Garage door springs are very important in the overall safety and security of your garage door. This is an educational piece about garage door springs and why they are so important.
You have probably heard how important it is to keep your garage door springs in good working order and how you must NEVER attempt a DIY repair of these springs (seriously, people have been killed that way). But what exactly are these springs? What do they do, and why do they sometimes break?
Not all garage doors have the same kind of opening system, but the standard overhead doors used in most residential garages can have either of two types of springs, torsion springs or extension springs. “Overhead,” in this case, refers to the tracks along the garage ceiling that hold the door when it is open. Both torsion and extension springs work by pulling up on the door, counteracting the force of gravity, so that the door is essentially weightless. Opening the door then doesn’t involve any lifting. You (or your opener) only have to overcome the friction of the door sliding on its tracks.
When the garage door is closed, the springs are fully loaded, so, like a stretched rubber band, they have a lot of power—enough to hold the weight of the door. As you open the door, the springs start to relax and can’t hold as much weight. Fortunately, part of the door is now on the horizontal part of the track, so the springs don’t have to hold as much. The changing strength of the springs always stays proportional to the changing weight of the vertical part of the door so, ideally, the door moves smoothly and weightlessly the whole way.
Industrial doors that open straight up, with no horizontal track, can’t use springs. Instead, they have a drum system holding the door’s weight. Some residential garages have high-lift opening systems that have shorter horizontal tracks, so they use hybrid systems. But most residential garage doors will have either extension springs or torsion springs—never both.
Whether you have torsion or extension springs, you will have to keep them lubricated and inspect them regularly for signs of wear or damage. Both will eventually break, because the opening/closing cycle stresses the metal, and those stresses add up over time. A spring’s working lifetime is measured not in days or years, but in number of opening/closing cycles. The more often you open and close the door, the sooner you’ll need to replace the springs. Ideally, you’ll replace them BEFORE they break.
Extension springs are mounted on either side of the garage door’s track. When you close the door, the springs get longer, like a stretched-out Slinky. Extension springs are not popular, because they give a jerky motion to the door, are hard to lubricate properly, and if a spring breaks, it could fly through the air and hurt someone badly. However, they are relatively inexpensive, and their compact design might make them the only option for smaller garages. Ask your installer how to tell when your springs need replacement, so you won’t have to worry about breakage.
Torsion springs are mounted horizontally, at right angles to the track, either above the garage door opening or at the back of the horizontal track. Instead of getting longer and shorter, these springs rotate, so their coils get tighter and looser. A small door will have one spring, a larger door will have two. If properly balanced at installation, torsion springs should deliver smooth, easy performance. The door should stay exactly where you put it—open, closed, or partly open. If the door starts to slip downwards, the springs may have to be re-balanced. Torsion springs last much longer and don’t jump out of place when they break. Torsion springs are also simpler to maintain and cause less stress to your opener. The only drawbacks are the higher purchase price and the fact that they don’t fit in the smallest garages.
Whichever kind of springs you have, it’s important to remember that their job is to make the garage easy to open. If your springs aren’t doing their job, they may need to be serviced or replaced. Garage door springs in good working order are an important part of a safe and secure garage.