Many people purchase their home blissfully unaware of what type of garage door opener they have. If it works and it doesn’t sound like a freight train they’re fine with it. It’s only some time later when the opener quits on them, or when they decide to replace the whole door for whatever reason, that they come face to face with the choice: should their new door have a chain, screw or belt drive? It’s not one of the big questions of our time but it will play a part in determining how quiet your opener is, how much it costs and how long you can expect it to last. Below we’ll go into the differences between the chain, screw and belt garage door opener so you can make an informed decision.
A Short Guide to the Different Garage Door Opener Drive Mechanisms
In your grandparents day there was pretty much one type of drive mechanism available for overhead garage doors; the chain drive. The chain drive was simple, affordable, reliable and easy enough to fix if something went wrong. It is still all of those things. The difference between grandpa’s day and today is that today you have a couple of other choices that are every bit as good and in some cases even better than the chain drive. Here are the three primary types of garage door drive mechanisms available today.
The Screw Drive
The screw drive is the most complex of the garage door opener drive mechanisms. The screw drive garage door opener uses a threaded rod (the “screw” in screw drive) that is fixed into a track that runs from the opener to the door. A trolley is attached to the threaded rod and extends an arm (which can be either straight or curved) to the door, where it is firmly attached. When the door is engaged the motor turns the threaded rod and the trolley moves along the rod either toward the motor or away from it. The arm then raises or lowers the door.
There are a number of advantages to this type of door mechanism including:
- It’s extremely reliable and breaks down less frequently than the other types of drive mechanisms.
- There are very few moving parts. The threaded rod is turned by the motor and the door moves up and down as the rod turns.
- The raising and lowering of the door is very smooth, controlled precisely by the turning of the threaded rod. There’s no jerking or stuttering like you can sometimes get with a chain in particular.
The screw drive door mechanism is not without its downsides though and they include:
- It’s usually more expensive than other types of garage door drive mechanisms.
- The threaded rod needs to be kept properly lubricated.
The Belt Drive
All three different types of drive mechanism pull a trolley up and down a track. The difference is in what is in that track. With a screw drive door there is a threaded rod in the track and with a belt drive door a belt occupies the track. That belt is attached, as we said, to a trolley and as the belt feeds through the motor it moves down the track moving the trolley with it. The belt itself is normally made of either rubber, polyurethane or fiberglass. Belt drives are a good choice for light to moderate weight doors. If you’ve got one of those all-glass garage doors that weigh a ton a screw drive or chain drive would be a better choice.
Still, the belt drive has some distinct advantages over other types of drive mechanisms:
- While screw drive openers are fairly quiet they can’t compare to belt drives.
- Belt drive openers are sometimes faster than other types of openers.
- Belt drive motion is smoother than that of a chain drive but not as smooth as a screw drive.
Nothing is perfect and that includes belt drive garage door openers. Their downside includes:
- They’re more expensive than chain drive doors.
- They’re not a great idea for really heavy garage doors.
The Chain Drive
As we said at the beginning the chain drive was the standard for many decades before belt and screw drive mechanisms were introduced. And it’s still the most popular type of drive mechanism for garage door openers. They are exactly the same as the belt drive with the belt simply replacing the chain in the drive mechanism. If you have an old garage door it’s almost a certainty that it’s a chain drive.
There are some real advantages to this type of system. Primarily:
- Chain drive garage door openers are less expensive than belt or screw drive systems.
- It’s a reliable system that is well-understood and fairly easy to repair.
The world being what it is there are some disadvantages to chain drives that have allowed screw and belt drives to make market headway. The biggest disadvantage of chain drive doors is:
- They’re often noisy. If your garage is under a bedroom or an upstairs apartment the people there will almost certainly be awakened every time the door opens and closes.
The Bottom Line
While chain drive garage doors are still the biggest sellers of the three major types they have lost significant ground in recent years to belt and screw drive garage door openers. Talk to the pros at A Better Garage Door to find out which type of door is right for you.