Reliability is in the gate, not the gate opener

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.

Repurposing solar lamps as lights for driveway gate posts

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:

 

Hanging solar lamps
Hanging solar lamps 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.

 

Gate post solar lamps
Close up of lamps mounted to gate posts
lamps attached to the gate posts
Overview of the driveway gate with the lamps attached to the gate posts

 

 

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.

This One Gate Opener Installer Trick Could Cost you Hundreds

At GateCrafters.com we have been selling gate openers online to the DIY community for more than a decade. However there are many customers that, due to our amazing volume prices, purchase form us and do not install the gate opener themselves. They hire someone to install the gate opener for them. Now we also work with many installers directly and through customers that choose not to do it themselves and hire someone and we do want to make clear that the vast majority are honest and truly just want to get the job done, working well, and at a reasonable price. However there is one tactic that some unscrupulous installers have been doing for quite some time that we wanted to make you aware of. It is a trick they pull; and just about all the times we see it, the trick unfolds the same way.

The scenario is this: A customer contacts a gate opener installer and gets a very reasonable bid and the installer says they are fine with the gate opener being a different brand that they are not supplying. The installer comes out to the property and begins the installation. During the first hour or so something will come up and they will inform the customer they cannot complete the installation due to the gate opener. Sometimes they will claim a part is missing, defective, not the correct product for their gate or in the worst cases they will intentionally destroy a piece to make it uninstallable (like connecting power to where power is not supposed to be connected and then undoing their work to hide the evidence).

The installer will call the customer out to the gate and inform them that due to no fault of their own they cannot complete installation and will have to charge them for the travel and time spent since they did not supply the equipment and the equipment is at fault! While the customer is trying to make sense of what they are being told sometimes they even tell the customer they don’t have confidence in the equipment and they won’t even come back out to complete the job if they pay them again; this adds more panic for the customer as they have to now pay a person for nothing and find a new installer.

Then the supposed favor comes out: As the customer is reeling over this added hassle and cost that has surfaced the installer comes through with a nice gesture. They say, “Look, I feel bad for you, I will tell you what. I will waive the charges for my morning spent trying to install the gate opener you purchased. Just return that one to the company you got it from and buy today the XXX brand gate opener I have on my truck, I have been installing this one for years and I can have you done in a few hours.” To the customer it is a difficult decision that needs to be made on the spot. Either send the installer away  and fight them on the charges they bill you and find someone new (and maybe even have to get a part replaced if they destroyed something) or give in to avoid headache even though you are now getting an opener you didn’t research yet and may be over paying for.  We have seen over the years this trick applied across every brand of gate opener we sell.

Our suggestions for avoiding this:

  • Hire a handyman service that is not in the gate opener industry as your installer. Because the products we sell are DIY they are easy enough for anyone to install even if it is their first time.
  • Ask for examples of other properties they have installed brands on that they do not sell.
  • Do It Yourself – it really isn’t difficult and we are here to help you.
  • Become well versed on the product using videos and manual and go through the contents prior to arrival of an installer. Be aware of what the installation procedure should look like so you can tell if they are not doing something right. This approach is good for the people that could easily install this themselves that just don’t feel like putting in the labor.

A second life for a single gate opener control board

If you are the owner of an Estate Swing E-S 300, E-S 500, E-S 1600, E-SC 1600, E-S 1000 single swing gate opener and have an issue where the Motor1 terminals are no longer putting out power you are in luck – here is a quick fix to not have to replace the control board.

First lets explain the gate opener symptom:

The gate opener will stop opening on command from an accessory. When the control box is opened you notice that when you press your entry device the display says OP or CL and then counts as if the gate opener motor is supposed to be moving. If you do not see the display on the control board counting this is not the solution to your issue.

Before you decide the gate opener’s Motor1 output is finished, do two things:

A. Check the 3rd fuse on the lower left side of the board (3rd fuse being the one on the right, fuses are in small rectangular black boxes) for continuity using a continuity meter or ohm meter. If you do not have a multi-meter swap the second fuse with the third fuse, the second fuse is for the secondary gate opener motor, which in a single gate operation you won’t have, so it should be a good fuse that you can utilize as a spare for the primary arm. (If your board is old and only has 2 fuse boxes, not 3, ignore test A; your motors are not fuse protected)

B. Take your large red and large black from the motor1 terminals and touch them directly to a 12V battery. Polarity of red to positive / black to negative will make the gate opener move one direction and reversing the polarity will make the gate opener move the opposite direction. DO NOT use anything but a battery to do this test, you can use your car battery for this. (if your opener is 24V you can still use a 12V battery, it will just move half speed. All you are wanting to see is if there is power applied to the motor that it will indeed move)

If you have the symptoms above and A and B are checked you can do the following to get a second life from your control board:

1. Move your large red and large black gate opener motor wires from the motor1 terminals to the motor2 terminals.

2. Move your small yellow, red, and black gate opener limit switch wires from limit1 terminals to limit2 terminals.

3. In the limit1 terminals block use two small pieces of wire to connect all three terminals together. Referred to as jumpering the terminals.

4. Remove power from the circuit board and change the number 2 dip switch to the ON position. This will be the UP position, labeled as dual gate on the control board.

5. Change your P4 setting to 00. This is the “delay between leafs” setting. (If you have a really old board with only 4 parameters instead of 5 or 6 parameters this will be your P3 setting instead of P4)

Now you should be able to operate your gate opener again.

Picture of Modifications to be done to operate a single gate opener off the secondary gate terminals
Modifications to be done to operate a single gate opener off the secondary gate terminals

Gate opener post brackets can be mounted anywhere

All brands of gate openers that are linear actuators (piston style gate openers)

Linear actuator gate opener
Linear actuator gate opener

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]

driveway gate mounted different than example in manual
driveway gate mounted different than example in manual

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.

Gate opener and keypad with open AND party mode hold open function

The Estate Swing E-S 1000H single gate opener, Estate Swing E-S 1000D dual gate opener, Estate Swing E-S 300 single gate openerEstate Swing E-S 302 dual gate openerEstate Swing E-S 500 single gate openerEstate Swing E-S 502 dual gate openerEstate Swing E-S 1600 single gate opener, Estate Swing E-S 1602 dual gate openerEstate Swing E-SC 1600 single gate openerEstate Swing E-SC 1602 dual gate opener when paired with the Estate Swing Stainless Steel keypad can work in party mode via a selected code.

Party mode is when you normally have your driveway gate function with auto re-close but you can override the auto re-close for an indefinite period of time via an easily accessible device rather than a setting on the gate opener circuit board.

To do this with the above mentioned gate opener and keypad are going to run an additional 2 wires from the keypad to the control board. These wires will be from the blue and orange wires of the keypad. These wires will go to PhotoCell block terminals Photo and Gnd. The wires will replace the jumper that is currently in the terminals.

Then you will program an Auxiliary code on the keypad. To do so enter programming mode, press 2, enter a code to hold the gate open. Then define the auxiliary output by entering programming mode, pressing 6, and then typing 2100.

It will work this way: when the driveway gate is open and in auto re-close count down the user will type in the auxiliary code in the keypad. This will stop the auto re-close count down. When you wish to stop holding the gate open, type the auxiliary code in again and the gate will count down the re-close time and shut.

Apollo gate opener remotes

When purchasing an additional remote for your Apollo gate opener it is important to look for the correct product and this can be tricky for someone not familiar with the gate opener system and how it is sold. Apollo gate openers with the 835/836/635/636 series board were never sold with a particular remote. the distributor was given the option to include the remote brand of their choice. So quite literally you could have any remote under the sun. See this video for more details:

GateCrafters.com can help you choose the correct one if you send us a photo of your gate opener remote or your gate opener receiver. One tip for all of our customers as well. There are 10 dips switches in the center of the control board, these are not related to your remote even if your remote has 10 dip switches. We have had that call numerous times after someone purchases the new remote they match the dip switches with the ones they see on the circuit board and it won’t sync. This is because the correct dip switches will be found in the receiver, not on the circuit board.

Gate opener gate lock fails during hottest or coldest part of day

The first instinct in this scenario in the gate opener world is that there is an electronic failure for the gate opener sending power to the lock or the lock is failing electronically. However, it is typically a mechanical change on the driveway gate that is brought about by heat or cold. Heat is expanding the metal of the driveway gate and cold is contracting it causing the lock to physically jam. We have had this happen with cold on our gate here in Florida. The rear gate of our property is 14 feet in length and it is typically warm here in Florida and that is when we aligned everything including the lock. However in Jan/Feb some mornings get really cold. On these mornings the metal of the 14 foot gate contract and our lock was jamming. When the sun came up and temperatures changed everything was fine again.

Here is a video for all you need to know on testing the gate opener automatic gate lock: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8H_UpL94jUc

Toward the end we demonstrate what it looks like when the gate lock gets jammed, essentially the latch doesn’t move, giving the impression that something failed electronically.

For a failure here would be our suggested remedy (we are picking hottest part of the day for demonstration). During the hot part of the day when the gate lock fails taking the cap off the end of the lock and look inside while someone activates the gate opener. See if you can see any flutter of movement of the latch trying to release. If this is the issue, loosen the lock bolts and slightly adjust the lock during the hot part of the day, in most cases there is enough adjustment in the lock to account for the difference in the gate size during the heat vs non-heat to make an adjustment that will work for both time.

Otherwise, if this is not the issue, test the gate lock and lock control board from the steps in the beginning of the video during that time of the day.

Driveway gate posts additional tips

This is a continuation of our standard manual: http://www.wdbmedia.com/GATECRAFTERS/MANUALS/GateCraftersSingleGateInstallationManual.pdf

Bracing of the driveway gate posts:

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.
Pouring concrete:
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.

New Gate Opener, Old Accessories – How do I figure this out?

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.