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.