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Choosing Garage Doors

Buying garage doors isn't something you do too often so it pays to do some up-front homework before you make a decision. The evolution of these doors from basic slab styles and wood or hardboard construction have exploded the number of available design options.

The first thing to do before making any decisions is invest in a little education about the important features of these doors. Their size and complexity have functional and safety implications that you'll want to know about. Other issues like insulating value and whether to tackle the installation yourself need consideration too.

These doors also have big impact on curb appeal. In many ways they have a lot to do with your home's "first impression" on the neighborhood.

Becoming knowledgeable about the various types of garage doors and the features that are available will help you make a better buying decision.

What You Should Know First

The first step in making a good choice is educating yourself on the various kinds of doors that are available. There's a large aesthetics piece that goes along with choosing a garage door but there are some important technical details to know as well.

Materials and Construction

Today's doors are made from several different materials. Each has their own unique advantages and disadvantages and corresponding price points.

Steel and other metal garage doors offer the convenience of easy maintenance and durability. Some metal doors include aluminum and some higher-end doors are even made out of copper but most metal doors are made from steel.

Steel doors are made in several ways. The simplest, least expensive includes a single sheet or panel of steel that forms the door. These doors also tend to be flimsier than their more solid counterparts. The other types of steel doors are made with a front and back panel for greater rigidity. An option with these doors is the availability of insulation that can be installed between the two door skins.

The steel used to make garage doors comes in several thicknesses referred to as "gauge thickness" and ranges from 20 to 28 gauge. The smaller the number, the thicker the steel which means a 24 gauge door has thicker skins than a door with 28 gauge steel.

Most steel doors can be painted with latex paint to match your house and trim color. They usually just need need proper prep work ahead of time to provide a good base for the paint.

Wood doors can be solid wood or can be made from a combination of wood and other materials like steel where the wood provides the facing on a steel-backed door. There is no mistaking the beauty of wood, particularly stained varieties but they require the most maintenance and are typically more expensive than other materials.

wood garage door

Plastic, vinyl, wood composite, fiberglass and hardboard are other materials that are used. Plastic varieties offer easy maintainability and cleaning but typically can't be painted. Fiberglass is used as a faux-wood treatment that is used in conjunction with an underlying steel door.

garage door

When you shop for garage doors you might see reference to the quantity of "layers" with regard to a door's construction. For example, a 4-layer door might consist of a composite overlay on top of a steel front panel. The back is made up of another steel panel and in between is an insulated core.

Similarly, a door with a steel front, polystyrene insulation and no back panel would have 2-layer construction.


Doors are available in virtually any size if you include custom-made doors which are available from a number of manufacturers. Most of us however have garages made to standard widths and heights. If you're building a new home, consider making the garage opening to a standard dimension to preclude having to go the route of a custom door which is usually more expensive.

garage door

Standard garage door widths are 8', 9', 10', 12', 16' and 18'. However what you'll find if you research several manufacturers is that some include 15' and 20' widths among their "standard" sizes. In other words, to some degree sizing is product-specific and manufacturer-specific.

If you have a door opening that's not on a particular manufacturer's "standard size" list, try an alternate manufacturer first to see if they have a door that has similar features to what you're looking for. If you can't find any, you may have to pursue a custom door size.

One alternative to a custom door size is changing the width of your door opening. For example, if you have a 15' opening but can't find any 15' doors that suit you, the possibility exists to widen the opening. However this is a more drastic and costly option, requiring structural upgrades (a new door header for one). The upside to this is that you get more room to move the cars in and out (who among us hasn't clipped the side-view mirror at one time or another?).

wood garage door


Insulated garage doors offer the benefit of better maintaining the temperatures inside both the garage and adjoining living spaces. Insulation efficiency is measured by R-value, a term which describes resistance to heat loss. Doors with high R-values are in the R-15 to R-18 range. The higher the R-value, the better the insulating value.

Polyurethane and polystyrene are the two primary types of insulation materials used in garage doors. Polyurethane provides greater insulating value than polystyrene for a given thickness of door. Polyurethane is also injected into the door cavity in a liquid form allowing it to fill the gaps. This is better than polystyrene which comes in rigid sheets and is sandwiched between the front and back panels or adhered to the front panel on doors without a back skin.

Insulated doors are generally more expensive than their non-insulated cousins.


Garage doors are large and most are mechanically actuated which means that they can be dangerous devices if not installed or operating properly. U.S. regulations require doors manufactured after 1992 to have specific safety features installed.

Typical required features include an automatic reversing mechanism to reverse the door's closing operation and containment features for both types of door springs (torsion and extension).

Again, all new doors should have these features but you'll want to be sure you cover these important items on any particular brand of door you consider.


Installing a new door by yourself isn't out of the realm of possibility but you'll need to be pretty handy. There are people who are certified to install these doors which should tell you something about the level of knowledge and expertise involved in doing the job right.

One way to achieve a certain level of quality is to have your door installed by an IDEA-accredited dealer. IDEA is the Institute of Door Dealer Education and Accreditation. It was created to establish a level of quality among overhead door dealers regarding safety and reliability. Accreditation is achieved through the completion of courses and a written exam.

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Features To Be Aware Of

If you're up to speed with the important characteristics of garage doors it's time to get familiar with some of the features and innovations that are available.

  • Battery Backup Openers
    Openers with battery backup offer a great convenience if your home suffers a power outage. Backup battery power means you'll be able to open and close your garage door as you normally do without having to get out and heave the door up and down.
  • Pinchless Panel Designs
    Overhead doors are made up of several panels that fold and unfold as the door is raised and lowered. Many manufacturers make products with provisions that prevent fingers from getting pinched in the seam between two panels when the door is lowered.
  • High R-Value Door Insulation
    A number of manufacturers like Garaga and Overhead Door make doors with insulation values up to 18 (jump back here for an R-value explanation). If you have a room above the garage or if you plan to heat the garage because you use it as a workshop you'll want to keep the heat in and the cold out. Doors with higher insulating values will do that.
  • Windows In Many Styles
    Windows in the door provide good daylighting and add another visual element to the exterior of your home. Windows come in a variety of shapes and styles and even include faux wrought iron looks, stained glass and decorative glass options.
  • Garage Doors That Look Like French Doors
    A company called FrenchPorte makes a product that looks like French Doors. They have the multiple panes and muntins that are characteristic of these types of doors. The doors are translucent but not transparent, offering privacy along with a unique style choice. Polycarbonate is used instead of glass for durability.
  • Wicket Doors
    Custom door builders like Designer Doors can make a step-through access door (called a wicket door) making for a useful and interesting style concept.

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Points To Consider Before You Decide

Before making any final decisions on which type of garage door to buy take a look at the following considerations. Thinking through these points of view might cement which direction to take in making your final choice.

  • Windows - Location & Privacy

    garage door

    Where the windows are located and the type of glass used determines the amount of visual privacy you'll get with your new door. Windows mounted in the top panel near the top of the door opening are more private because they're above eye level for most people. Frosted glass options allow light into the garage while keeping its contents private.
  • The Convenient Backstop
    If you have kids, that big garage door makes an awfully enticing backstop for tennis balls, soccer balls and whatever else they can think of throwing at it. Despite any parental warnings, it's probably bound to happen anyway. If this describes your scenario, consider going with a door that can stand up to the abuse. Thicker-gauge steel doors with insulation might be a better option than a cheaper single-skin version or a custom high-end wood door with windows.

Publisher's Comments

This was always a running battle between myself and my three sons. Regardless of my approach or rationale, the appeal of "wall ball" was like a siren song luring them to toss or kick the ball into the door. Needless to say, the door took a beating.

Did we get a new door? Not yet. But after our home remodel, the old door stuck out like a sore thumb and I know we'll have to pony up sooner or later. My advice? Wait until the kids get beyond the point of using the door as a backstop or get a pretty sturdy and easy-to-maintain door.

  • Replace The Old Tracks And Haul The Old Door Away
    When buying a new replacement door you'll want to consider whether to replace your existing tracks. Most sources on this subject will advise you to do so since in many cases, their condition is probably poor (due to their age) and many garage doors are designed to be compatible with their own track system.

    Also, if you're having the door installed by a dealer, find out if they can haul the old door away for you. It may be included in your quoted price or it may be an additional charge. Either way it's more convenient than having to dispose of it yourself.

  • Curb Appeal Is Important
    Garage doors make up a large percentage of the visible space of your home. Keep this in mind particularly if you're thinking of selling it in the short term since a pleasing curb appeal has a positive impact on how quickly a house will sell, not to mention the possible positive financial impact as well.

    Even if you don't plan on selling, there are so many design options today that it pays to take a little extra time and possibly a few more dollars to make your home visually appealing and complementary to the rest of the house.

  • Detached Garages & Insulated Doors
    Since detached garages have no adjacent living spaces the value of a more expensive insulated door is questionable. However, if you plan to use that detached garage as a workshop or place where you'll spend time during the winter, you'll have to think this through more carefully. The determining factor is probably whether the garage's walls and ceiling are insulated. If they're not, any heat that you pump into it will escape regardless of the presence of an insulated door.

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How To Choose & Finding A Dealer

Armed with information about what you should pay attention to and what's available you're now better equipped to make an informed decision. Here's a suggestion on how to go about making the choice.

  1. Get out and look at some actual doors at local dealers and see for yourself what steel, wood and composite doors look like. If you have neighbors with doors you like, ask them if you can take a closer look.
  2. Choose the kind of door material you want (steel, wood, combination, etc.).
  3. Choose the style of door you want. It makes sense to be somewhat consistent with your home's style of architecture. However don't be afraid to choose a door with some visual detail particularly if your home doesn't really fit into a particular architectural style.
  4. Search among the various brands to find a match for the type of door you want (material and style).
  5. Determine how large a door you need (measure the height and width).
  6. Find a dealer that can supply and install the product you want.

If you'd like to find a local source for garage door suppliers, check out the form below. HomeStyleChoices.com partners with Reliable Remodeler to help homeowners find local contractors and sources of products.

When you use this form you'll be contacted at your convenience by several garage door professionals that can provide free estimates for your project. Just click the appropriate radio buttons on the form and then input your zip code. There's no obligation and it's a convenient way to make contact with garage door sources that can possibly help you.

Publisher's Comments

Numbers 2 and 3 in the list above can be swapped around since the way a garage door looks is a big driver in making a decision. However, don't forget to factor in the ongoing level of maintenance and upkeep you're willing to sign up for. That's why choosing the material might be the best first choice. For example, I love the look of real wood carriage house-style doors, but I'd much rather have a more low-maintenance door material.

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Here's More Related Info That Might Be Helpful...

Garage Flooring - You don't have to settle for just a concrete garage floor. Discover the ways that you can add some flair and functionality in this article on garage flooring choices.

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