Robin Jade Conde

PODCAST: Garage door opener inspections

In today’s episode, Reuben and Tessa discuss garage door opener safety and inspection practices. They emphasize key aspects like the proper height of the wall button to prevent children from operating the door, ensuring the electrical connection is directly plugged into an outlet, and inspecting the auto-reverse sensors within six inches of the floor. The hosts share experiences, including the impact test for older garage door openers and the importance of an emergency release kit for garages without alternative entry points. They also touch on potential issues like power outages and tripped GFI outlets that can leave homeowners locked out of their garages. The episode provides valuable insights for home inspectors and homeowners alike.




The following is a transcription from an audio recording. Although the transcription is largely accurate, in some cases it may be slightly incomplete or contain minor inaccuracies due to inaudible passages or transcription errors.



Reuben Saltzman: Welcome to my house. Welcome to the Structure Talk podcast, a production of StructureTech Home Inspections. My name is Reuben Saltzman. I’m your host alongside building science geek Tessa Murray. We help home inspectors up their game through education and we help homeowners to be better stewards of their houses. We’ve been keeping it real on this podcast since 2019 and we are also the number one home inspection podcast in the world, according to my mom.

RS: Welcome back to another episode of The Structure Talk podcast. Tessa, we have had a string of guests. Oh my goodness. We’ve had like, it feels like about a dozen guests in a row. It’s about time we just got back to the two of us. How are you doing? 

Tessa Murray: Good. Good. It’s been really fun. We’ve been on a roll with all these guests and we’ve… I’ve really enjoyed it. I don’t know about you, but I think some of these…

RS: Definitely.

TM: Last few episodes we’ve recorded with some of these experts around the country have been some of my favorite, favorite episodes so far.

RS: Yeah. It’s been good.

TM: Yeah, but I’m happy to be here looking at you, your lovely face Reuben, it’s good to see you.


RS: Back at you Tess.


TM: Yes. And I’m excited to dive in. What’s the topic that we’re gonna talk about today? 

RS: Well, today we’re kinda going along with the blog, the StructureTech blog and what I’ve been writing about recently did a couple of them on garage door openers and garage door opener safety and what we look at as home inspectors. Now, we could have talked about garage doors in general, but man, it’s a huge topic. So we’re just focusing on garage door openers and everything related to that. Inspecting them, emergency releases, all that fun stuff. That’s the topic today.

TM: The average person would be like, how do you make an entire podcast about garage door openers? But for our listeners, you know we like to go deep and get pretty technical on certain subjects, and so this is all for you people. Reuben has done the research, he’s got the information, he’s got the resources. So get ready, buckle up. We’re gonna dive into garage door openers for the next what? 30 minutes, maybe? 

RS: You know what we’ll… 10 minutes. 10 minutes and we’ll call it a show, but if we go over, that’s okay too. Might not be the longest episode.

TM: We don’t wanna kill our listeners with boredom. Yes. Okay. Let’s do it. Let’s dive into it.

RS: Alright. So, garage door openers are covered by home inspection standards of practice. There’s stuff we need to do, but really our standard of practice is not specific. Whether you’re following InterNACHI or ASHI or some local state standard, there’s not a lot of specifics on what we’re supposed to do as home inspectors. They kinda leave it up to us to decide what we want to do to inspect them. So I figured we just talk about what we at StructureTech do. And this is not what all home inspectors must do or necessarily should do, but I’ll talk about what we do and some of our history and what has got us to this point. Why we’ve made the decisions we’ve made and how we inspect them.

TM: We’ve learned the hard way sometimes, haven’t we? 


RS: Oh, we sure have many, many times. Sometimes it takes us 10 times to learn the hard way, but we eventually get there.

TM: Are you talking about me specifically? 

RS: No, no, I’m talking about all of us, all of us…

TM: True statement.

RS: With garage doors.

TM: True statement.

RS: Yep.

TM: Some of these painful stories might come out during this podcast. We’ll see.

RS: They’re fun stories. Yeah, definitely.

TM: Fun now.

RS: Fun now. Yeah.

TM: Not at the moment, though. Okay.

RS: At the moment, they were painful. Yeah.

TM: So walk us through the StructureTech standard practice for inspecting a garage door, a garage door opener, I should say.

RS: Okay. Well, there’s a few things we look at for safety. We’re not doing a comprehensive inspection of a garage door opener. There is a standard, it’s the door access… I don’t even remember what the acronym is. It’s DASMA.

TM: Door and Access Systems Manufacturers Association, International. DASMA.

RS: Cool. Good job, Tess.

TM: I just so happen to have that pulled up on my other monitor for anyone that’s wondering, that is not memorized. Yes.

RS: Of course you did. Okay. Good job. Well, you could have taken credit for it. So they have a fantastic standard for inspecting garage doors and garage door openers. It is a huge checklist. I added up all the bullet points that they want you to look at. It’s a 35-point checklist.

TM: Oh my gosh.

RS: And they break it down into numbers. I think it’s like 17 or 18 numbers, but a bunch of those numbers have several different sub points. So there’s a bunch of stuff that they say should be included in a professional garage door inspection. They talk about looking for warning labels at the springs and warning labels at the panels. All these nitpicky things that as a home inspector, we would never be digging into. Could you imagine how long our reports would be if we started saying, you need a warning label at the spring? Come on, right? 

TM: No. We already have… I mean, we have hundreds of data points that we’re collecting and looking at going through the inspection and to add another five pages of 36 points is just, we’d be there forever. Yeah.

RS: Yeah. Too much. Too much, but…

TM: Not reasonable.

RS: I think some of the most important stuff we look at, number one is the location of the button, the wall button, whatever controls your overhead garage door opener. You wanna make sure that it’s mounted out of the reach of little kids. And the standard, all of the garage door opener manufacturers all have the same standard. They all follow these same rules. They all come with a label, a warning label that’s supposed to go on the wall, right by the button telling you how high it’s supposed to be installed. And the magic number there is at least five feet. Yep. Tess is holding her hand up to indicate five.

TM: Five feet.

RS: You know that number from your inspecting days.

TM: Burned in my brain.

RS: Yep. And the current standard says five feet above a walking surface. Now, we use a little bit of common sense and we just say, put it five feet above where a kid is going to stand. So if there’s a door threshold, we wanna see it installed five feet above the door threshold, not five feet above the garage floor ’cause any intelligent kid is going to walk up the door threshold and then reach up and hit the button if they wanna operate it. So no little kids operating the door. If this is wrong, it’s not a big deal to fix it. I mean, those things are mounted with tiny little screws. You simply lift it up, you put some screws in a different location, you refasten it to the wall, boom, you’re done. Piece of cake, right? 

TM: Well, I’ve never done it personally, but when you say a job is easy and it takes 30 seconds, that means it might take me several hours and tools I don’t have.


RS: Stop it. Stop.


RS: No, maybe five minutes if you really don’t know what you’re doing. It’s a pretty simple job.

TM: Okay. That’s good. So, I was not expecting you to start with the wall button, but I guess yes, that is one piece that is important and safety related. So good to highlight that. Okay.

RS: Yep.

TM: What is another crucial aspect of a garage door opener that a home inspector should look for? 

RS: We’re looking at the electrical connection. You wanna make sure that it’s plugged directly into its own outlet, not plugged into an extension cord. All of the manufacturers have that in their installation instructions. And anytime you have something permanently installed, it should not be plugged into an extension cord. Extension cords are just one more point of failure. Now, how serious of an issue is this really? Probably not. I don’t think there’s a lot of fires that end up happening ’cause you have a garage door opener plugged into an extension cord. But it’s just one more thing that can go wrong. And it is a very black and white thing needs to be installed directly into its own outlet. So when we see an extension cord, our suggestion is to get an electrician to install an outlet for it. Have it plugged directly into an outlet.

TM: Yeah.

RS: You’ve seen it thousands of times, right? 

TM: I was gonna say it’s either, it seems like a really old garage that only has a couple of outlets installed or maybe one outlet. And so they’ve installed a garage door later and they have to run an extension cord to get to that outlet. Or it’s a brand new construction house and it’s got a really tall ceiling in the garage.

RS: Yep.

TM: And your standard manufacturer, garage door opener cord is not tall enough to reach all the way up to the outlet at the ceiling. So then they’ve used an extension cord.

RS: Yeah, yep. I’ve seen that too. So we always call that out when we see it. Another one, this is probably the one that everybody thinks of right away when they think about overhead garage door opener safety. Is the auto reverse sensors, right.

TM: Okay. Yeah. The little electric eyes at the bottom on either side of the door, right? 

RS: Yep. Yep. We wanna make sure that those are installed and that they’re installed at the right height. The right height is within six inches of the floor. No higher.

TM: And why is that Reuben? Can you explain? 

RS: Why? Yes. I used to tell people it’s so if you have a little kid or a little pet or something laying on the ground, it’s not gonna crush them. Turns out that was just nonsense. That’s how it was explained to me. And it’s not true. In reality, it’s because you’ve got this lever action with the garage door opener and as it’s getting to the point where the door is almost closed, it exerts tremendously more downward pressure during the last 6 inches of travel. And that’s the part that we’re super concerned about. You don’t have a ton of pressure being exerted when it’s up in the air, but down at the very end of the travel, a lot more pressure there. So that’s why you need sensors at the last 6 inches. And it’s okay if they’re installed closer than 6 inches, but sometimes you’ll see them a foot above the ground, 2 feet above the ground or even worse. We’ve seen this dozens of times where people just take the sensors, they point them at each other, they duct tape them together, and then they put them up at the ceiling and they don’t even bother with them. You’ve seen that, right? 

TM: Yes. Oh yeah. Yep. Countless times.

RS: So we’re looking for that, looking to make sure they’re properly installed.

TM: Can I stop you for a second? That is really fascinating, Reuben. I don’t remember learning about that. Although I feel like Reuben, you have and I’ve told you this before, you are like Rainman, anything that you read or hear or say or a class that you sit in, you remember everything from it. And I don’t remember learning about that. The reasoning behind the 6 inches of the sensors off the ground, but you got that from a class that we attended, right? Was it an ashy session? 

RS: Yeah, it was an ashy session. It was one of our local chapter meetings and we had somebody from DASMA come out and…

TM: Okay.

RS: And teach on this standard. So…

TM: Yeah. That is so fascinating. That stuck with you that made an impact. ’cause yeah, I mean I think most people in the industry think, okay, well it’s because you don’t want a little kid that’s crawling to go underneath that sensor and the sensor to miss it and the door to crush your child or a small pet like you said. But really it’s all about force. And when that door is coming straight down, which the last few inches it is coming straight down, it’s got a tremendous amount of force versus if it’s kind of half up and half down and it’s still coming at an angle. So that’s…

RS: That’s exactly it.

TM: That’s interesting. Okay.

RS: So we’re checking to make sure the eyes are installed and then of course we also check to make sure that those eyes are functional. I had a house once where I went to break the beam and make sure the door went back up when the beam got broken and…

TM: Yeah.

RS: Nothing happened. And I looked around for a little while and I found the sensors duct taped together at the ceiling or on top of the garage door opener. But the old auto reverse sensors were still installed. So it gave the appearance that they were properly installed and properly working but the real ones were not doing anything. They were installed at the ceiling.

TM: That’s so sneaky.

RS: So sneaky. Agreed. So that’s why we always test them, make sure that breaking the beam is actually going to make the door go back up.

TM: Wow. Well you pass with flying colors that test.

RS: Yep. Yep. They did not fool us on that one.


RS: And then there’s this old test that we used to do on garage door openers that were made before 1992. They weren’t required to have those auto reverse sensors. All it was, was an impact test where if it struck an object before it was done with its full downward travel, it was supposed to go back up. It wouldn’t trap someone. And I’ve heard so many different stories about how home inspectors test this. I know some home inspectors would just grab it with their hand and they’d wait till the door was about waist height and they’d put a little bit of pressure back up on it. As we know, that’s not a valid test because there’s not a ton of downward pressure. And I’ve heard of home inspectors taking a roll of toilet paper and putting that underneath it to help not damage the door. And really the only approved test, the only industry standard test put out by DASMA is to take a flat 2 x 4 or another object of the same dimension and put that underneath the overhead door and let it close on a 2 x 4. And if it goes back up when it hits it, it passes. If it doesn’t, it fails. That’s the test. That is the industry standard. If you’re doing anything else, you are making up your own stuff and it’s not a valid test. So that’s the impact test.

TM: Now, do the inspectors at StructureTech carry around a 2×4 with them to do this test on every garage door opener? 

RS: Yeah, we carry around an 8 foot 2 x 4. Nothing less will do. We don’t…

TM: Do you treat it or? 

RS: I used to use my tape measure. It was almost exactly the right dimension. I’d stick my tape measure underneath there. But at some point, we stopped doing this test because we started having so many garage door openers that would fail. They would impact an object and then the garage door opener wouldn’t auto-reverse. It would just start smoking and then it would fail. And then now you’re left with a busted garage door opener. And now you got a seller going, hey, you guys inspected my house. You left and now my garage door opener ain’t working. Who’s going to fix this? And it’s not cheap to hire a professional to come out and replace the garage door opener.

TM: No.

RS: And we’re stuck basically giving away our inspection fee to replace garage door openers. And we started realizing, look, these things are dinosaurs. If it doesn’t have the auto-reverse sensors, it was made before 1992. Average life of an opener is going to be around 20 years or so. And at this point, they’re well over 30 years old. So we just started making a decision. If we find a garage door opener that predates the safety sensor, we recommend replacement of it. Install a new one, one that has auto-reverse sensors and just be done with it. And it’s not the end of the world to replace it. It’s already at the end of its service life. What do you think about that, Tess? 

TM: It makes a lot of sense. It makes a lot of sense. How many times did you get burned by that test? Did you burn up garage door openers that failed? 

RS: No. Throughout my home inspection career, probably happened about a dozen times. Not me personally. I don’t think it has ever happened to me personally. I’ve just got very good luck in that department but we’ve had it happen to other people. Or we’ve had fragile fiberglass garage doors break. We’ve had them crack when they impact an object.

TM: Oh, my gosh.

RS: So that’s frustrating, too.

TM: I think it’s a tricky line that you try not to cross as a home inspector. You want to test everything thoroughly and make sure that it’s safe and working. But at the same time, when that test has resulted in so many expensive failures, then you rethink, okay, what’s reasonable for us to test and what’s not. And it makes sense that you kind of draw that line and say, well, the garage door opener is already well beyond its serviceable life that we’re not gonna take our chances on this thing failing.

RS: Exactly.

TM: Yeah, I get it.

RS: It’s in the same vein as us doing flood testing on tiled showers, right? 

TM: Yeah, yeah, definitely. We’ve had, there were a lot of failures with doing the flood testing that caused it some pretty significant damage when we would find leaks. And really, it goes back to, okay, you’ve. Great, you found a problem. And there are some buyers that are grateful to you in that situation, but a lot of times, there’s more people that are angry about you finding the problem. And then it becomes your expense and your issue to deal with and your headache. So at that point it’s more of a business decision.

RS: Definitely. Definitely. And I think the potential for a hazard on a garage door opener with auto reverse sensors, the chances of somebody getting trapped, I’ve never heard of it happening. I’m simply not concerned about it ’cause if something is in the way, those sensors are going to go off. So I am perfectly happy with testing them this way. I think it’s a better way to do it. If there’s home inspectors out there who still like to do the impact test even on garage doors that have the auto reverse sensor, the eyes, well, God bless. Go ahead and do the impact test if you want to but we don’t do them.

TM: A few garage doors. Yeah? 

RS: Yeah.

TM: Well, that’s good advice, Reuben. Good advice.

RS: Yeah, that’s how we do it. And I think that’s just about everything we do for garage door openers. Did I miss anything, Tess? 

TM: Well, no, I think you covered it for garage door openers. Like you said, there is a long list of things you can inspect when it comes to a garage door and the mechanics involved and how it opens and closes and the springs and how it’s attached to the wall and all that. But that is a different podcast.

RS: Different podcast. Yeah. And then the one other thing I want to mention too, and I mention this ’cause we’ve got this rental house where we’ve got a detached garage, and the only way to get in and out of the garage is through the overhead door. And it does have a garage door opener.

TM: There’s no side door? 

RS: There’s no side door, no service door. So it means that if something goes wrong or that garage door opener can’t open the door, you can’t get in the garage. And a couple…

TM: Reuben would that ever happen, Reuben? What scenario could possibly cause that? 

RS: Well, I’m glad you asked, Tess. Here’s a few of them. Number one, the power goes out…

TM: ‘Cause I can’t think of any. I’ve never been in that situation before.

RS: Yeah, I think we both got some stories we can share here, Tess. But the innocuous ones, one the power goes out. That can happen. Or the garage door opener fails. It’s gonna fail at some point. What if it fails in the down position? How do you get in? Yet another one, what if there is a GFI outlet inside the garage and it protects the outlets outside the garage? I was at an inspection with one of our inspectors where I went to yell at him like, hey, don’t test that. As I’m saying it, he tested the outside outlet and it tripped to GFI inside the garage and there was no way to get in. So that’s really frustrating.

TM: Having a little PTSD as you describe that story, Reuben.

RS: Yeah. No, did that happen to you? 

TM: Yes, it did. Yes. All of the exterior outlets on the house were on the same circuit as the GFCI outlet in the garage. And so when I was testing the exterior outlets, I hit the little test button on my outlet tester, which I’ve learned now, if there’s a button on the outlet, use that test button instead and just trip that outlet. But not all exterior outlets have a test button on them. They could be just on the same circuit as another GFCI that’s upstream or something. So I can’t remember the specifics of this house, but I was testing the exterior outlets and tripped it, of course. Then I get to the garage and there’s no way I can get in. There’s no service door, there’s no windows and there’s no power. And then I called you, didn’t I? 

RS: You called me and I sent you a YouTube video and you broke into that garage.

TM: I have to say I was impressed with my skills and I appreciated your quick action in response to my situation. And I never would have thought that all it took was a couple of minutes and a coat hanger to get in, but I did.

RS: That’s all it took. Yeah. Yeah. And if you wanna see what we’re talking about, I suppose you could go on YouTube and you could type in a search like how to break into an overhead garage or you can figure that out on your own. But it involves a coat hanger and fishing it up to the emergency release, you can kind of connect the dots. And it’s not as tough as you might think, it’s pretty easy to bust into a garage that way.

TM: I can’t believe I had a metal coat hanger in my car, by the way too. Let’s just say, hey, you’re a home inspector and you don’t have a metal coat hanger, maybe you should add it to your toolbox.

RS: Yeah. Good thing to carry in your car. But I’ve had that happen to me where I’ve tripped the GFI, I’ve personally done that one. Another time I would always get in the habit of taking the garage door opener and I would clip it onto my tool belt so I got it with me when the time comes. And at some point in the yard, it fell off of my tool belt. I should have put it inside a pouch or something like that. I lost the remote and there was no way to get in. So I had to come back on another day when I had the right tools and I busted in and then I had to buy them new remotes and I had to get them all programmed and all that. I think, I came back and I did it the next day.

TM: Oh my gosh.

RS: It’s embarrassing. You feel so stupid.

TM: I never heard that story. Well, it happens and until you make that mistake and you live out the consequences you don’t realize what could result from that. But that’s a helpful story for anyone that’s out there and is getting into this business and hasn’t made these mistakes yet, learn from ours.

RS: Learn from ours please. And our advice when we come across a garage that has no way to get in other than the overhead door is to install an emergency release kit. And it’s a simple little device, they cost about 10 bucks. You can get them on Amazon and it’s basically a little lock, you stick a key in and you turn this lock and the whole lock guts come out and it’s attached to a cable and the cable attaches to the emergency release on your overhead door. So you just stick the key in, you turn it, you give the cable a yank and you’ve now disengaged your overhead door from the garage door opener and now you can lift your door up. So if you have a detached garage with no other way to get in, I think it’s really important to have one of these installed so you don’t get locked out of your garage. ‘Cause there’s some garages where it’s pretty challenging to break in using the method we just described. We’ve gotten lucky on every one we’ve been to, but there could be a situation where we can’t.

TM: Yeah.

RS: Yep.

TM: Yeah. Well, and you just created a video blog about how to install one of these emergency release kits, didn’t you? 

RS: I did, I had to replace mine ’cause I didn’t have any keys for it. And so I went through the whole process step by step. And how long was the video even with me describing stuff? It was like five minutes, wasn’t it? 

TM: I wouldn’t doubt it. I can’t remember. I mean, you did it very quickly and efficiently of course, your Reuben Saltzman.

RS: Well I was, I may have edited a little bit though but.

TM: You could have done it blindfolded Reuben.


RS: Yeah. I don’t know about all that, but it’s pretty simple. It’s attaching a couple screws, attaching the cable to the emergency release and you’re done. So, that’s a recommendation that we put in our home inspection reports when we come across these, think it’s a good thing to have. And I know that there’s some people who say, well, I don’t want people breaking into my garage this easily. And there’s something you can do with your emergency release. You can zip tie your emergency release up along the track or you can zip tie it to the operator arm to make it so it’s really tough to catch it with a coat hanger. But I don’t know. I guess I’m just not paranoid and I’m not super worried about people trying to break into my garage that way. And if I am, at night when we lock up our house, we lock the deadbolt on our service door or on the door from our house to our garage too. So, I don’t know. I’m not super concerned about it.

TM: Well, to me it’s one of those things where if a criminal, if no one’s ever had to break into a garage before, then they have no idea how easy it actually is. It’s kind of crazy when you think about it. A lot of houses have their exterior or have their main electrical shutoff on the outside of their house.

RS: Yep.

TM: But how many people go around and actually create mischief or cause mischief by just killing the power to a house. It just, it doesn’t really happen that often. So it’s same thing with the garage. It’s like you’re not making it any easier for people to break in your garage if you install in these emergency release kits.

RS: No.

TM: And if, yeah, and I don’t think anyone’s gonna go around with a coat hanger trying to break into your garage if, unless they’ve listened to our podcast and now we’ve armed them.

RS: Yeah, I don’t think…

TM: Hopefully we don’t have any criminals listening to our podcast.

RS: I don’t think our listeners. Yeah. I don’t think we got a lot of house thieves listening to this podcast.


TM: Probably not. Probably not. So I think we’re safe.

RS: Yep. Alright, well I think we covered everything. Were there any other stories we were gonna tell about overhead garage doors? I can’t remember. Was that it? 

TM: I think we’ve covered that. Yeah. I don’t think there’s anything else to add. I know we’ve got some other inspectors on our team who have their own stories of getting into garages that are painful and embarrassing, but we’ll let them save that for their clients or maybe have them be a guest on another show. We can revisit that later.

RS: That sounds good. Alright, well I think we’ll call that a show. This is fun. Good to see you again, Tessa. Little one-on-one action here.

TM: Good to see you too. Thanks for your great research Reuben in this field and for digging up all these things like the DASMA technical data sheet and sharing that with people and giving them your professional opinion on what you test and what you don’t through years of experience is just really, I think it’s super helpful in this industry to have someone that can share all of this information to hopefully help educate our industry and make us all better doing what we do. So thank you.

RS: Well thanks Tess and thanks for sharing your experiences. Sure. Appreciate it.


RS: Alright.

TM: You’re welcome.

RS: Well, if you have any thoughts on garage door opener safety, or anything else that we talked about today or ideas for future shows, please shoot us an email. We read all of them. Our email address is I’m Reuben Saltzman, for Tessa Murray, signing off. Thank you.