re almost exclusively sold by professional garage door companies, meaning they’re not ideal for the do-it-yourselfer. 


Jackshaft Garage Door Openers

Jackshaft garage door openers take a unique angle to open your garage door.

Instead of an additional rail mounted in the center of your garage, jackshaft garage door openers are mounted on the wall, right next to your door. They’re designed for garages with either limited headroom or sloped\cathedral ceilings that can’t support a traditional garage door opener. 

Jackshaft garage door openers connect directly to the torsion bar, so they won’t work on garage doors with extension springs. They’re also limited to doors no taller than 14′ in height, weighing less than 850 lbs. 

Liftmaster jackshaft garage door opener

If you can, I highly recommend choosing a jackshaft garage door opener. Because of the unique design, they have several benefits over traditional garage door openers: 

  • Much quieter: They have fewer moving parts, which makes them quieter than other garage door opener types. 
  • Low maintenance: Since there’s no chain or trolley, they require less maintenance than traditional garage door openers. 
  • Opens up ceiling space: Because there’s no center track, you can now use that area for overhead storage.
  • Easier to install: Jackshaft garage door openers are easier to install than traditional models.

Unfortunately, jackshaft garage door openers are more expensive than every other type of garage door opener. With only a couple models currently available, they usually start at around $600. 

Check out our list of the best jackshaft garage door openers here.


Hoist Garage Door Openers

Hoist openers work similarly to the jackshaft models but also include a chain hoist that you can use during a power outage. This feature makes them more reliable than models with an electric motor and no battery backup.

Hoist garage openers are designed to be heavy-duty, making them a perfect choice for heavy, oversized garage doors and residential roll-up garage doors

Unfortunately, like jackshaft garage door openers, hoist openers are more costly to purchase and install.