One of the many questions that we receive regarding gate openers is “When does my gate opener system require a charge controller?” So we sat down and put together a quick video guide explaining your options.
Just as a reminder, the info in this post and video typically only applies for 12VDC systems from Apollo, Estate Swing, LiftMaster, GTO, and Mighty Mule. Typically 24VDC systems do not utilize solar power or batteries and so you will always have a charge controller in your system (if needed).
Most residential gate opener systems use solar panels between 5 and 30 watts. When you buy any 5 or 10 watt solar panel from GateCrafters they have a built in charging diode that prevent the battery from being discharged during the night. These panels can be directly mounted to the battery terminals on a group size 24 deep cycle battery. When you start using solar panels greater than 10 watts, you will need a charging control board. GateCrafters offers a very popular 12VDC charge controller that works with solar panels up to 30 watts and 1800mA A/C charging transformer.
Charging control boards are intended to extend the life of your batteries in your gate opener system. Most solar gate opener systems utilize group size 24 batteries, however some use smaller batteries such as, 7ah batteries. Systems with the smaller size batteries will always have to use charge controllers. This is due to the charging device (whether it is a solar panel or charging transformer) over powering the battery, therefore decreasing its useful life.
When working with commercial 12VDC gate opener systems, you will typically be using solar panels greater than 30 watts. GateCrafters sells solar panels up to 245 watts and has charge controllers to work with these higher wattage panels. If you are looking to add a commercial solar powered gate opener system please call the technicians at GateCrafters.com and they will be able to specially design a system based on your needs and unique solar zone.
Stay tuned for more helpful advice from the staff at GateCrafters.com
After serving a decade as a lead gate opener technician across a dozen different brands of gate openers one idea has been posed to me during tech calls multiple times. “Why can’t a gate opener just be reliable like my garage door opener? That thing never fails.” If you step back and look at this question and weigh the variables involved it is a wonder that most gate openers are as reliable as they are.
Lets first look at garage doors. You may have noticed two large coils above the garage door. The tension on these coils keep your garage door perfectly balanced. If your coils are set properly you should be able to lift your garage door fairly easily and if you let go of the door it will neither rise nor fall. This is important to understand because if your coils ever go out of balance the first thing you will notice is your garage door opener will malfunction. But of course it is not really the garage door opener malfunctioning – the door just needs to be rebalanced. The garage door opener cannot force the door open or closed if there is resistance. Second the garage door runs on side tracks that are kept well lubricated and out of the weather. This is another scenario if the garage door malfunctions the lubrication of the door wheels would be a good starting area. On the note of out of the weather this also includes not having wind pushing against the door in the direction it is trying to open, yet another advantage of garage automation. Lastly garage doors are all built to relatively similar specifications in terms of size, weight and stability.
So looking at the above it is fairly obvious that the garage door opener has it made in the world of automation. And second to that people are fairly understanding that when there is an issue with the garage door opener, the garage door itself could very well be the cause.
Now we look at driveway gate automation. Similar to having your coils perfectly balanced on a garage door, a swing or slide gate must be able to swing or roll easily and if you let go it should neither swing or slide one way or the other. Meaning it should be perfectly balanced. This is very dependent on the posts and the type of hinges (or for slide gates the levelness of the ground/track). Yet in the gate business we have yet to see much consistency to this at all. We recommend ball bearing hinges yet still see different type of pin hinges or butterfly door hinges all the time. But even when we see ball bearing sometime the hinges are not sized properly or are mounted incorrectly. The posts also lack consistency. Sometimes they are wood, sometimes metal. Sometimes the gate hinges are bolted to the side of a house or column, sometimes the posts are not in cement in the ground but rather strapped to another post. We even once saw a gate with the hinges lag bolted to a tree (please note this is a bad idea, trees grow, your gate will be forever changing height and levelness). Next is the gate itself. Unlike the consistency in garage door design, with driveway gates you could have many different materials, weights and designs. We see wood gates, vinyl gates, steel gate frames with wood planking, aluminum decorative gates, chain link, ranch style 3 rail, and many others especially in the realm of home-made gates. And even with the materials above there are many styles and grades of those materials. Lastly is the outdoor factor. Wind, rain, and snow can all affect how your gate swings. Wind is an especially difficult factor. Every gate opener is designed to stop before crushing something. There is no way for the gate opener to tell the difference between the gate pushing against wind versus pushing against a human. And it does not matter how powerful the motor, the safety controls are all built to be sensitive to this and not crush something. After comparing the challenges that a driveway gate contends with in terms of automation versus a garage door it is always surprising to us that the ease of opening of a garage door gets far more scrutiny than the ease of opening a driveway gate. Gates that are being automated endure many justifications and compromises when being analyzed; rationalizations about swinging only slightly off level or the gate swings, just takes a little force but not a lot. Or it sags slightly. Or the hinges are old and pin style but the gates are small so it is ignored. Or the gate is longer than it should be but can be pushed open with one finger on the end of the gate so it should be fine (note: gate length is very important, the whipping action once the gate is in motion created by too long of a gate for specification of a particular gate opener can cause obstruction).
Understanding these challenges if you are a home owner with driveway gate automation will eliminate a lot of your frustration. If you lubricate your garage door once a year, do it once a month for your poor weather beaten gate. If your gate is leaning, reinforce it. If your gate is old, very heavy or a wind sail of a design; replace it with a light weight decorative aluminum gate. Also check out our upcoming video on easy DIY ways to judge your gate for being automation friendly.
One of our more inventive customers has come up with an elegant, functional and cost effective solution for adding a lamp to his driveway gate post. Many customers with driveway gate wish to add lighting to their gates. This can be for many purposes, decorative, security, functional and warning.
Our customer wanted a decorative solar lamp for easy installation and to light up the entry area throughout the night. They had taken a common ground mounting solar lamp they found at Lowes:
And used an adhesive to affix the base of the lamp to the gate posts. With our 3×3 gate posts the base of the lamp fit perfectly over the top of the post. As you can see in the photos this was a really nice solution and required very little installation work.
GateCrafters.com also has solutions for lighting your entryway in coordination with the gate opener. One option is a 12VDC solar lamp kit. This kit comes with a 12VDC LED bulb that screws into a standard lamp fixture. This means you can purchase at the hardware store any outdoor lamp that is intended for 120VAC that suits your tastes. This can be used as a standalone system that comes on via timer at night or tied to the gate opener to turn on with a cycle of a gate opener and stay on for a length of time after.
We also have another option for a lamp that is directly powered from the gate opener circuit board (if the particular model has 12V or 24V outputs intended for this purpose). These lights would be for warning of gate movement to prevent accidents.
All brands of gate openers that are linear actuators (piston style gate openers)
have a bracket that the gate opener instruction manual specifies is to be mounted to the post of the driveway gate. This post bracket typically is there to hold a horizontal bracket that the gate opener attaches to and pivots on. Our technicians at GateCrafters.com get weekly phone calls in which customers are thrown through a loop as to how to proceed with their installation because of the post brackets and a mounting problem they have.
First we will explain what is happening with the gate opener installation. The horizontal bracket previously mentioned that the gate opener attaches to needs to be in a very specific location that is a measurement form the hinge of the gate. However many people don’t have a gate with hinges mounted in a standard way where they are on the driveway face of the post. Some people have hinges on the rear face of the post or have a column next to the post. [see picture below of a drawing a customer did of their issue]
In these scenarios the post bracket cannot be mounted in the suggested location from the instruction manual.
If this is the case you are dealing with, do not fret, there are only two requirements to the post brackets and once you understand these it will give you the freedom to solve your issue:
1. The post brackets must be bolted to a stable object, not necessarily the gate post.
2. The post brackets must hold the horizontal bracket in the correct location for the correct gate opener setback.
Other than these two requirements the posts brackets can technically be mounted ANYWHERE. GateCrafters.com sells a secondary mounting post, http://www.gatecrafters.com/product_detail_1047.aspx, for just this purpose. You can sink this post in the ground near your gate and mount the post brackets on this post it that will allow you to position the horizontal bracket in the correct location. Other options are mounting to a fence or wall.
If using standard concrete, use wood to brace the driveway gate posts from becoming out of plumb. One end of a long piece of wood will be clamped to the driveway gate post. The other end will be screwed to a piece of wood that you drive vertically into the ground using a hammer.
It is easiest to first drive a small piece of wood into the ground. Then attach the long piece of wood using a screw. Then tilt the long piece of wood toward the driveway gate post, move the post to ensure it is plumb and clamp it.
Repeat this again facing the perpendicular direction preventing the driveway gate post from leaning forward or back with one brace and left or right with the other brace.
Pour a footer around the pipe in the base of the hole. This means your hole should be deeper than the posts will go down. So if you are planning on have 2 feet of your 8 foot tall driveway gate post in the ground, your hole will be 3 feet deep and you would fill the first 1 foot up with concrete as a footer.
If you are using standard concrete then after your footer is dry, fill the hole the rest of the way with wet concrete to the surface. Then while the concrete is still very wet and soupy side the driveway gate post over the galvanized pipe – trapping concrete inside the driveway gate post where the pipe is. Then plumb your post and check your measurements.
Quick setting concrete:
You can use quick setting concrete but there will be two differences:
1. After your foundation of concrete is set you will position the driveway gate post over the galvanized pipe. Have someone hold it while you check plumpness and measurements. Then fill the hole around the outside of the driveway gate post with the quick setting concrete. This set in a few minutes so be sure to have help holding the driveway gate post and keeping an eye on the plumb of the driveway gate post.
2. Concrete will still go inside the post as well but you cannot trap it inside while the concrete is wet because it sets too quickly. You will have to do step one and let everything set. Then, while the post cap is off the top of the driveway gate post, dump wet concrete into the driveway gate post to fill in around the pipe that is inside of it.
As the leading gate opener authority we quite often get customers coming to us that have gate openers that have died over the years and they want our advice on putting in a reliable gate opener. However many times the peripheral devices, the gate opener entry / exit/ safety accessories, still work form their prior system and they would like to know how to utilize these to save money. We are always more than happy to oblige with assistance; but in general it will take a little hands on discovering on the home owners part.
First is the accessory you are trying to use wired or wireless? We ask this first because wireless is a rather simple solution that we will knock out right here first. Wireless devices communicate on a radio frequency. Probably it will not match the frequency of the new system as they change by manufacturer and year. However a purchase of a matching receiver to the frequency your wireless accessory (remote or keypad usually) can be wired to any gate opener to receive the signal from the existing device. if you have both a remote and a wireless keypad most likely they transmit on the same frequency so you can use the remote to find the correct receiver. If you visit our website in the transmitter category: http://www.gatecrafters.com/gate-opener-transmitter-accessories; find your existing transmitter. Then look on the left side of the screen where it shows related items. The matching receiver should be there and if you purchase that receiver for your new gate opener then your old wireless devices will be able to work.
For wired devices do not un-wire them from your old system until you have identified and marked the wires as to what they are. Typically there will be 2 or 4 wires being used.
2 wires are typically found on simple devices like push buttons or toggle switches. These do not take any detective work, just identify the two wires and look in the manual for the new gate opener where a push button is wired to and wire them in there.
4 wires typically mean power and a relay. the power is for providing power to the accessory, identify these first as the wires going to a power source on your previous device and mark them. That leaves you with 2 wires left for activating the gate. Many times 2 wires will be in service however 3 are available. This is because most devices have a relay that has a Normally Open and Normally Closed lead that pair with a common. Please watch this video for identifying these wires: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xh-lS4tg3MA
Once you learn the NO or the NC and the COM you can wire this device to any gate opener. If it is an entry device you will almost always use the NO and COM. If it is a safety device some gate openers use the NO and other the NC. The manual should specify.
A common thing we hear on older Apollo gate openers is a home owner is replacing it because the opener is acting funny and doing random stuff. However once we get into asking questions it is not so random, the gate opener error symptoms that we see happening are: The driveway gate just stops and it is well short of open or closed. The driveway gate stops and reverses mid cycle in the same place each time. Or the gate opener over closes or over opens, stops and reverses. The answer many times is simply needing correction on the piston position in relation to the limit switches on the Apollo piston style operator arm series: 1500, 1550, 1600, 1650.
Sometimes we get this call during the initial installation, typically from the people bench testing or that have bench tested (see second scenario later in blog). But we get this call more frequently from customers that have had the gate opener for years, had it off the gate for a bit (usually when the battery dies and they have a delay before buying a new battery).
Here are the dynamics of what is happening. The limit switches are located in the motor casing. The limit switches are triggered by a magnet that moves when the screw drive turns. The piston that goes in and out which opens and closes the driveway gate is pushed in and out by the screw drive. So when the screw drive turns the piston moves down the screw drive at the same rate that the magnet moves toward the open or closed limit switches in the rear of the arm. When the piston is retracted it is paired up by the factory with the magnet being close to or on the open limit switch. SO now that this is understood here is what happens. When the gate opener arm is not connected to the gate someone will either hand turn the piston to extend or retract it or run the gate opener and not hold on to the end of the piston (bench testing).
We will take both of the scenarios one at a time. First hand turning: So lets say the piston is extended and the gate is closed and the battery on the unit fails. A common thing to happen is the home owner will realize it has been 5 years and needs a new battery and puts it on their list to do; however they need to open their gate to get in an out in the mean time. They will disconnect the piston from the gate, hand turn the piston until it is screwed all the way into the retracted position, open the driveway gate and reattach the arm to the gate in the open position. However what has happened is the screw drive does not turn when you hand turn the piston, the piston is being moved on a still screw drive. Since only the spinning of the screw drive moves the magnet that triggers the limit; the magnet is still in the same position, on the closed limit. So now your piston is in the open position but the magnet is triggering the closed limit switch. When the new battery is installed they try to run the gate. The board believes the gate is closed because the magnet is on the closed limit. So it starts to turn the screw drive to retract the arm to the open position and move the magnet internally toward the open limit switch. HOWEVER the piston is already retracted and it will try to retract further, bottom out inside the unit, obstruct and reverse directions.
This other scenario is more likely to happen during initial install. Some people like to bench test the equipment before putting it on the gate. However since the piston is not attached to the gate when the gate opener is activated, when the screw drive starts to turn the piston turns as well and does not move down the screw drive (sometimes it will turn while it moves but not at the rate it should be moving). The gate is what holds the piston from spinning with the screw drive. When this happens the magnet still moves toward the other limit switch but the piston does not keep up, this throws the positioning of the piston off from where the magnet is in relation to the open and closed limit. This can be one of our more frustrating scenarios because if the piston spins with the screw drive but still moves some it will get the piston only slightly out of line with the magnet. So when the gate operator arm is installed on the gate and they are are trying to adjust their limit switches it will seem the piston will over extend or over retract by just a little and they just don’t have enough play in the limit switch adjustment to correct it.
The Quick and Easy Fix
1. Move the driveway gate to the desired closed position. This is the actual driveway gate with the arm detached from it, we are not moving the operator arm yet.
2. With the piston detached from from the gate run the operator to the closed position. This time we WANT the piston to spin and not move in and out or it probably will obstruct from over extension/retraction. We are trying to get the internal magnet to the position inside the arm where is it triggering the closed limit switch. On the 635/636/835/836 boards you will see in the lower right a light labeled Closed Limit – we want this illuminated. On the 1050 board under each of the motor terminals there is a light that is red, green or off. We want the light red. When the correct light is illuminated we will know the limit switch is currently triggering the closed limit switch inside the arm.
3. With the board showing the closed limit as triggered and the driveway gate in the closed position; manually spin the piston until it is in a position where it can be attached to the bracket on the closed driveway gate. Attach it to the gate.
Now your closed limit switch will be triggered when your piston and gate is in the correct closed position and as long as you operate your gate as normal the piston and magnet will be coordinated.
Solar gate openers are extremely popular for DIY gate installations. As more people are realizing the reliability of solar gates and ease of wireless gate opener installations we are finding that there is a common misconception about how solar panels collect power which we are going to address here.
Our number one issue we run into is improper positioning of the solar panel. It is misunderstood the type of light a solar panel must have. Ambient light does not create energy with a solar panel and leads to systems that have batteries that loose their charge. On a fully sunny day, the brightness of an open area is what misleads people’s perception of the sunlight that is being received by the gate opener’s solar panel. It could seem that a panel facing East, West or even North is getting direct sun light. This is the brightness and the way our eyes take in the light is misleading us. Take a look at this illustration of the sun shining on a ball and the position of the solar panel. The right side the panel is facing South, the panel is getting direct sunlight. The left hand picture the panel is facing East and the panel is not receiving direct sunlight. In real life the look is not so dramatic but the effects of the position of the earth in regard to the sun is exactly this dramatic.
Most of our customers are installing in the Northern Hemisphere. This means that earth is positioned so the sun is coming in at an angle from the south of the property. The solar panel should be positioned facing the south at an angle to compensate for the curvature of the earth. The angle can be calculated using this formula: (Your Latitude x 0.9) + 29 Degrees= # of degrees your panel should be angled towards true South from the horizontal position (laying flat pointing directly up). Search latitude and the address of your gate opener installation in Google.com to find your latitude.
Another issue that comes up is very light shading. Some customers have trees that cast faint shadows because of their distance. The belief is that because it is not a solid dark shadow there is sun light that is getting through and the gate opener solar panel will charge the battery. This is not the case, this will also lead to a discharged battery. The solar panel should be in the clear direct path of the sun light for the entire day.
Gate openers that are linear actuators* are attractive options for many due to price and quality you get for the price, but a concern for driveway gates on columns is pivot point location.
The pics below show the details.
In this driveway gate opener example there is a concern a linear actuator style gate opener may not fit in the 3-4 inches between our stone pillars and the driveway gate when open. Also the rear edge of the pillar 15 inches away. This was the question posed to us by a customer of ours.
Here are the solutions possible in this scenario.
A gate opener that is a linear actuator will not fit in a standard pull to open installation. The required setback alone needs to be placed inside the pillar, which is not physically possible without major modifications to the column like notching out a deep block on the same vertical plane as the gate opener. Placing the rear pivot point on the rear of the column won’t work either, the stroke of the linear gate openers are too short and won’t be able to open the gate all the way.
To use a gate opener that is a linear actuator you would either have to offset the gate hinge mounting 3 inches from the rear of the column. Or if the gates can swing toward the road you could do push to open and then the setback wouldn’t matter. Or lastly you could place the motors on the outside of the gate and use a push to open operation to swing the gate in toward the property.
If none of those options will work then you should use a articulating gate opener* like the Apollo 3600
or if it is 17 inches or less from the hinge to the rear of the column, the NH-H12 with large bracket
or if it is 12 inches or less to from the hinge of the gate to the rear of the column, the E-SC 1600
*Linear Actuator: A linear actuator is a gate opener that retracts and extends on a linear path in order to open the gate. Basically the piston extends out and retracts in. The gate opener has two pivot points, as the gate opener retracts it pulls these two pivot points toward each other. As it extends out it pushes them away from each other. Because he gate can pivot on its hinges and the actuator can pivot on the rear and front this action will open and close eh gate. The linear actuators have very specific locations for the pivot points in regard to their relation to the hinge of the gate, this is to ensure there is enough leverage to move the gate and the gate can open a full 90 degrees.
* Articulating Gate Opener: An articulating gate opener has two bars that join at an “elbow” and pivot in three places to open the gate. Because of this elbow shape it can conform to reaching around a corner to attach to the gate and pull it open. The first pivot point is on the drive shaft of the motor which is behind the column, the second is at the elbow, and the third is at the gate.
The gate opener Apollo 1550 and the Apollo 1500 are now able to be paired to the new Italian NICE 1050 smart gate opener board. However because the 1050 smart board is so versatile to be paired with many gate openers we have had a few customers as use for quick guide wiring. Last weekend one of our tech made this on the fly for a customer and we thought we would share this with our other gate opener customers for assisting them in wiring.