If you have ever tried to open a garage door without the benefit of springs, you quickly realize that it is more difficult than it looks. This is because you are not only dealing with the weight of the door, but all the friction of the rollers, cables, and pulleys as well. Some doors are heavier than others, so opening a garage door with a broken spring can be a challenge.
As with any home improvement project, safety is job one. Garage doors can be extremely heavy, so it is important to understand the risks.
Even a standard, seven-foot aluminum door can be too heavy for one person, so always recruit additional help if your door is made of wood, a double door (two-car), a commercial size door, or any other factor that would add additional weight. A falling door is essentially a guillotine, so never allow yourself, nor anyone else to stand under a door being lifted.
Before We Start: Check Other Reasons Why Garage Door Won’t Open
There are a few things that can cause your door not to open, so before you start replacing any parts, check these possible causes first:
- Make sure the emergency release cord wasn’t accidentally engaged.
- If you have an opener, make sure you can hear it running when it is activated.
- Occasionally, a small part called a limiter clip on a belt-driven or chain-driven opener will pop off during operation. If your opener runs continuously and the door won’t open, check there first.
- Make sure garage door cables are intact and don’t require repair.
- If the opener runs and you can see the belt or chain moving, but the door won’t move, check that the cotter pin holding the lifting arm of the opener (the curved metal bar that attaches the door to the opener) is still intact. If it’s broken or missing, replace it.
- All modern garage door openers have infrared sensors, a transmitters and a receiver, that prevent the door from moving if there is an obstruction in the way. These send and receive units must have a clear line of sight to each other. Check for, and remove any obstacles if there are any. If that doesn’t fix the problem, try cleaning the lenses of both the transmitter and receiver. These are very close to the garage floor and if they get dirty, they can’t see each other. If they can’t see each other, the opener will not operate.
- Almost all garage doors will have a manual lock. We usually rely on the opener to prevent unwanted opening, so we don’t even think about locking the door. If the opener attempts to open a locked door, the limiting force adjustment in the opener will automatically stop the opener and usually, a light will flash. If this happens, check the lock and make sure it’s open.
How to Tell If Your Garage Door Spring is Broken
Identifying a broken spring is relatively easy. If you have a torsion spring system, the spring will be parallel to the door and mounted on the wall just above it.
Most torsion spring systems have two springs, so if you see three or more spring sections, at least one spring is broken.
With extension springs, the most obvious indicator is usually slack in the spring and cable. In both situations, your opener will likely either struggle to open the door or may not function at all.
If you want to repair garage spring door yourself, check out our safety & repair guide on How to Diagnose and Repair a Garage Door With a Broken Spring: Step-By-Step Instructions.
Opening Torsion Spring Doors
As a rule, torsion spring systems are used with doors that require additional lifting power. Often, these are older doors, double doors (two-car), or any other situation indicating the door is unusually heavy. Since the vast majority of garage door spring systems have two springs, it is exceedingly rare for both springs to break at the same time. This often means the lifting capacity of the system is only reduced by 50%, so depending on the weight, a couple of adults can likely lift the door in conjunction with the opener.
The first and easiest thing to try is to simply replace the lifting power of the broken spring by hand. You’ll want to have your opener remote with you. With an adult standing by, operate the opener. If the door is too heavy to open even partially, it is recommended to contact a professional. More often than not, when one garage door spring breaks, the other will likely soon follow. After one spring breaks, the remaining spring will attempt to do double duty. If the remaining spring has been weakened due to age or wear, it may unexpectedly break as well. If this occurs while the door is being lifted manually, in an instant the door will get twice as heavy and can cause serious injury. If necessary, contact a pro.
If your door does begin to lift, you can use the lock handle for a grip. Unfortunately, most garage doors lack additional lifting handles on the inside, so a smart move is to have the other adult(s) helper on the outside of the door. This will allow the helper to lift using the outer handle for a better grip.
NEVER put your fingers (or anything else) between the panels, as they will be crushed as the door straightens. As the door lifts, it will likely struggle. To prevent your opener from reaching its lifting capacity and stopping, provide just enough lifting force to raise the door.
Once the door is opened, have your helper hold the door in place while you install locking pliers or C-clamps onto the track. Lock them onto the track just under the last roller on both sides of the door to prevent any unplanned movement.
Opening Extension Spring Doors
The best practice for lifting an extension spring door is the same as with a torsion spring, albeit with a couple of differences, which will be noted here. Extension spring doors tend to be smaller and lighter weight than their torsion spring counterparts; however, they are still dangerous, so make sure you have some help available just in case.
With your opener still connected, have your opener remote with you. Operate the opener and as the door begins to lift, assist the opener by hand until it is opened completely. While your helper controls the door, place locking pliers or C-clamps onto the track as before, just under the last roller on both sides of the door to prevent any unplanned movement.
Optional Step 1.5
If you have a standard, single seven or eight-foot hollow aluminum door, there is an optional method to try. Along the rail of the opener near the door will be the emergency release cord for the opener. It will be red with a handle and hanging from the rail. With the door still closed, pull down and back on the cord, disengaging it from the opener track. Now the door is totally free from the opener and should travel freely. Using adults, you can now attempt to lift the door. However, keep in mind that the door is now free and can also fall if you lose your grip, so make sure to control it all the way up.
Pro Tip. If you have a double door (two-car) but it won’t move with the opener, it may have less to do with the weight and more to do with the flexing of the door. Large doors, especially aluminum and steel, tend to get bound up in the track if pressure is applied unevenly. If the door is light enough, it may be possible to just recruit enough adults to lift the door at different points, reducing the friction caused by the flex of the door.
Another Job Well Done
Having the knowledge and skill to get out of a pinch is very rewarding. Knowing when to ask for help or call a professional is too. The best part of any home improvement project is finishing it successfully and without injury. Just take your time, think through the process, and stay safe.