People who have owned their homes for a while know there are a variety of things that can affect the operation of their garage door including falling branches, debris in the tracks, rusty hinges and broken springs. One thing almost no one is prepared for, however, is that icy cold day when they hit the “open” button and nothing happens. Maybe there’s a bit of spasm in the door and a click or two, but that’s it. After a few more attempts - and some very unhappy sounds coming from the motor - it becomes obvious the door is frozen shut. The question then becomes: What to do about it?

Frozen Garage Door

Dealing With a Frozen Garage Door

A garage door that’s frozen shut isn’t something a homeowner in Miami will ever have to deal with but it happens in places like Loveland and Broomfield, Colorado more often than you might imagine. When it does it can be a major inconvenience and raise questions about the proper way to deal with it. The temptation will be to just keep hitting the “open” button until it breaks free. But this can actually cause considerable harm to the drive mechanism and risk burning out the motor. So how do you unfreeze a frozen garage door? We’ll answer that by first looking at why the door freezes to begin with.

Why Is Your Garage Door Frozen Shut?

The most common reason why the garage door winds up being frozen shut has to do with the freeze/thaw cycle. In the winter daytime temperatures may rise above freezing which causes snow and ice to melt. If water winds up pooling at the base of the garage door it can create a solid block of ice when nighttime temperatures dip. That ice then envelopes the weather stripping on the bottom of the door. When you hit the open button the motor isn’t strong enough to pull the weather stripping free. Even if the temperature outside has remained below freezing all day snow around the base of the door may still melt if the temperature inside the garage is warm enough. Once nighttime descends that melted snow refreezes and again, the weather stripping gets stuck.

What to do?

First of all, don’t try to force the door open either with the motor or by hand. This will only result in damage to the motor as we described above, or damage to the bar connecting the drive train to the door, or damage to the handle or the weather stripping. You may also wind up injuring yourself if you pull too hard and/or slip on the ice holding the door.

Manually Remove Snow and Ice

If the car is running turn it off. You’re going to be here awhile. Then go outside and assess the situation. If there is snow piled up against the door remove it. Once the snow has been removed from the entire length of the door try to get an idea how much ice you’re dealing with.

The Shovel and Pick Method

If it doesn’t seem like there is that much ice go get a shovel or a pick axe (if you have one) and try breaking it up. Clear as much away as you can along the entire length of the door, making sure not to damage the door in the process. If you think you got most of it try opening the door one time. If it doesn’t open right away hit the “close” button.

Ye Olde Hot Water Method

If you were unable to open the door by chipping away the ice and snow go inside and fill a 5 gallon bucket (or a few smaller ones) with piping hot water. Pour the water along the length of the bottom of the door. Once all the hot water is poured wait just a few seconds for it to work its magic and then hit the ‘open’ button again. The door should lift.

The Space Heater Solution

If you don’t want to pour hot water along the base of your door because you think it might just make things worse then set up a space heater inside the garage pointed at the base of the door. If you have more than one, even better. This method will take longer than the hot water method but it should warm things up enough to free the door from its icy confinement.

Ice Melt

Chances are you may have some ice melt in the garage somewhere that you use for the walkway and sidewalks. If you have some time on your hands you can sprinkle some of this along the base of the door. It will take a while to melt enough of the ice to free the door but it should work.

The Key to Success: Patience

It’s frustrating to discover the door is frozen in place but the surest way to damage the door or hurt yourself is by losing patience. The door didn’t get stuck in an instant and it won’t be freed from captivity by simply hitting the “open” button over and over, or disengaging the motor and yanking as if your life depended on it. It doesn’t. So relax and try one or more of the above solutions. Any one of them should result in the door opening and you being able to get on with your day.