Garage Doors 101

Bob Vila

As cars have grown more important to our lives, they have gained equal prominence in residential floor plans. You'd probably be hard-pressed to find a single-family house built in the last 30 years where the first thing you noticed wasn't the garage door. In the day-to-day life of today's home, the garage is so central that many people use it as the primary entrance!

Over the last ten years, garage door manufacturers and architects have begun to improve on the curb appeal of garage doors. Sometimes it seems that wooden carriage-style doors are now to home exteriors what granite countertops are to kitchens (both carry a similar sticker price). Fortunately, there are also some reasonably priced and decidedly attractive options to consider.

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TYPES OF GARAGE DOORS
A wide variety of residential garage door types are on the market—sliding, folding, up-and-over and roll-up, to name a few. In the US, the most common is a sectional door, which has several horizontal panels hinged together and fitted with rollers. The entire assembly rides in two parallel tracks. A heavy-duty torsion spring, which is in turn wrapped around a torsion bar, serves to counterbalance the weight of the door. Homeowners are able to lift the door either manually or by switching on a motorized garage door opener. The actual lifting may be chain-, belt-, screw- or direct-driven.

Sectional doors are available with or without windows. Options for the former include up to 16 lites in several shapes, including square and arched. And there are many decorative styles too, from contemporary to traditional. Sectional doors are even available in the popular carriage-house style; these look like swing-style doors but work the same as sectional doors.

True carriage or swing-style garage doors operate like a pair of very big French doors. They are typically made of wood and hang from jambs on hinges. Swing-style doors look good, with their strong vertical lines often helping to integrate the garage with the rest of the home. In addition, swinging doors tend to be more energy-efficient, because they seal well at the header and side jambs and only have one joint. They do, however, require more clearance. If you park too close to swinging doors, you won't be able to open them. Also remember that swinging garage doors are more time-consuming to manually open and lock than sectional doors, and they're much more expensive to automate.

GARAGE DOOR MATERIALS
Like entry doors, garage doors can be made of steel, aluminum, wood, wood composites, fiberglass, vinyl or glass. No matter what the actual material is, the wood look is most popular.

Martin flush-line steel garage doors.

Martin flush-line steel garage doors.

Steel Doors. The best steel garage doors are made of two layers of galvanized steel, the surface of which is either primed and painted with a tough topcoat finish or clad with a composite material. Steel doors can be painted to match your home and are available with or without insulation. The downside of steel doors is that they can be dented and are subject to corrosion, especially in coastal areas.

Wood Doors. Wood garage doors are built with layers, or plies, to prevent warping. Woods include cedar, redwood, fir and meranti (luan). Wood doors may be factory-stained or painted, or finished on-site.

Wood Composite Doors. Composite garage doors typically have a wood frame covered with sheets of fiberboard. Better models offer higher-density fiberboard skins and include realistic details, such as overlays and grooves to simulate real wood door. Cores are filled with polystyrene insulation.

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Aluminum Frame Doors. Garage doors fitted with aluminum panels eliminate the problem of rust but are easier to dent. They are available in contemporary brushed finishes, as well as in many colors. (Translucent glass panels may be used in place of aluminum panels; these admit daylight without compromising privacy or security.)

Fiberglass Doors. Garage doors made from fiberglass are less subject to denting or cracking. They do not rust but can break upon impact. Two layers of fiberglass are typically bonded to a steel frame and filled with polyurethane insulation. Steel end caps help improve rigidity.

Vinyl Doors. Vinyl garage doors are promoted as being 'kid-proof', because they are difficult to dent or break. Typically built upon steel frames, these too are filled with polyurethane insulation. Vinyl doors appear similar to fiberglass doors but are available in fewer colors. They are very durable and require little maintenance aside from an occasional hosing.

Related on BobVila.com:

Garage doors: 10 popular styles to welcome you home
The Cape Cod house: a perfect starter home
A guide to porch style
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