Choosing a Garage Door Opener
With a cheap garage door opener, consumers can stave off arm strain and avoid leaving the car on cold winter nights. Today's models open the garage with a simple push of a button on an included remote, an in-vehicle remote control system or, increasingly, via Wi-Fi using a smartphone or home automation system. Cheapism dug through scores of consumer reviews to find the best garage door openers for $200 or less. Our picks allow money-saving do-it-yourself installation, include plenty of features, require minimal maintenance, and should provide years of reliable service.
Garage Door Opener Brands.A limited number of manufacturers rule the garage door opener universe. The LiftMaster and Overhead Door brands sell primarily through authorized dealers, often at prices competitive with chain retailers, but they generally require professional installation. Fees for this service can add another $200 or so to the final price. Dominant players in the lower-cost do-it-yourself segment are Chamberlain and Genie. Their garage door openers are sold as kits that contain the necessary hardware and controls and are available at national and regional home improvement chains and sometimes through Amazon. Those averse to taking the DIY plunge also can call on installation help from these retailers; fees start at $127 at Home Depot, for example, and around $211 through Amazon.
Most residential garage doors are 7 feet high, and components in the installation package are designed for that specification. Chamberlain and Genie offer extension kits for 8-foot doors that start at about $30. Chamberlain also makes a 10-foot extension kit, with prices starting around $45 (the amount varies by model).
Pricey vs. Cheap Garage Door Openers.There are several types of garage door openers, each distinguished by its drive mechanism. In the DIY segment of the market, belt-drive, chain-drive, and screw-drive openers tend to be the most prevalent and least expensive choices. Prices for these models start around $100, with chain-drive garage door openers on the low end. Belt-drive garage door openers run about $30 to $50 more, and a bit more than screw-drive openers with the equivalent lifting force (i.e., horsepower). Direct-drive garage door openers and wall-mounted jackshaft openers are slightly pricier options that cater to consumers with specific power and/or configuration needs.
Chain-Drive Garage Door Openers.Chain-drive garage door openers can handle slightly heavier and wider doors with greater ease than belt-driven units, don't slip, are impervious to weather conditions, and generally last longer. On the other hand, they need regular lubrication, may be a tad shaky, and make more noise (although reviews say the clatter on current versions is far less objectionable than on older models). One such model that won a spot on our list with its power and popularity is the Genie ChainMax 1000 (starting around $176).
Belt-Drive Garage Door Openers.Although belt-drive openers cost a bit more than their chain-drive counterparts, they've become less expensive in recent years. They're significantly quieter than chain-drive models, run somewhat faster, and need no lubrication. Also, the steel-reinforced belt is easier to replace than a chain if it happens to break. On the downside, belt-drive openers aren't quite as strong or long-lasting and may get a little balky in extreme temperatures or humidity.
Overall, consumers have been won over by belt-drive systems despite their somewhat higher prices. As a result of their growing popularity, and because there are more models to choose from, as well as more user reviews, four of our top five garage door openers are belt-drive models. For best in class, we named the Chamberlain B550 (starting around $198) and the Genie SilentMax Connect (starting around $198), both of which offer "smart" connectivity in addition to remote controls. Following close behind are the Chamberlain B510 (starting around $187) and the Genie QuietLift 550 (starting around $168), a model that earns particularly high praise for easy setup. For an affordable belt-driven opener that can lift the heaviest of doors, the Chamberlain B970 (starting around $238) is a solid mid-range option.
Screw-Drive Garage Door Openers.Screw-drive systems use a threaded steel rod to move the trolley that pulls the garage door up and down. They are somewhat quieter than chain drives, require no maintenance, and cost slightly more. Their strengths are speed and power. Still, screw-drive openers are poorly suited for cold weather or climates with wide temperature fluctuations and have fallen out of favor with consumers and manufacturers. The available options are few and far between, and none appear among our top picks.
Direct-Drive Garage Door Openers.Direct-drive systems are engineered differently. Instead of remaining stationary, the motor on a direct-drive opener runs along a chain in the ceiling rail and pulls or pushes the door up or down with what's known as a J-arm. Direct-drive models are exceptionally quiet and can lift larger and heavier doors than chain-, belt-, and screw-drive openers. They're also more expensive, coming in above the $200 mark. But with only one moving part to worry about, there's less to go wrong, and they come with lifetime warranties. One model with enthusiastic reviews that's priced only slightly beyond our Cheapism range is the Sommer Direct Drive 1042V004 (starting around $228).
Jackshaft Garage Door Openers.Jackshaft openers are the newest drive option. In this system, the opener is mounted on the wall next to the door instead of on a center-mounted rail, as with traditional trolley-style openers. Here the rail is set off to the side of the door and curves up to run parallel to the floor. A jackshaft drive, which works only on sectional doors, is the optimal choice when the ceiling is very low, very high, or sloped; the door itself is very tall; or owners prefer to use ceiling space for storage. This type of garage door opener can also offer greater security, as many jackshaft models act as deadbolts once the door is closed. These perks come at a premium, however: Prices run at least 25 percent above the other drive types. And, while some say these systems can be installed by owners without much difficulty, you won't find them at your local home improvement store.
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Features Comparison Buying Guide continues below table
Garage Door Opener Reviews: What We Considered
To settle on our picks, we first consulted garage door opener reviews on sites such as Top Ten Reviews, which has covered and recommended these products for years, as well as information pages on professional installation services' websites. We then scoured hundreds of user reviews posted on HomeDepot.com, Lowes.com, and Amazon to get a sense of how garage door openers measure up in owners' opinions.
All the garage door openers on our list rank high in user satisfaction, earning average ratings that surpass 4 stars in reviews. The occasional gripe revolves around issues like missing or defective parts, trouble linking the opener to a smart device or in-car remote, installation snafus, and idiosyncratic product mishaps. Many reviewers comment on the ease of installation if the directions are followed scrupulously. Videos posted on the manufacturers' sites are extremely helpful, users say, as is an extra pair of hands. The job takes about four hours.
Power.The force needed to raise and lower a garage door is measured in horsepower, a value that affects the weight the opener can lift and the speed at which it does so. Most models intended for home use feature a 1/2 HP or 3/4 HP motor, which is sufficient for most single or double garage doors. Figure a "med" opener with 1/2 HP can lift a door weighing up to 300 pounds; more with some models (read the specs carefully). If the door is relatively heavy (e.g., some wooden doors or insulated doors) or its weight is unknown, err on the side of more power and go with a 3/4 HP or "plus" opener. Extra power is also recommended for doors that are frequently used. For extremely heavy or oversize doors, look for an opener with HP of 1 or higher.
Garage opener motors are engineered with either alternating current or direct current. Many Genie openers feature DC motors, with power measured in newtons rather than horsepower. Product descriptions for these models use HPc to indicate that their power is comparable to, say, 1/2 or 3/4 HP. DC motors are quieter than AC motors, a bit faster, and a bit smoother, and can accommodate a battery backup. Chamberlain openers most often feature AC motors.
Safety.All new garage door openers incorporate standard safety features. Infrared sensors detect obstacles in the path of a closing garage door and stop it from coming down when something is in the way. The door will immediately reverse if something crosses the beam's path or if the door touches an object. Users should test safety features regularly, and make certain that travel limits (how far up or down the door will go) and downward force limits (ideally, the minimum needed for the door to fully close) are accurately calibrated to ensure proper functioning.
Rolling security coding, which sends a different encrypted code to the opener with every command to open or close, likewise is standard. This feature protects against hackers who could otherwise steal the code to gain entry to a home.
Connectivity.The best new models are smart garage door openers, giving users control over the door through a mobile device. Reviewers sometimes grumble about the added costs of Wi-Fi-enabled openers but are lured by the many benefits of smart connectivity anyway. Although most product features in the budget/DIY segment vary only slightly from model to model and company to company, when it comes to connectivity, Chamberlain and Genie drive down different roads.
The Chamberlain system is called MyQ. This software is built into models at the higher end of the company's lineup and available with a bridge (starting around $70) on most others. After downloading the app, users can open and close the garage door with their phones, receive alerts about the door's status, and set the garage to close at a scheduled time. MyQ also can be paired with smart lighting controls and -- for a $10 annual fee that reviewers roundly criticize -- integrate with popular home automation platforms, including Apple HomeKit, Google Assistant, Xfinity Home, Wink, and Nest. It also meshes with HomeLink, an in-car remote, although some vehicles may need a compatibility bridge (starting around $25).
Genie's system is called Aladdin Connect. On some models it's an optional upgrade (starting around $96), but others have smart features built in. The system involves a sensor affixed to the garage door and a control module. Once connected, users can open and close the door and monitor who else is doing the same. They can provide others with temporary or permanent access through the garage, set an automatic closing time, and/or set the door to close automatically after a specified period of time. Currently, Aladdin Connect integrates only with Lowe's home automation platform, Iris, as well as all HomeLink and Lear Car2U in-car remotes. It is compatible only with sectional doors.
Accessories.The variety of accessories included in the initial package depends on the model. All garage door openers come with at least one remote, but most, including our picks, come with two. Increasingly standard are remotes with three buttons, each for a different garage door. The remotes on our favorite models are preprogrammed, and the Chamberlain remotes boast a range of 1,500 feet.
A wall-mount control panel is always included. Many are dual- or multifunction, meaning they control both the door and the lights connected to the system. Some also offer more functionality, such as a vacation lock, which ignores outside signals from a remote, and a maintenance alert system. (The sensors used by Genie provide diagnostic alerts.)
Wireless-entry keypads set on an outside wall are a welcome feature for drivers who don't always carry their remotes or prefer not to give house keys to their children. This accessory comes with most Chamberlain garage door openers but only some Genie models; a separate Genie keypad costs about $37.
Most systems take two light bulbs, and the wattage varies by model. Be cautious about using LED bulbs, as they interfere with the remote. Genie sells LED bulbs specifically designed for compatibility with garage openers. Other LED options are available as well; professionals suggest choosing a brand with the FCC logo, which indicates compliance with regulations concerning "shielding" against radio frequency interference. Standard or CFL bulbs work just fine.