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Can You Install a Garage Door Opener Yourself?

by Michael Chotiner

All popular-brand garage door openers come with detailed, step-by-step instructions for mounting the opener motor, the drive system components, and the controls and for making the electrical connections. If you're handy, patient and resourceful, you can probably install a garage door opener yourself in four to six hours. But the real question is: Once you succeed in getting the opener installed, will it work as it should?

Read this article through to the end before starting installation for tips that you won't find in the manufacturer's manual. They'll give you your best shot at getting the installation right the first time and fine-tuning the opener so that it works flawlessly.

Get Set Up for Success

The first order of business is to select a garage door opener that's well matched to the door and your lifestyle. Consult the tables below for recommendations on power ratings and feature options.

Choose a garage door opener's power rating

Garage door opener features

A number of issues with the garage door itself can affect how an opener operates and how long it'll last. The most common issues that lead to balky operation and opener failure include:

  • Broken, worn or improperly adjusted balance springs
  • Broken, obstructed or improperly tensioned cables
  • Misaligned tracks
  • Bent or worn rollers

Garage door opener installation

Any or all of the items listed above can make the door harder to open and close than necessary, which will cause an opener to operate too slowly or not at all. Overtaxing an opener will cause the motor to burn out sooner than it should.

If your door is noisy and hard to open by hand, the existing conditions will likely make things hard for the new opener, too. If the door wants to slam shut when you let it down manually, something needs fixing before you install the opener.

  • Inspect cables, rollers and springs visually to determine whether they're broken, bent or obstructed.
  • Check vertical sections of the tracks for plumb using a level, and measure the span between the tracks at several points to check for misalignment.
  • To check the door balance, raise the door manually from closed position midway in the opening, and let go of the handle. If the door goes up or down on its own, the spring tension needs adjustment. If the door goes crashing down, it's an indication of a broken spring.

While it's not hard to replace faulty rollers that are not attached to cables and/or realign the tracks, springs and cables under tension are too dangerous for do-it-yourselfers to work on. Our advice: If you suspect that a garage door isn't moving as freely as it should, have it tuned up by a pro installer before attempting to install a new opener yourself.

Take Inventory of the Package You Select

Most of what you'll need to install a newly acquired garage door opener comes in the package. This excerpt from the installation manual for a popular model (below) shows the typical major parts included and how they go together.

Sample garage door opener inventory
Courtesy of Chamberlain Garage Door Openers

Note that if you're replacing an existing opener, you need to replace all of the parts associated with it (not just the motor, for example). You can't expect the controls or safety sensors from an old system to work with the new one.

Also be aware that some things you may need might not be included in the package. For example:

  • You'll need a grounded 120V receptacle in the ceiling, close to where the opener motor will be mounted. If there's not one there already, have a licensed professional install one.
  • If your garage door is taller than 7 ft., you'll need a rail extension to replace the front rail section provided in the package for standard-height doors. You'll also need an extended chain or belt.
  • For a wood or plastic-skinned door, you'll need an operator plate. This attaches to the center of the garage door and secures the bracket that engages the arm that retracts and lowers the door.
  • Depending on how your garage is framed and your access to the framing members, you may need some scraps of 2x4, 2x6 and plywood for blocking where heavy components that will be under stress need to be mounted securely.
  • Have some heavy angle iron on hand to substitute for the wimpy strapping most manufacturers provide for mounting the opener motor. Angle iron also comes in handy for making braces to eliminate swaying and vibration at the motor mount.

Also assemble the tools you're likely to need:

  • 6 ft. step ladder (usually an 8 ft ladder holds the opener in position while you measure for your lengths of angle iron – if necessary, put boards under the opener to raise it)
  • Clamps
  • Drill/driver with bits and screw- and socket-driver tips (cordless)
  • Screwdrivers
  • Utility knife
  • Wire cutters/stripper
  • Wire stapler
  • Hacksaw or other metal-cutting saw
  • Snips
  • Pliers - Channellocks and needle-nose
  • Tape measure
  • 4-ft. (min.) level
  • Wrenches of various types and sizes, including: socket set, adjustable wrench, open-end wrenches

Garage Door Opener Assembly and Mounting - Step by Step

Consult the manufacturer's installation manual for detailed step-by-step instructions. The procedures for the most popular brands and models are similar, and the manuals are good and well illustrated. In most cases, it's best to perform the installation steps in this order:

  1. Mount the operator plate (wood or plastic doors).
  2. Mount the header bracket.
  3. Assemble the rail system and bolt it to the motor.
  4. Add the trolley, pulley and drive chain or belt.
  5. Insert the stop bolt in the rail toward the motor end.
  6. Engage the end of the rail in the header bracket.
  7. Lift and support the motor end of the assembly in approximately the right position for attachment.
  8. Assemble the ceiling bracket and attach the opener motor. (Do not plug in the power cord until all wiring steps listed below have been completed.)
  9. Attach the door bracket to the operator plate.
  10. Attach the curved arm to the door bracket; attach the straight arm to the trolley.
  11. Mount the obstruction sensor components.
  12. Mount the pushbutton wall switch and attach the wires to the terminals.
  13. Connect the wiring from the wall switch to the terminals at the opener motor.
  14. Connect the wiring from the obstruction sensors to the terminals at the opener motor.
  15. Plug in the opener and determine that the controls and safety sensors are getting power.

Test the Door's Operation and Make the Necessary Force Adjustments

Once assembly and electrical connections are complete, try cycling the door up and down a few times to see that everything's working properly. It rarely is at first, but today's openers have controls for adjusting force and travel distance, both upward and downward. Depending on the brand and model, the adjustment controls may be electronic or analog. You'll find them on the opener's motor housing—either as a set of buttons or screws, each labeled for the movement they control.

Here's a troubleshooting guide designed to help you make final adjustments to get the opener and door working perfectly.

GArage door opener troubeshooting

Should You Install a Garage-Door Opener Yourself?

If you like a challenge, by all means give it a try. Just make sure to leave dangerous adjustments to the springs and cables to a pro. And use our Troubleshooting and Adjustment Guide (above)to get the door to work after you've followed the manufacturer's installation instructions to the letter.

About the author:  Michael Chotiner is a homeowner and longtime construction business owner who writes on DIY project dos and don'ts for Home Depot. Michael's tips on garage door openers are designed to give homeowners strong knowledge to make the decision on whether to install one yourself, or work with a professional. A complete selection of Home Depot's garage door openers, including styles mentioned by Michael, are available online.