Garage Door Openers and Safety Features

A house with a garage door

A garage door is the biggest opening to the house. A garage door opener has several safety features to prevent injury. Here we look at the safety features and why they are important

Garage Door History

Garage doors as we know them were invented in the 1920s, and were known as the “upward-lifting garage door”. The very same company also created automatic garage door openers later that decade. Automatic openers did not become commonplace in American homes until after WW2 and only started becoming more standard in the 1970s.

Garage doors come in many sizes, and shapes, have many ways of opening and may have one or more safety features depending on when it was installed. Most modern automatic garage door openers operate by a motor mounted on the garage ceiling. That motor is connected to a chain or a belt that lifts the garage door open. The button for the opener, either a wall-mounted or remote control, sends a radio signal to the motor to either open or close the door.

Safety Feature: The Eye Beam

The primary safety feature of modern garage doors is the eye beam safety device. These prevent people, cars, pets, and items in your garage from coming in contact with the closing garage door. These eye beams are devices mounted at the bottom of each garage door track. One is a sender and the other a receiver. The sender sends an invisible signal to the receiver. If at any point something crosses the eye beam’s path and breaks the signal while the automatic garage door is operating it will stop and send the door back up.

A common problem is the eye beams are mounted too high. The eye beams should be 4 to 6 inches from the ground. If higher, babies or small pets can crawl under the beam.

Occasionally people mount the beams at the ceiling so that they can not stop the door. This is extremely dangerous and the door can close on a baby, small child, or a beloved pet.

The eyebeam mounted at the ceiling. This is extremely dangerous!
An eyebeam is mounted at the ceiling. This is extremely dangerous!

Safety Feature: Auto Reverse

The secondary safety feature of garage door openers is called an auto-reverse. This feature has an adjustable pressure sensor that works when the garage door is met with resistance when closing. A very important feature indeed is to keep your family and potentially the hood of a poorly parked vehicle safe. These safety features had become federally mandated in the early 1990s.

This safety reverse feature has a sensitivity adjuster. Most doors we inspect are not adjusted correctly. However, the sensor can easily be adjusted by a qualified person.

Safety Feature: Button Location

Inside the garage, there should be a button to open and close the door. This is important in case a person loses the remote control or gets trapped inside the garage door without the remote control. Additionally, the button should always be in the eyesight of the door. Within Eyesight of the door is important so that no one accidentally closes the door on a person or pet. Equally important, the button should be a minimum of 54″ above the ground to prevent small children from playing with the door opener.

Safety Feature: Manual Override

In the case of a power outage in the home, you still can open the garage door manually and escape. This feature is known as a manual safety release. It’s often a red cord overhead that’s attached to the trolly containing the chain or belt that lifts the garage door. Knowing where
and practicing how to pull this cord and activate the safety release is paramount to being prepared for emergency situations.

Manual override pull down
Manual override pull-down cord

Safety Feature: Back up Battery

The latest safety innovation is the battery backup system for the garage door opener. In the event of a power outage, the battery backup will still supply power to the opener to allow you to open the door. Specifically, California law is requiring battery backup systems to be installed on NEW automatic garage door openers sold after July 2019. However, there is no requirement to upgrade existing garage door openers and hence these models are still very rare to see in existing homes. If someone decides to replace the garage door opener for any reason they are required to install a battery backup battery model.

The Inspection Process

During a home inspection, an inspector will assess how your garage door opens, look for physical damage to the garage door itself, and test the safety features including the safety eye beams and the auto-reverse function.

The battery backup system cannot be assessed during a typical home inspection though as the power to the home must be off in order to test them.

To book your home inspection, call 818-298-3405 or book online here.


Even if the inspector finds your garage door working perfectly, garage doors need regular maintenance. Over time the door may settle. Springs, nuts, and other hardware can loosen. The eye beams can fall out of alignment. Just like your car and many elements of your house, a garage door should receive annual maintenance to ensure it functions at its best over time.