This article appeared in the Spring 2021 issue of This Old House Magazine. Click here to learn how to subscribe.
They’re battered by the elements, assaulted by basketballs, and commanded to perform their disappearing and reappearing act countless times each week. When, after decades of service, a garage door stops working well—or looking good—you can take comfort in the fact that a new one is among the best investments you can make, allowing you to recoup nearly 95 percent of the cost when you sell.
“Garage doors have come a long way over the last fifteen years. Springs are safer, R-values are as high as 18, and they’re quieter and need less maintenance. Manufacturers now realize that looks matter, adding design options that make them a focal point.” —D.J. Seeber, Business Development Manager, Cambek Designer Door, and a 43-year industry veteran
Why Upgrade My Garage Door?
A new garage door is also a comparatively inexpensive upgrade given how drastically it can bump up your curb appeal.
The best of today’s doors are made from multiple layers of galvanized steel, vinyl, or composite wrapped around foam insulation, which require almost no maintenance; for purists who want wood, it’s most often delivered as a skin on top of solid rail-and-stile construction. There are door designs to suit just about any architectural style, and the insulation stuffed inside can give you the R-value of an insulated 2×6 stud wall—a boon for garages under a living space.
Buying a new garage door means living with your decision for several decades, so it pays to read up on state-of-the-art builds and new design styles.
Time for an Upgrade?
Here is how to tell if your old garage door is ready for the dustbin.
While many problems that can crop up over a garage door’s lifetime— from busted springs to dented horizontal panels to noisy rollers—can be repaired, there is a point at which you’re better o spending your money on a new one. If xing the door would cost more than half of a replacement, it’s not worth the cost of repairs. The good news? With better, more durable materials, a new garage door could last up to 50 years.
PRO TIP: “If a garage door shows signs of rot or deterioration if it has started absorbing moisture, or the steel frame or track is bent or rusted and the door isn’t sealing out the weather anymore, it’s time for a new one.” —Tom Silva, General Contractor
Anatomy of a Garage Door
Most garages today have sectional overhead doors made up of four or more horizontal slabs. Wall-mounted openers are quieter than the traditional ceiling versions and save overhead storage space.
While garage doors are increasingly low-maintenance, their success in replicating the traditional look of wood, and their energy efficiency, depend on what they’re made of and how they’re built
GOOD: Single Layer
Made from a layer of stamped 24- or 25-gauge galvanized steel (1), these doors are usually uninsulated (some can have a layer of foam added on the inside for a slight up-charge and better R-value). The steel is protected from rust by a galvanized layer and often comes from the factory with a tough, baked-on primer and top coat.
While it has an embossed wood-grain look, steel can dent if hit with a baseball. Basic, uninsulated wood doors with solid stiles and rails fitted with wood or engineered panels are also available, but require regular upkeep to look their best. Steel doors are stocked for openings up to 16 feet wide, in a handful of panel designs and colors; these can be dressed up with windows.
While an uninsulated door isn’t the best choice for a garage with living space above, it is the most budget-friendly. Prices start at $250 for steel and $700 for wood.
BETTER: Three Layers
From the street, these stamped-steel or -vinyl doors look identical to the single-layer versions, but they are always insulated and are finished with a steel or vinyl interior face (1). Polystyrene- or polyurethane-foam insulation fills the 1 3⁄8- or 2-inch core (2), along with wood or metal for structure; another steel (or vinyl) layer faces the street (3).
These doors provide an R-value of 6.5 to 19, quieter operation, and more rigidity. Vinyl is often a better option in southern exposures or harsh environments near saltwater. Also considered stock doors, the options are similar to those for single-layer doors, though the glass can be insulated.
Another insulated-metal option is a contemporary aluminum-and-glass door, with a hollow frame that can be filled with insulating foam and that holds large glass panels. Prices start at $440 for steel, $700 for vinyl, and $4,000 for aluminum and glass.
BEST: Four to Five Layers
These semi-custom doors re-create the shadow lines of traditional wood by layering a low-maintenance composite skin (1), often with moldings (2), over the guts of a three-layer door’s exterior steel face (3), insulating foam core (4), and interior steel face (5). These beefy doors pack an R-value of over 20.
The colored and textured composite provides a realistic wood look; this engineered skin is available in a range of plank widths or cut with beadboard or V-groove details, just like a wood door.
Once finished with strap hinges and door pulls, each one can look like a pair of swing-out carriage doors. Wood doors are also available, often with a solid-wood frame, filled with insulation, then wrapped in plywood and trim. With a wider range of color, window, and hardware options, all these doors take longer to deliver (about six weeks). Prices start at about $6,000 for composite and $4,500 for wood.
Factor in Your Environment
If a garage door fails in a storm, wind gusts can blow the roof off. In hurricane-prone areas, look for a door rated to handle high winds as specified by local codes, which adds about $150 to the price.
Installing a New Garage Door
Here’s how to find the right garage door to suit your style and budget, bring it home, and have it installed.
Seek Some Inspiration
Start online to find stock and semi-custom looks you like and the companies that make them. Many brands offer virtual try-on options on their websites, where you can drop different doors and colors onto an image of your house.
This will let you narrow down styles and colors, and will also help you locate local distributors. Order custom doors directly from the manufacturer or a distributor its representative recommends.
Go Sample Shopping
Home centers and lumberyards may have scaled-down sample doors that show materials, insulation, grain patterns, and colors. A garage door retailer’s showroom will offer a much wider range of full-size examples. A visit is worth the legwork and mileage—it gives you an opportunity to touch a door and get an idea of pricing.
If you’re in a hurry, stock-size doors can arrive anywhere from the next day to two weeks after ordering. Semi-custom steel doors with a composite face take longer, about three to six weeks. For a custom wood door, expect to wait up to two months.
Hire an installer
If you buy your garage door from the lumberyard or a big-box store, it can arrange for installation, usually by subbing out the job to a local garage door company. Going this route takes the pressure off you to find a pro, and you can rest easy knowing where to turn if there’s a problem. But you might be better off going another way.
Get recommendations and choose a few garage door companies, then let the pros assess your garage, making suggestions about the best options for your home and budget. While this might cost more, you’re likely to get a door that fits your home—in both style and dimensions—just right.
This is especially important for houses built before World War II, which often have narrower or taller garage doors than the standard sizes available today. While the track, rollers, springs, and hinges are often included in the door price, installation and carting off the old door are not.
The labor to install a new door typically costs between $300 and $500, and includes discarding the old door and hooking up an opener. Add $50 to $100 for a wider two-car door.
Measure Your Garage Door Before You Shop
Before you hit any stores or showrooms, know what size you need so you can get an idea of pricing. The dimensions are also a quick way to tell if the door you need is stock or semi-custom—particularly helpful in older homes with nonstandard garages. Measure the door itself from the inside when it’s down.
Stock doors are 7 or 8 feet tall and in widths of 8 to 16 feet. Semi-custom doors are generally available in increments of 1 or 2 inches in width and 3 inches in height, achieved by combining horizontal sections that are 18, 21, or 24 inches tall.
Custom doors are just that: one-of-a-kind doors in any size and style. If your opening is wider than 16 feet or requires a custom door, a pro will measure as part of the price.
Garage Door Upgrades Worth Considering
These components, which may be offered when you shop for a new door, will improve its looks, operation, and durability.
High-Cycle Torsion Spring
A torsion spring, centered above the door, helps it go up and down and comes with just about every model. Standard ones are rated for 10,000 cycles, but upgraded ones will cover you for about 25,000 cycles. Cost: $50 to $75 per door.
Ding a standard, roughly 17- or 18-gauge track with your lawnmower, or graze it with an SUV, and you’ll likely need a repair. Sturdier 14- or 15-gauge track stands up to abuse better. Cost: $150 per door.
Both nylon rollers, fitted with 10 smooth-gliding ball bearings, and polyurethane versions, with 13 bearings, absorb vibration better than metal versions, which means they’re quieter. Cost: $50 to $60 per door.
Insets of tempered glass, usually with overlay-style grilles, can help make a new garage door look less imposing and more in tune with your house’s architectural style. Glass comes in several finishes, including frosted, etched, and textured, to increase privacy.
The number of panes can reach up to eight in some doors. Cost: $100 per window for single-pane tempered glass; up to $1,000 per window for impact-rated, insulated glass.
Garage Opener Options
If your old door needs replacing, chances are its opener does, too. Here’s what to consider:
- Where it mounts: Traditionally, openers are ceiling mounted, where they hang off a rail and move the door with a belt, chain, or screw. These models range in price from $130 to $360. There are downsides, however: They rob a lot of space up near the ceiling, so you can’t add hanging storage or suspend bikes, and they can be loud, with a lot of vibration. A newer option is a wall-mounted opener. These are direct drive, so they turn the door’s torsion spring directly, with no belts or chains. They’re quieter and preserve space overhead, but they’ll cost you—they start at around $500 per door.
- How it drives: Ceiling-mounted openers use one of three mechanisms to move the door. Steel chains last the longest and are the most affordable to replace (about $150), but they make a lot of noise. Belts are quieter, cost only about $20 more to replace, and use rubber-coated steel for durability. The screw-drive opener is the loudest and has the most moving parts—the mechanism that opens the door rides along a rotating, threaded rod—which means more maintenance. Quiet, wall-mounted, direct-drive models require the least maintenance, but can cost four times more than a traditional chain drive. This wall-mounted style has been around for about a decade, with few instances where the moving parts required replacement.
- Number of ponies: Most openers use your home’s alternating current (AC), but a new breed transforms the power to direct current (DC). DC openers, which cost about $150 more, have a soft start and stop, so they’re quieter, and also include battery backups to ensure the door will work during a power outage. To order, you’ll need to know the weight of your door. For one up to 400 pounds, ½ horsepower is a good choice, or a DC unit with 24 volts. Pair doors over 400 pounds with at least a ¾-horsepower opener, or a DC version that’s 140 volts.
- Is a smart one for you? Many openers connect to your home’s Wi-Fi network. While these come with traditional remote controls and keypads, you can also operate them from a smartphone app. Some work using voice commands through Alexa or the Google Assistant, and use geofencing to sense when your phone is nearby—so the door opens automatically as you pull into the driveway. Some manufacturers offer accessories like security cameras, to see who comes and goes, or Bluetooth speakers.
Is the Wi-Fi Strong Enough in your Garage?
A smart garage door opener isn’t worth much if your Wi-Fi network won’t reach it. If a smartphone gets two bars of your network while standing in the garage, a smart door opener will work. If your network is spotty, plug a Wi-Fi extender (about $60) into the wall near the garage to strengthen its reach.
An Arched Opening: Two Ways to Do it
A rectangular door in a rectangular opening can suggest an arch with a curved row of windows along the top. But to create an architectural detail with depth and shadow lines, you have to reframe the hole.
Ideal for homes with arched windows or doors, adding this graceful curve requires an experienced pro. After stripping off sections of the trim and siding, he’ll frame the arch below the header using three pieces of 2× lumber, ganged together or fastened individually, to match the depth of the jamb.
Plywood sheathing with a matching curve gets installed on the front of the 2× blocking assembly, which is then finished with new flashing, siding, and door trim. Expect to pay $2,000 to $5,000.
Similar to shown: Custom wood door in Alder, from $8,500; Real/Craft
These angled sides are often used to lend a home a farmhouse look. While simpler than adding a curve, the process is similar: After removing the corner trim and surrounding area of siding, a pro will fasten three lengths of 2× stock, one in front of the other, to frame the angled corner detail.
Plywood sheathing cut to match goes on next, covering the 2× blocking. Then flashing and siding are patched in and finished with trim that follows the new corner detail. Expect to pay $2,000 to $3,000.
Hide or Highlight?
The color you choose for your garage door will determine how prominently it impacts the look of your house. Investing in a semi-custom carriage-style door at the end of a driveway leading to a detached garage? You might want a color that draws attention. But a pair of street-facing stock doors on a facade might call for a shade that helps them disappear.
To downplay garage doors, paint them the body color of your house, suggests Denver-based architect Doug Walter; “that way they’ll blend in with the walls.”
To feature garage doors, paint them the house’s trim color—or make them really pop with a highlight color, like the one on windows, shutters, or the entry door. The look of stained wood usually stands out, too, especially against masonry walls.
Need to Buy Some Time? Fix These Flaws
There are a few ways a handy DIYer can repair an existing garage door. But be sure to leave structural repairs, like replacing a door section, and changing parts under tension, like the springs and cables, to the pros.
- Worn weather seals: See daylight along the sides or under the door? Block air leaks by replacing the gaskets around the door with a dual-durometer weather seal, sold at garage-door parts suppliers. While you’re there, pick up a replacement seal for the bottom of the door, a tubular vinyl strip you glue down on the threshold.
- Faded paint: Updating the color is a budget-friendly way to get a few more years out of a door. Regardless of what the material is, start by lightly scuffing the face with 150-grit sandpaper. Remove any dust, then coat the door with a suitable primer: Use a rust-inhibiting product for metal, and a water-based acrylic bonding primer/sealer for vinyl or wood. Fill and smooth any dings or dents using exterior wood filler for wood, vinyl, or composite doors, and Bondo on metal doors. Spot prime, then roll on two coats of latex exterior paint.
- Wonky operation: If you find you’re pressing the opener’s remote control or keypad repeatedly because the door won’t budge, the problem might be the LED bulbs you screwed in there. Regular bulbs can interfere with the opener’s radio frequency signals to the remote. Trade them out for LEDs designed for garage door openers.
- Squeaky hinges and rollers: Regular lubrication is essential, but be sure to use one of the products designed for garage doors. These leave behind a dry lubricating film that won’t attract dust and grime the way petroleum products can. Hit rollers, springs, and hinges every few months, and coat the tracks annually.