June, 2008

Inspection News and Views from the American Society of Home Inspectors

Testing Garage Doors: Are We Responsible?


In the summer of ’75, I was 12 years old and my dad took me to the Gateway theatre on Lawrence Avenue in Chicago to see “Jaws.” I sat next to him as Brody, Quint and Hooper battled the beast, and I vowed never to go into the water again (which included Lake Michigan, I wasn’t taking any chances).

I also sat next to him, riding shotgun, when we went on a job. By 1975, he was building homes and two- and three-flats, but he still had customers who needed service on the garages and garage doors his company built in the 1950s and 60s.

I spent most of my time sitting on a milk crate watching him work. I’m sure I handed him a wrench or two, but most of the time was spent counting the minutes. In reflection, I wish I had paid closer attention.

I haven’t thought about this in a long time until this past summer, when a Realtor® I know well called me. “Is there a right way and a wrong way to test a garage door?” she belted out with a tone indicting all home inspectors.

With her simple question, I immediately knew the story and asked, “Did the door fall or crumple like a beer can; and did he try to restrain the door with his hands?”
She didn’t know the extent of the damage, but she knew the inspector tested the door with his hands.

Testing garage doors as it applies to the contact reversal feature is one of those subjects that the home inspection community can’t seem to agree on. One of the reasons the disagreement exists is a lack of understanding of the function of the contact reversal feature.

What is the home inspector testing for? If the inspector is testing the door to see if the reversal feature operates as intended, there is a right and a wrong way to test the door. If the inspector is testing the door for what s/he believes to be the intended purpose of the reversal feature, there is no recognized test.

The purpose of the contact reversal feature is not to prevent crushing or the injury of a child. Its purpose, based on UL325, is to prevent entrapment. If you are viewing the contact reversal feature as an anti-crush or anti-injury feature, you are asking it do something it is not designed to do. When the door encounters an object at floor level, and no longer can continue downward, it needs to stop and within two seconds reverse and go back to its full open position. That’s it. To test that, the door industry standard is to use a 2"x4" laid flat under the door. This test, however, can still break a door. Door operators made prior to 1991 may not be equipped with the contact reversal feature.

Many home inspectors stop the door with their arms or hands when the door is at about waist level. This improvised test does not accurately reflect how the door will respond at floor level where entrapment will take place. Restraining the door by arm or hand increases the potential for damaging the door and injury to the inspector.

If the home inspector performs any kind of resistance testing on the door and it breaks, the home inspector almost always will be at fault. The excuse of “failed under test” doesn’t cut it. Any test other than the 2"x4" test is not recognized by the garage door industry and should not be recognized by ours. And, we know that even the correct test often results in a damaged door.

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.

In the case of my Realtor friend, the inspection company offered to pay for a portion of the new door. So, the buyer gets a new door, the seller is out an extra $150 for the portion of the door the inspector did not pay for, the home inspector worked for free, the already delicate relationship between the real estate community and inspection community gets strained, and the garage door technician gets one more job. All because of improper testing procedures.

Perhaps the garage door guy fixed the door with his son in tow, who watched the ol’ man turn his wrenches while sitting on a milk crate,  counting the  minutes, in the summer of ’07.