Overhead garage doors are wonderfully convenient things. It's only when they break a spring or slip off the track that we realize how reallyn important they are. And, most of us can remember how often the family car lived in the driveway before self-storing, remote-control garage doors appeared on the scene. As far as lifestyle enhancements go, it's easy to rank your garage door near the top. But nice as they are, they don't last forever. Our old door, for example, had consumed three torsion-bar springs and suffered a broken roller over its seven-year life. Even when the door worked well, it rattled like an alarm clock and frosted over in winter.
Garage doors have powerful springs that are tensioned to reduce the effort required for lifting. Be sure to read your door's installation instructions and follow all safety precautions to the letter.
Our door is equipped with a torsion-bar assembly that's mounted above the door. All torsion-bar springs have enough tension in them to be lethal, so when winding and unwinding the springs, extreme caution and the proper tools are vital. To remove the old springs and tension the new ones you'll need to buy two steel rods—check your installation instructions for the size you need. We used 1/2-inch diameter cold-rolled steel bars. Never use rebar or screwdrivers. Make the rods at least 18 inches long and always stand to one side when you work. Never work directly in front of them and keep all helpers out of the way.
Out with the Old
To relieve the tension on the springs, first disconnect the garage-door opener and lock one side of the door in its track. If your old door doesn't have a latch, clamp locking pliers on at least one track. Then, set up the ladder to one side of the spring fitting, insert a winding rod into the fitting and slowly apply pressure to the spring. With the winding rod taking the torsion load of the spring, loosen the set screw fasteners and allow the spring to slacken a quarter turn. Insert the second winding rod, take up the load with this rod, remove the first rod and back off another quarter turn. Repeat this procedure until the spring tension has been released. Then, move to the second spring and loosen it in the same fashion.
With the pressure off, it's time to disassemble the door and track. Start by removing the top roller bracket on one side. Free the top panel by disconnecting the top half of each of the top panel's hinges. With a helper, slide the top panel out and let the roller fall out on the opposite end. Then, remove the second panel's hinge and roller on one side, disconnect the hinges and slide the panel out. Repeat the process for the remaining panels. With the panels out of the way, remove the vertical and horizontal tracks and torsion bar. Finish by prying the old doorstop from the jamb.
Setting the Panels
First scrape away any caulk left by the old doorstop molding and measure for the new stop. Most molding comes with a vinyl weatherstrip insert. Cut the new stop to length and lift it in place. Nail the new stop molding to the header. Install the two vertical tracks at the same height. Set one track, then measure its position to place the other. Install the horizontal tracks above the vertical tracks. Lag screw each angle bracket to the jamb framing holding the edge of the molding back about 1/8 in. from the edge of the opening. This will allow the molding's weatherstrip to press firmly against the door. Finish by installing the vertical moldings, holding them about 1/4 in. off the ground.
In order for the door to function properly, the panels must be installed level. Center the first panel in the opening and check it with a 4-ft. level. If it slopes, even a little, shim the low side until it's correct. Then, drive a nail into each side of the doorframe and bend the nails over the ends of the panel to hold it upright. Set the second panel on the first and secure it in a similar fashion. When you have the third panel set, recheck for level and adjust the shims if necessary. Finally, set and secure the top panel.
Installing the Hardware
Starting at the bottom, install the hinges and brackets to tie the panels together. The hinges and brackets at the edges of the door also hold the rollers. After installing all brackets and hinges, bolt the strut across the top panel. This stiffener provides wind resistance.
Before installing the vertical tracks, slide a roller into each edge hinge and bracket Then, bolt the track supports to the doorframe. Raise the track 1/2 in. by setting it on a shim and bolt the track in place. Measure from the top of the track to the center of the first roller. Install the vertical track on the opposite side of the door, making sure its top is the same distance from its first roller. The next step is to install the horizontal tracks. Each horizontal track has a 90-degree bend that joins the vertical track. The bend is supported by an angle bracket. Bolt this bracket to the doorjamb and move along the horizontal track to the hanger bracket. Our hanger brackets were already in place, but if you're starting from scratch, install the brackets so that the tracks will be level and parallel. With the hanger in place, bolt the track to it.
Next, assemble the torsion-bar components. Slide the springs onto the rod from each direction, followed by the cable drums. Look for a splash of paint on one of the springs to determine the correct orientation of both springs on the bar.
Lift the bar onto the horizontal track brackets and install the end bearings. Each bearing bracket will bolt directly to the top of a horizontal track's angle bracket. Next, level the center of the bar and install the center bracket. In addition to supporting the rod, this bracket locks the stationary ends of the springs together. Finish by running the cables from the bottom panel brackets to the cable drums on the torsion bar. With the components assembled, it's time to wind the springs. This is a critical step, because only the right amount of tension will do. Miss the mark and your door will either not stay open or not stay shut. Start by clamping locking pliers on the track to keep the door from moving as you work. Then, paint a stripe across each spring, to let you know how many full turns you've made. Doors this size can require seven to eight full turns—check your instructions. In any case, insert the winding rods and tighten each spring carefully. Finish the job by reconnecting the garage-door opener.
Copyright © Popular Mechanics 2001. Reprinted by permission.