Pros and Cons of Steel…Wood…Vinyl…More

Garage doors are underappreciated. They spend decades exposed to the elements. They are the largest moving part of the typical house. They are so large, in fact, that a deteriorating or unattractive ­garage door can make the entire home look shabby, particularly if the door is on the front of the home.

But it’s easy to go wrong when the time comes to replace a garage door. There is an increasing number of door options. Price, appearance, durability and maintenance all need to be considered. The good news is that there’s no need to spend a fortune—you can get a well-made, durable, attractive two-car garage door* starting at around $700 installed. A one-car door typically costs about two-thirds as much as a two-car door. Including an automatic opener will add perhaps $200 to $300 to your bill.

Money saver: Installing a garage door yourself could save you $250 to $450, but it’s a challenging job appropriate only for skilled do-it-yourselfers. Advice on how to do it is available at

Explore options at home-supply centers…on Web sites of leading door manufacturers—C.H.I. Overhead Doors (, Clopay (, Raynor ( and Wayne Dalton (…and in your area’s garage door showrooms.

To choose a garage door…


Most garage doors are made of either steel or wood, but there are other options worth considering…

    • Steel garage doors are economical, durable, secure and require little maintenance. They have overtaken wood in popularity. Quality steel doors come with long warranties—often 10 years or more—an indication of their durability. Today’s steel doors can be attractive, too. Great strides have been made in recent years in crafting steel garage doors. They come in a wide palette of colors, and some are designed to look like stained wood. It is possible to paint steel garage doors, but special paints or primers might be required depending on the door’s finish or cladding.

On the downside, steel doors can dent and low-end steel doors might rust or simply look unattractive.

What to look for: The thickness of the steel can provide a clue about the door’s overall quality. Top-quality steel doors tend to be made from 24-gauge steel, moderate-quality doors from 25- or 26-gauge steel, and low-quality doors from 27- or 28-gauge. (The higher the number, the thinner the steel.) Thin steel is more prone to dents.

Doors made from galvanized steel that has a baked-on polyester finish are especially rust-resistant. (Vinyl-clad steel doors are very rust-resistant, too, but might look “plastic-y.”)

Opt for an insulated steel door if keeping the garage warm or controlling noise between the garage and outdoors is a priority. This might be the case if you use the garage as a workshop or spare room…or if a room immediately above or adjacent to the garage is cold. Polyurethane garage door insulation is superior to polystyrene.

Price: Expect to pay $750 to $1,200 installed for a two-car steel door of ­reasonable quality.

    • Wood garage doors offer a warm, homey appearance. Composite-wood doors are affordable and are meant to be painted—a reasonable choice if price is your primary concern or if you want the color of your garage door to match the siding of your house. Appearance-grade wood doors are meant to be stained for an attractive natural-wood look. Custom wood garage doors are made by skilled craftsmen and can be extremely attractive, distinctive—and pricey. Wood is a better insulator against cold and noise than steel alone, but not as good as an insulated steel door.

However, wood garage doors require significant upkeep, including periodic painting or staining. (Steel doors might occasionally require painting, but not nearly as frequently.) Wood doors age quickly, especially when frequently subjected to precipitation or direct sunlight. They tend to have short warranties that reflect their often short lives—one-year warranties are standard. Wood doors are heavy, too. Still, a wood door might be appropriate if used in a location that doesn’t get much direct sunlight and is sheltered from precipitation by an overhang.

What to look for: Choose a roll-up wood garage door rather than a tilt-up model. The latter might save you a few dollars, but it will be heavy and inconvenient to operate. (A tilt-up door might be appropriate if the goal is to cover the garage door with the same siding that’s on the rest of the house—it’s difficult to put siding on a roll-up.) It’s particularly important to stick with doors made by the leading manufacturers when choosing a composite-wood door. Obscure-brand, low-priced composite garage doors often are very poorly made.

Price: Perhaps $700 to $1,000 installed for a two-car composite-wood door, or $1,500 to $2,000 for an ­appearance-grade two-car door—possibly more, depending on the wood. Custom-made wood doors can cost anywhere from $2,000 to $9,000.

    • frostedgaragedoorsGlass and aluminum garage doors feature perhaps eight to 16 frosted-glass or fiberglass panels supported by an aluminum frame. These doors have a distinctive, contemporary look. The panels typically are translucent but not ­transparent, so they allow plenty of light into the garage without letting people see in—a nice option for someone who uses a garage as a workshop or active storage area.

The aluminum frames on these doors are very durable, but the glass or fiberglass panels can crack or break—fiberglass is especially brittle in cold weather. Fiberglass also can yellow with age. Warranties vary widely—one to five years is typical—but they usually don’t cover cracked panels. Glass and fiberglass panels don’t provide much ­insulation or security.

What to look for: Choose glass rather than fiberglass panels-they weigh a bit more but won’t fade or yellow over time, and burglars might be leery of breaking in by shattering a glass panel because of the noise.

Price: $1,500 to $2,000 or more ­installed for a two-car door.

Warning: All-aluminum garage doors also are available but are best avoided. While aluminum garage-door frames can be quite strong, sheet aluminum can dent very easily.

    • Vinyl garage doors are another option. They are lightweight, affordable, maintenance-free (you don’t ever need to paint them) and extremely durable—they won’t rust or rot. Compared with steel or aluminum, vinyl is extremely dent-­resistant. That dent-resistance is particularly useful for home owners with kids who play sports in the driveway.

Vinyl also stands up well to salt air, making these doors a good option in coastal communities. Vinyl-door warranties often last 20 years, a sign that they are built to last. Insulated vinyl doors are available if garage sound or temperature is a concern.

What to look for: Choose a vinyl door that’s light in color—darker colors are more likely to fade. Never choose a vinyl door from a catalog photo. View an example in person to confirm that it doesn’t look too “plastic-y”—they really don’t look like wood. Their lack of visual appeal might make them the wrong choice if your garage door is on the front of your house.

Price: Around $800 to $1,300 for a two-car door.

Quality Hardware—A Must

The quality of a garage door’s springs, rollers and hinges can have a major effect on its durability and operation…

The rollers should contain ball bearings—the more the better. Nylon rollers are quieter than metal but generally don’t last as long.

Hinges should feel solid and substantial.

Springs should have a warranty of at least three years. It isn’t easy to judge the quality of a spring by looking at it, but a lengthy warranty can be a clue.

Warning: The warranty length cited for a garage door generally ­refers only to the door itself. Different ­warranty lengths apply to the door’s hardware.

Tracks that are “powder-coated”—a painting process that yields a more long-lasting finish than conventional painting—actually don’t do a lot to improve garage door performance, but they can be a sign that the manufacturer has spent a little extra to provide higher-end hardware.

Insider tip: Ask if a hardware upgrade is available with the door you select. It may be possible to get ­higher-end hardware

EXTRA: For an article on how you can improve the safety of your garage read Garage Dangers—How to Keep Your Family Safe. And for removing that stubborn grease spot on the garage floor read How to Clean Up Grease Spots in Your Garage.

*Prices in this article are typical costs for 16-foot-by-7-foot, two-car garage doors of reasonable quality, including hardware and installation, except as noted.