August, 2008
Feature
Inspection News and Views from the American Society of Home Inspectors



Best Judgment the Key to Inspecting Automatic Garage Door Openers

SANDY BOURSEAU

Paul King, Edward Robinson and Robert Gwaltney have more in common than their ASHI membership; all thought there was a lot more to be said about inspecting automatic garage door systems than what appeared in the June Viewpoint.

Viewpoints are positions or perspectives from which something is considered or evaluated. “Testing Garage Doors: Are We Responsible?” took the position: “There is a reasonable expectation by homeowners that nothing done by a home inspector will damage their property. If a home inspector feels the need to properly test the contact reversal feature, the inspector has a duty to ask the owner for permission and to inform the owner of the risk of damage to the door.”

While those who wrote us about garage doors did not comment on this position, they expressed opinions about the purpose of the reversal feature or suggested methods for testing automatic garage door systems and provided sources for their comments.

Why is this a hot topic?

For consumers, it’s a safety issue.

ASHI Member Edward Robinson directed us to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).

“According to a report received by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), approximately 60 children between the ages of 2 and 14 have been trapped and killed under the automatic garage doors since March 1982. This is approximately four such deaths per year. Other children have suffered brain damage or serious injuries when the closing door contacted them and failed to stop and reverse its direction.” (Source: CPSC Document #523)

In response to this hazard, the “CPSC requires all garage door operators manufactured or imported after January 1, 1993, for sale in the United States be outfitted with an external entrapment protection system.”

To educate consumers about the hazard and the need for the protection system, the CPSC joined forces with the National Safety Council and The Door & Access Systems Manufacturers Association International (DASMA) to develop and publish “The Automatic Garage Door and Opener Safety & Maintenance Guide.

For home inspectors, it’s a safety and inspection issue.


According to the ASHI Standards of Practice (SOP) Committee, the ASHI Standards of Practice and Code of Ethics clearly requires that inspectors “inspect” garage doors and their openers. Where there may be some gray area is whether “testing” of safety features is required and/or how they are “tested.” This is a controversial issue among our membership, with some members arguing that you cannot inspect certain components unless you test them.

Many inspectors test automatic door systems’ safety features even though it’s not specifically covered in the ASHI Standards of Practice. Many also are aware a garage door could be damaged during safety-feature testing. This was the issue raised in the June Viewpoint and is covered in the Standards of Practice by the following entry.

“Inspectors are NOT required to: perform any procedure or operation that will, in the opinion of the inspector, likely be dangerous to the inspector or other persons or damage the property or its systems or components.”

John Cranor, chair of the ASHI SOP Committee, comments, “I strongly believe that some things are best left to the judgment of the inspector, and this is probably one of those things. The SOP also states inspections performed in accordance with these Standards of Practice are not technically exhaustive and the glossary definition of “technically exhaustive” includes the word ‘testing’.” Nevertheless, DASMA and the International Door Association (IDA) see inspectors as a valuable early warning system for garage door hazards. As such, they thought that inspectors might appreciate information on how to safely inspect automatic garage doors. With input from ASHI, the two organizations developed a video guide for home inspectors, “How to Inspect a Garage Door System.”

The 14-minute DVD covers the key elements of a thorough inspection of a basic sectional garage door system and includes the safest procedures that are supported by the garage door systems industry. To ensure its value to the home inspection industry, several ASHI members were consulted throughout its development. DVDs were distributed to ASHI chapter presidents free of charge.

The video and the accompanying 10-point inspection checklist caution inspectors that in some cases, they may need to use their best judgment on how to proceed safety. The high-tension springs used on door openers can cause serious injury or death.

Inspectors need to consider their own safety at every step of the inspection, and if the door appears to be inoperable recommend contacting a trained door systems technician.

Both the non-contact and the more controversial contract reversal tests are included on the 10-point checklist. It notes: “UL 325 requires this test, but in some rare cases, this test has damaged the door system when the opener’s force-setting has been improperly set or when the opener reinforcement bracket is not securely or appropriately attached to the top section.”

It advises inspectors that if they have “any concerns that this test may cause damage, a trained door systems technician should check the entire system and conduct the test.”

DASMA and IDA agree the checklist is not a substitute for individual manufacturers’ instructions or for local regulations. If the manufacturers’ instructions differ from the checklist, they take precedence.

Click here to go to the download section of DASMA. Look for Publication TDS #167.

Cranor concurs and reminds ASHI members, “Educational material is just that, ‘education’ and the ASHI SOP is a minimal guideline. Some procedures and/or business decisions are best left to the judgment of the individual inspector. The SOP can never cover every possible issue or detail. The inspection protocols and testing of garage door opener safety features could vary and may be partially dictated by the industry practice among other things.”

He adds, “While I strongly believe that the decision to test a specific component in a specific situation must be left to the inspector, the issue is more than what the SOP requires or doesn’t require. The issue is really what the public and the legal system expect.  Every garage door manufacturer recommends the home-owner perform testing of the safety features so if an inspector decides not to test the safety features, the inspector should carefully consider that he or she may have to justify that decision.”

Judgment is the process of forming an opinion or evaluation by discerning and comparing.

And best judgment always is the bottom line for home inspection professionals.

The bottom line for inspecting automatic garage doors, including the safety systems, is the inspector’s ability to discern and compare the conditions present at the time of the inspection. Experience, education such as “How to Inspect a Garage Door System,” and sharing information with other professionals help home inspectors fine-tune their ability to evaluate the situation and make the judgment calls consumers rely on when they hire an ASHI member.

Thank you to Paul E. Kink, Inspector Paul, Inc., Fort Mill, S.C.; Edward Robinson, Professional Engineering Inspections, Inc., Houston, Texas; and Robert Gwaltney, Old Dominion Home Inspection, Vienna, Va., for continuing the discussion about garage door inspections.

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 Resources for Home Inspectors and Their Customers

From www.dasma.com:

The Automatic Garage Door and Opener Safety & Maintenance Guide (PDF) is available on the DASMA Web site under Publications, Brochures & Materials.

The Garage Door Inspection DVD can be ordered from www.doors.org for $15. The Consumer Safety Guide is available in packets of 50 for $7.50. Click on Shop to find items.

CPSC Document #523, “Non Reversing Garage Door Openers A Hazard,” (http://www.cpsc.gov/CPSCPUB/PUBS/523.html) is in the public domain and may be reproduced without change in part or whole by an individual or organization without permission. Home inspectors are welcome to distribute it to their current or potential clients.

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