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.
One 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.
Still, 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 and the distinct advantages of each type, so you can make an informed decision on the type that’s right for you.
Belt Drive Garage Door Openers Vs. Chain Drive: Which is Better?
Two garage door opener types make up more than 95% of all sales: belt drive and chain drive. They both have their advantages and disadvantages and both have their champions; people who swear one type is better than the other. But is one type of garage door opener really better than the other, or is it just a matter of personal preference? Before getting into the merits of screw drive openers, let’s compare the advantages and disadvantages of these two leading garage door opener options.
The Belt Drive Opener
Our non-scientific comparison will try and figure out if one type of opener is clearly better than the other through a listing of their advantages and disadvantages. Belt drive first.
Belt Drive Pros
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:
- Volume - One of the things that makes the process of raising and lowering your garage doors a noisy experience is the chain drive mechanism. A belt drive however nearly eliminates noise from the process which is one of the main advantages it has over the chain drive. In this regard there isn’t much of a contest. Belt drive garage doors are much quieter to operate.
- Strength - Belt drives will do a fine job of lifting practically any type of garage door. Drive belt construction has made great strides in recent decades, to the point that they’re now used on many large motorcycles; which should tell you something about their durability as well.
- Speed - Belt drive garage doors will lift an average weight door slightly quicker than their chain counterpart. So if getting into your home a few seconds faster is important to you, you’ll want to go with a belt drive system.
- Ease of Installation - Any drive mechanism whether chain or belt, is going to eventually need replacing. When that time comes replacing a worn or broken belt can be a significantly easier process than replacing a broken chain drive.
- Availability - Belt drive garage door openers are available nearly everywhere you buy home improvement products. You can also purchase them through garage door installation and service companies if you like.
- Ease of Maintenance - Belt drives do not need to be lubricated the way chain drives do.
Belt Drive Cons
Nothing is perfect and that includes belt drive garage door openers. Their drawbacks include:
- Strength - How can the same issue be both a strength and a weakness? Because while belt drive garage door openers will typically lift the average one car garage door with quiet ease, they may struggle a bit when it comes to lifting heavier, two car garage doors, or for that matter heavy wooden doors.
- Performance - While belt drives will operate just fine under most conditions they may slip when operating in extreme heat or during times of very high humidity.
- Lifespan - Typically a belt will not last as long as a chain will so you’ll have to replace them more often. On the upside they usually come with a better warranty than chain drive systems.
- Price - Belt drive garage door openers will typically set you back more than chain drive openers, but, as mentioned above, they also usually come with a better warranty.
The Chain Drive Opener
The chain drive garage door opener 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.
Chain Drive Pros
- Strength - Whereas a belt drive may struggle to lift two car garage doors, a chain drive will have no such problems. There’s also no danger that they’ll slip in the process which means they’re slightly safer as well.
- Dependability/Durability - Chain drives, if properly maintained, will outlast belt drives by a fair degree. They’re also good to go no matter the temperature or humidity.
- Availability - Like belt drive systems, chain driven garage door openers are available just about anywhere - at the big box stores, at any home improvement center, at many hardware stores or through your local garage door installation company. Their widespread popularity also generally means they’re a well understood garage door opener choice.
- Price - Chain drives are by far the least expensive type of garage door opener on the market - less expensive than belt or screw drive systems - which is what makes them so widely popular.
Chain Drive Cons
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 disadvantages of chain drive doors are:
- Noise - No doubt about it, a chain drive garage door opener will make more noise than a belt drive. If your garage door is attached to the house near any of the major social areas or under a second floor bedroom this could be a problem. If the garage is detached it may not be.
- Smoothness of Operation - Chain drive doors will sometimes lift in a slightly shaky manner due to the nature of the chain mechanism. They will also lift your door a bit slower than a belt drive opener might, though the difference of a few seconds overall isn’t much of an issue to most homeowners.
- Maintenance - That “properly maintained” part mentioned above is important because if you don’t have your chain drive lubricated at regular intervals it can begin to rust, work unevenly and eventually fail.
The Screw Drive Opener
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.
As we stated earlier, belt drive openers and chain drive openers make up more than 95% of all garage door opener sales. The remaining 5% of customers opt for the underdog, the unsung hero of the garage door opener market - screw-drive openers. No, not screwdrivers. Screw-drive openers. Screw-drive openers are an outstanding choice if your door is wider or heavier than average. And, contrary to popular belief, installing them is typically a straightforward affair. So it’s time to give the screw-drive opener some love - and that’s what we’re going to do below with our six reasons why a screw-drive opener could be the best garage door opener for you.
Screw Drive Pros
- Size - One of the biggest things the screw-drive garage door opener has going for it is its compact size. This is especially important if your garage has a low ceiling. And while a lot of folks just assume that smaller size means less power we’re happy to say that’s simply not the case. With chain and belt drive systems a lot of lifting force is lost between the motor and the door. With a screw-drive opener you get a much more efficient transfer of power between the two. So a comparably sized screw-drive opener can typically lift more weight than a chain drive opener of the same size.
- Volume - The screw-drive garage door opener is typically much quieter than the popular chain drive opener. There’s no chain clanking around first of all. Second of all, they don’t get squeaky like some chain drive openers can get when the mercury plunges. And with a more efficient transfer of power the entire lifting motion is smoother and won’t create as many noise-generating jerks and stutters. If you need to get out of the house early in the morning or you typically come home late from work you won’t wake up the whole house if you have a screw-drive garage door opener.
- Easy to install - The pros from A Better Garage Door make the installation of your screw-drive opener a quick, hassle-free experience. We sometimes hear folks expressing concern that this type of “exotic” opener must take forever to install. But, the fact is, they’re often a faster installation than a chain or belt drive opener. In addition, screw-drive openers are known for being virtually maintenance free. That’s because there’s no chain or belt to break and they typically produce less stress on rollers, tracks and cables. Many types of screw-drives don’t even require lubrication.
- Ideal for large doors - Not everyone has a nice cozy, standard-width, single-car garage door opening. Some two car garages in fact have just the one double-width door for both vehicles. There are both practical and aesthetic reasons for having a double door. But whatever the reason, if your door is wider than average it’s going to be heavier than average. In which case a screw-drive opener is a better choice than a chain or a belt. Also, weight is not just a function of size. All-glass garage doors are increasingly popular these days. But they’re also heavier than other types of doors. So if you’re thinking glass door, think screw-drive.
- Safety - Chain drive and belt drive garage doors are safer these days than ever before. But there are a lot of people that consider the screw-drive garage door opener to be a safer choice than either of the more popular doors. Why? Because they tend to move a little slower than either chain or belt drive openers. (That smoother, more deliberate motion is part of the reason why they’re quieter.) Because the door opens a bit more slowly, anyone who might find themselves under the door when it starts to close will have more time to get out of the way. That’s especially important if the auto-reverse mechanism isn’t working.
- Cost - A lot of people simply assume that screw-drive garage door openers are more expensive than chain or belt drive openers. They’re then pleasantly surprised to discover this is not the case. In fact, screw-drive openers are typically a more affordable option than either belt or chain drive openers. And that affordability extends from the price of the opener to the cost of installation. And that’s not all. Because the screw-drive opener is virtually maintenance-free you’ll experience lower long-term costs as well.
Screw Drive Cons
Like chain drive openers and belt drive openers, the screw drive door mechanism is not without its downsides:
- Volume - Screw drive openers usually make a little more noise than belt drive openers. However, as we mentioned above, they're still a quieter option than most chain drive openers.
- Upkeep - The threaded rod of screw drive openers needs to be kept properly lubricated approximately twice a year, requiring more upkeep than other opener types.
The Bottom Line
Ultimately, both chain and belt drive openers have their upside so, as with a lot of things in life, it really comes down to your personal preferences. If rock solid reliability in any weather with any size door is most important to you, you’ll probably want a chain drive system. If you need or want your door to be quiet and run as smooth and fast as possible, you’ll probably want to go with belt drive garage doors. If, however, upfront cost is your only consideration then it’s chain drive all the way.
In other cases, you may be better served by having the pros from A Better Garage Door install a screw-drive opener, instead of a chain or belt drive model. This is especially true if you have a double width door or a door that’s made from heavier materials like glass. But as we’ve seen, the advantages of the screw-drive garage door don’t end there. You can also save money while potentially enhancing the safety profile of your home by installing a screw-drive garage door.
Our Littleton garage door service technicians has installed innumerable garage door openers of every type for scores of homeowners in Thornton, Broomfield and beyond. We make sure our customers are always fully informed about the pros and cons of each type of garage door opener, because our goal is to make sure they get the garage door they want, not the one that provides us with the largest profit margin. If you are still unsure which type of opener would be best for your home and family, give our experienced garage door repair team a call on (303) 920-2267 and talk to one of our experts.