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New garage doors boost energy efficiency, safety, curb appeal

| Saturday, Oct. 14, 2006

The falling leaves of autumn mark the time to rethink that garage door.

This is the season when homeowners make efforts to "close up the biggest opening in the home," says Everett Burns, owner of EZ Garage Door in New Kensington.

In Western Pennsylvania, fall is a popular time for garage door replacement, dealers say. Burns and Kimbell Thurston of Thurston's in Scott, for instance, report that business goes up as much as 50 percent in October and November.

"We're in that time of year," says Ken Rost, owner of Citywide Garage Doors in Carrick. "Weather has a distinct effect on business."

Just as replacement doors seem to have a distinctive -- and energy-saving -- effect on homes.

Ellen Franty of Peters, Washington County, says she and her husband, Don, were told of heat loss through faulty garage doors when they were doing some other work on their 35-year-old home.

They suspected as much because their daughter's bedroom -- right above the garage -- was awfully cold. But that has changed with a new door.

"We used to have to put a space heater in her room," Franty says, "but now we don't have to do that anymore."

Joe Bosco, of West Mifflin, says he noticed a difference in his heating bills since installing his new door.

"We waited way too long to do that," he says.

Garage doors are more than just practical openings on storage spaces, says Chris Long, managing director of the International Door Association, an industry group with headquarters in Ohio.

Long estimates the national garage door industry at $13.2 billion a year. That includes the manufacture and installation of residential and commerical doors.

He points out that garage doors often make up 30 percent of the front of the house and mean a great deal in the appearance of a property.

Rost and others see the practicality issue emerging as a cause for door replacement.

Insulation with polyurethane and polystyrene has made doors so efficient that there often is a 15- to 20-degree difference in a garage after new doors are installed, he says.

That can play a big role in heating rooms above the garage, as in the case of the Franty residence.

"People are just seeing wooden doors aren't doing the job anymore," he says.

Keeping the cold out

Garage doors sometimes seem too efficient, dealer Thurston says.

"How much do you really need?" he says, questioning high insulation values,

He and other members of the garage door industry point to polyurethane and polystyrene as the most common insulation materials.

Polystyrene is a flat, sheet-like material, similar to a Styrofoam cup. Polyurethane is pumped into a door as a liquid, then expands and fills the space between the metal sides of the door.

Polystyrene has a lower R-value, the insulation rating system, and also is less expensive. Single doors using that material can cost between $600-$700 and have a rating of about R-9. Single polyurethane doors are rated around R-15 and cost $1,000 or more.

But Thurston says a polyurethane-lined door often can have a better R-value than the rest of the garage. So you might do a great job blocking cold air at the door while it seeps in through concrete block or window areas.

Rost also suggests there are some synthetic problems with polyurethane. It can dry erratically, leaving unprotected spots in the door. That problem is detectable when a homeowner sees granulated polyurethane draining from the door. He also suggests it can provide a too-comfy home for ants.

"If you want to see a bunch of disgusted faces, take a look at guys working on a door like that," he says.

Keith Tolbert, a spokesman for Amarr Garage Doors Inc. in North Carolina, says the insect and grain problem has disappeared greatly.

But the cost and R-value issue still makes polystyrene the more popular material. "That's especially true with new construction," Tolbert says. "If you put up a new home, you don't want to run the cost up with a garage door."

Homeowners Bosco and Franty both got polystyrene-lined doors and are satisfied with the amount of insulation.

Pat Lohse, marketing director of the Clopay Building Products in Ohio, agrees insulation values are a strong reason for having garage work done.

But, she points out, work among competing firms is so even, aesthetics and features often become the determining factor.

A matter of curb appeal

Style that matches the rest of the home also is an important part of that selection, Lohse says.

For instance, she adds, many residents try to match windows with those in the home. Or they look for design elements that blend. For instance, low, horizontal patterns in a door can accent the flat look of a ranch house, she says.

But one of the most popular features is carriage-house design.

Carriage-house closures originally had large hinges on heavy wood that gave the doors a striking presence.

DeFrancesco says doors that look like that are one of the most popular decorative designs. Doors now bear that appearance while being made of steel or even some sort of composite wood, he adds.

Tolbert says doors of this nature can cost as much as $5,000, but often are part of a high-end design. "Put a $3,000 door on a $500,000 house, and it's no big deal," he says.

The door association's Long says the overall door decision involves taste, curb appeal and practicality. "It becomes a matter of aesthetics," he says, "and people see how an improvement can help that."

Bob DeFrancesco from the Bobby DeFrancesco Garage Door Co. in Greensburg admits energy efficiency plays a big part in garage door selection, but thinks home safety is even more persuasive.

He says many of his customers get involved in the job because they see weakness in an old door and want to lock up the house a little better.

Burns agrees, but also raises another safety matter: Some homeowners make themselves a little vulnerable by leaving garage-door-opening devices too easily accessible.

If an opener is built into a car and the car is left unlocked, the home is more or less left unlocked, too. In the same way, a portable device that is stolen can lead to the same kind of break-in.

Since most garage-door projects involve an opener, that issue generally can emerge, experts say.

DeFrancesco estimates 98 percent of his work involves installing an opener, which can add anyhere from $250 to $450 for a single door.

"We live in an age of convenience," Rost says.

Garage door safety tips

  • Replace old springs : Avoid injury by checking garage springs often.

  • Check your cables : The cables attach the spring system to the bottom brackets on both sides of the door.

  • Squeaky springs?: Sound doesn't indicate wear, but use some lubricant to keep them fluid.

  • Don't be a do-it-yourselfer: Besides their weight, installing garage doors can be awkward, so be wary of taking care of this big job alone.

  • Stay smart: Keep the owner's material at hand to know how to deal with your door.

  • Door struggling?: If a door does not go up or down smoothly, it could be indicating trouble,

  • Watch your fingers: When lowering a door, make sure to use the lift handles and keep fingers away from getting caught between door sections.

  • The track to success: When buying a new garage door, many homeowners save money by using the old track. But be cautious about whether the new door works with the old track.

Source: The Door and Access Systems Manufacturers Association, Cleveland

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