Garage door openers last a long time. Now that houses are automated inside and cameras watch the outside, it’s time for the garage to join the 21st century, too. Owners want to know from their bedroom, or the vacation cabin, “Did I close the left garage door when we left?” and be able to remotely lower the door if they forgot. Modern belt-drives made of long-lasting metal-infused rubber or polyurethane have made the doors themselves whisper-quiet; pushing out chain-drive systems. Door activation technology has become similarly contemporary. Some units allow in-garage delivery such as Amazon Key while others are getting embedded video cameras for a visual check on who’s in and who’s out of the garage. Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa can now control many openers. Here we offer up five great devices: four openers from less than $150 to more than $500, plus a $30 module that automates virtually any garage door opener of the past three decades. It’s a steal.
Best-at-Everything (Except Cost) Opener: LiftMaster 8500W
Why We Picked It:
The LiftMaster 8500W checks virtually every features box: quiet operation, battery backup, deadbolt locking every time the door closes, soft open and close (slower speed the first and last foot), smartphone and smart device control, power to raise tall or heavy wood doors, secure access for the Amazon delivery guy, an LED ceiling light and a quieter DC motor. It bolts on the garage wall and connects to a torsion spring (see FAQ), leaving the space the door rails free for overhead storage or to raise your car on a shop lift. Parent company Chamberlain Group focuses the LiftMaster brand more on the installer network; the consumer-focused Chamberlain RJO70 is similar to the 8500W. If you’ve got the means, this wall-mount (or jackshaft; same meaning) opener has no peer. The LiftMaster 8500 is about $150 cheaper than the 8500W but removes features such as battery backup and Wi-Fi.
- Durable, quiet (uses 24-volt DC motor).
- Every imaginable feature except integrated camera and direct Alexa integration
- Rugged, sleek-looking module (if that matters in a garage)
- Installation not a DIY job for most people; working with the torsion spring can be dangerous
- myQ phone app screen only shows one garage door at a time
- Cha-ching: Opener, torsion spring and installation can cost $1,000 per door
Best Affordable, Quiet Opener: Genie Stealth 500 Essentials
Why We Picked It:
Quiet in a sub-$200 garage door opener means belt-drive, while most jackshaft openers are $350-plus. The Stealth 500 Essentials delivers a few-frills belt-drive unit. There’s no support for Wi-Fi, only HomeLink and Car2U in-car wireless (the built-in garage door openers). Genie does supply a pair of RF-enabled LED light bulbs so they can be independently controlled. There’s a basic push-button, in-garage control and a single-button wireless remote. Some users say they wish they’d stepped up to the Genie StealthDrive Connect with Wi-Fi, battery backup and Amazon Alexa / Google Assistant for about $50 more.
- Belt-drive not chain-drive technology
- RF screw-in LED bulbs allow wireless control (of the lights)
- Genie says the Stealth 500 works on 500-pound doors
- No Wi-Fi
- No battery backup
- Some buyers report difficulty programming HomeLink in their cars
Lowest Cost Opener: Skylink Atoms ATR-1611C
Why We Picked It:
The entry-level Skylink opener uses a chain drive but provides a lot of features for its $130 price. It has a 1/2 horsepower equivalent motor, an LED light, soft start and stop (just like the premium LiftMaster / Chamberlain wall-mount openers), and a rail (for the drive chain) of 7 feet. For 8- and 10-foot doors, a separate kit is required. The wall control is a single button, like a doorbell. A backup battery is an option. Some users say, if they did it again, they’d buy a slightly costlier Skylink model. But when prices reach $150-$175 for the next model, there’s more competition.
- DC motor
- Small motor unit
- Many users cite the value
- Some users say the motor “struggles” with even a 7-foot-tall aluminum door.
- Cost-cutting shows through on some installation parts, shuttle (traveler) and emergency release
- No Wi-Fi, no keypad transmitter, no auto-close timer, can’t use LED lights for general illumination
Best Opener with Integrated Camera: Chamberlain B4545T
Why We Picked It:
With more people in the garage—kids, delivery people—you may want to see who they are, and even have a conversation. The camera, microphone and speaker embedded in the Chamberlain B4545T let the masters of the house, or kids if you allow, to chat up garage visitors using a smartphone. As expected of a product approaching premium pricing, it uses a belt drive for quiet operation.
- Video also allows two-way conversations
- Two in-car remotes, wireless exterior keypad
- Motion detecting wall control panel, turns lights on
- No battery backup (Chamberlain B6765T with camera does, about $65 more)
- It costs extra to record and save video
Best Upgrade Tool for Existing Openers: Chamberlain myQ Smart Garage Hub
Why We Picked It:
The myQ Chamberlain Smart Garage Door Opener is a wireless garage hub and sensor, with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth communication. As long as your garage door opener has safety sensors, and virtually all do, it’s probably compatible. An enhanced version, myQ Smart Hub + Ring Camera, adds video for another $60. With the myQ smart opener, you can tell if the door is open (then shut it), automatically close the doors each night (if they’re open) and get Amazon Key in-garage package deliveries. Chamberlain also is shipping a newer version in white, the myQ-G0401-ES, same price, adding Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), and less sensitive to ceiling vs. wall placement, the company says.
- Thirty bucks upgrades most garage door openers made since 1993 (when safety sensors were made mandatory)
- Fairly easy setup via Bluetooth
- Peace of mind knowing the garage door won’t be left open all night
- Instructions says module must be mounted high on the garage ceiling, making installation tougher (high on a wall works, too)
- People curious to see if the Amazon delivery person snoops in your garage will be disappointed (they’re too busy to be nosy)
- Ring video storage plan lets users “share videos and photos,” in case what happens in the garage needs a wider, even social media audience
Forbes Wheels examined the specifications of garage door openers—operators in industry parlance, referring to the main module—for attributes important to users: quiet operation, lifting capacity, power to operate heavy or double doors, and their ability to be part of the home automation ecosystem and be controlled by smartphones, tablets, Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant. We also considered owner comments on how their garage door openers worked, and what features they liked or wished the openers had. The LiftMaster 8500W was extensively tested and served as a benchmark for comparison. It has virtually every feature a user would want, albeit at a stiff price.
FAQ (Frequently asked questions):
How many types of garage door openers are there?
Most openers hang from the garage ceiling. A rail runs from the opener (operator in industry parlance) and a chain, belt or long steel screw moves the trolley (or traveler) and the arm that attaches to the door.
- Chain drive is the most affordable and least quiet. It’s a bad choice if bedrooms or a work-from-home office are over the garage. The chain needs to be lubricated twice a year.
- Screw drive uses a threaded rod to move the traveler, arm and door. The unit is compact and delivers a lot of power to open doors quickly. It’s quieter than a chain-drive opener. The screw needs regular lubrication. Market share is modest.
- Belt drive is quiet. The belt doesn’t need maintenance. Replacing a broken belt is easier than a broken chain. Chain- and belt-drive openers are the vast majority of the market with belt-drive gaining share as the price delta closes.
- Wall mount (also called jackshaft) installs to the left or right of the garage door. It’s very quiet. It needs about 12 inches between the garage-door edge and the side wall.
Which is better, chain or belt driven garage door openers?
They both perform the same function, but if you want things quiet get a belt-drive or wall-mount opener. Chain drives are stronger than belts, so they might last longer, but they make a lot more noise. Screw-drive openers are okay, but not as quiet as belt-driven units. Similarly, a DC motor (costlier but becoming common) is quieter than an AC motor. A door using nylon rollers with ball-bearing axles is quieter than steel rollers without ball bearings.
Can I install my own garage door opener?
Yes but: Parts of the install are two-person. Installing the first of two openers may take all Saturday, the second you can knock off Sunday morning. Be sure to use big lag screws (typically supplied) and anchor them in wood studs, not wallboard.
What changed in the last decade with garage door openers?
Many openers can be controlled by smartphones, Alexa, or Google Assistant. They’re part of whole house automation. Linked garage cameras and now the first embedded cameras let you see who just came in the garage. An opener connected to your home Wi-Fi can send back notifications and images of who just opened the door. Merchants such as Amazon can deliver inside your garage. Battery backup is becoming more common; California required all openers sold after July 2019 to have backup. Higher-performing DC motors are replacing AC motors. Lights are LED and last the lifetime of the opener, 15-20 years.
How much power do I need for the motor?
For a single 8- to 10-foot-wide door not made of solid wood, virtually any opener works. The cheapest are around $125-$150, typically one-half horsepower motor with a chain drive. The most powerful are 1.25-1.5 horsepower, $200-plus. They lift heavier double doors and do it faster. Prepare to be confused by “lifting-equivalent” horsepower ratings.
What’s a torsion spring opener?
Springs counterbalance the weight of the garage door. Most garage doors have a pair of extension springs running in the same direction as the door rails. A torsion spring (photo above) comprises a space-saving metal tube and spring that runs above the garage door. It stores energy when the door is pulled down and releases the energy to pull the door up. If the spring breaks, the garage door may fall suddenly. Homeowners don’t have the tools or skills to safely repair or tighten a spring.
Even with a new opener, the door still rattles going up and down. What’s wrong?
Lubricate the roller wheels. Better: Replace old steel roller wheels with plastic/nylon wheels (good) and with ball-bearing shafts (better). Replace the pulleys. Make sure the door tracks aren’t warped. Verify the opener was installed at a 90-degree angle to the door, not a couple inches off-center. Still noisy? Get a local garage door installer to make a service call.
How do I know the garage door is safe after I did the installation?
Make sure you also did this: Install the new safety sensors that came with the door; never re-use the old ones. If the springs are I-don’t-know-how-old, replace them; there should be a color code corresponding to door weight so you know which spring to buy. At the least, run a spring cable (safety wire, $15-$20 for the garage-door pair) through the middle of each existing spring (two per door) and secure the cable at both ends. If or when the spring breaks, it won’t fly off and break a windshield or injure/kill someone. For comfort not safety, install new weather-stripping on the sides and bottom.
What insures the door closes properly, every time, when I’m not around, and the neighbors are going in to drop off mail and packages?
Declutter near the doors: Keep rakes and shovels away so they don’t fall in the path. Keep small objects on the floor away from the ankle-level sensors that might be accidentally nudged into their paths. Before going on vacation, hand-tighten the screw that locks the aim of the obstacle sensor, then wipe off any sensor cobwebs that might catch a sensor-blocking leaf or scrap of paper. Also: Some openers can be set to close every night if the door is open at, say, 9 p.m.