Garage door springs offset the weight of a garage door and allow the door to be opened and closed easily, either by hand or with an automatic opener. The high-tension steel in the springs has a limited lifespan, and over time, the springs will lose their effectiveness and need replacing. Many homeowners choose to have this work done by a professional since working with springs under tension is potentially dangerous. However, it's entirely possible for a moderately-skilled (and careful) DIYer to do the work themselves and save money.
Whether you want to tackle this project yourself or have a pro do it, remember that garage door springs come in levels of quality—they can be described as "10,000-use" or "20,000-use" springs, for example. This may sound like a very large number, but when you consider that a garage door can be opened four or five times a day, every day, every year, it becomes clear that there is a limited lifespan for these critical parts. It's usually wise to buy quality parts since this is a job you'd rather not do too often.
Types of Garage Door Springs
When preparing to replace garage springs, it's critical that you buy the right style of springs in a length and diameter that matches the old springs. Most residential garage doors have one of two types of springs: torsion or extension. Torsion springs are heavy-duty springs mounted around a metal rod (a torsion rod) that runs parallel to the door, directly above the door opening. Extension springs are long, lighter-weight springs that run perpendicular to the door and are mounted above the horizontal portions of the door tracks. As with the torsion system, these springs are tensioned by stretching out, using cables and pulleys.
Practice extreme caution when working with torsion springs. A small mistake can lead to disaster and injury because of the high tension required.
How Garage Door Springs Work
The typical sectional garage door operates by means of pulleys, cable, and springs. The cable transfers the energy of the springs to move the weight of the door, while the pulleys serve to reduce the effort needed to lift the doors and control the direction of the force.
If your garage door uses extension springs, there will be two sets of pulleys and two cables on each side. One end of the first cable is anchored to the bottom of the door, which runs up and over a stationary pulley attached to the wall near the upper corner of the garage door, around a moveable pulley attached to the end of the spring, then back to an anchored bracket secured to the door track. As the door closes, the pulleys and cable stretch out the spring, creating tension that will assist in lifting the door when you next open it.
However, there's also another cable on each side of the garage door which runs through the middle of the spring and is anchored to track brackets on each end. These are safety cables, meant to keep the spring in place if it happens to break under tension. These safety cables are a mandatory feature, and if your door springs are not outfitted with these, it's essential that you install them (or have them installed professionally) when you replace the springs.
If your garage door has torsion springs above the garage door opening, one end of each spring will be firmly anchored to a center plate, usually attached to the garage wall above the door (small garage doors may have only one torsion spring, not two). A torsion bar runs through the center of each spring, with the far ends fitted with a cable drum that holds the lift cable that runs down to secure to a bracket attached near the bottom corner of the door.
The free end of the spring is firmly anchored to the torsion bar by means of a winding cone. As the door closes, the extending cable causes the winding drum and torsion bar to rotate and twist the spring into a loaded "torsioned" state. When the door is next opened, the tension on the springs is released in a controlled fashion to assist in lifting the heavy door to an open position.
With either type of spring, hundreds or thousands of opening and closing cycles will cause the metal in the springs can lose its resiliency, gradually approaching a condition where they will need to be replaced.
Symptoms of Failing Springs
Aging garage door springs cause the door to effectively "weigh" more as the steel loses its resiliency. With new springs, a heavy garage door should take no more than 10 pounds of force to lift into an open position. With springs nearing the end of their lifespan, the force required to lift the door can be considerably more, since a garage door may weigh 200 pounds or more.
A garage door with aging springs puts an enormous load on a garage door opener, so another sign of failing springs is when you hear the electric door opener begin to strain as it attempts to lift the door. At this point, it's time to consider replacing the springs. Aging door springs can also break suddenly, a situation that can cause the door to slam shut violently.
If you happen to be present when a spring breaks, you will hear a very loud sound like a gunshot, because the break usually occurs when the spring is fully-loaded (stretched or twisted to its full tension). When one spring breaks, the door will suddenly feel very heavy when you try to open it by hand, and an automatic garage door opener may no longer be able to lift the door at all.
Garage door springs cannot be repaired. Maintenance involves the full replacement of both springs at the same time. If one spring has broken, it's a sure bet that the other is nearing the end of its life.
If you have a garage door opener and you suspect that a door spring has broken, do not disconnect the opener from the door (by pulling the red emergency release handle) while the door is open. If you do, the door can come crashing down under its nearly full weight, with nothing to stop it. This is an extremely dangerous situation. Additionally, it's never safe to leave the door open when a spring has broken, as someone may try to close the door without realizing how heavy it is.
If you need to leave the door open until you can make repairs, block the door track on both sides so the door can't move, and unplug the garage door opener (if you have one). If you want to close the door, you can try closing it with the opener, making sure there's nothing in the door's path in case something goes wrong. Alternatively, you can have a few strong helpers hold the door while you disconnect it from the opener and carefully close the door manually.
When to Call a Professional
It's often recommended that garage door springs should always be replaced by pros. This is understandable advice, but the rule is not hard-and-fast. A moderately-experienced homeowner who's competent with tools and has a basic understanding of mechanical systems can replace either type of garage door spring, saving themselves between $200 and $300 in labor costs.
The installation procedure is pretty straight-forward, but it involves many steps that must be done in the proper order. If you hire a pro, make sure to ask about the quality of the springs they will install. They may offer several grades of springs to choose from, at a range of costs. Top-of-the-line springs may be guaranteed for life, while economy springs can be expected to last perhaps five years under normal use.
Because your automatic garage door opener has been under some strain as the springs have become more worn and less effective, this is also a good time to evaluate the opener. The same technician who replaces the springs can also replace the opener if it is nearing the end of its life.
Can save money
DIY replacement can be time-consuming
Process can be complicated, involving many steps
Equipment / Tools
- 2 C-clamps
- Safety goggles
- Work gloves
- Open-end or adjustable wrenches
- Locking pliers
- New pair of extension springs OR New pair of torsion springs, with winding bars
- Garage door spray lubricant
- New cables or brackets (if needed)
There are many parts that will need to be disconnected and reattached when a pair of garage door springs are replaced, so it is essential that you understand how your door and springs operate. Make sure to study the mechanism carefully—taking some photos of each component can be very helpful when it comes time to reattach the new cables. If possible, consult the manufacturer's installation manual for details on how the work is done.
How to Replace Extension-Type Garage Door Springs
Buy New Springs
Purchase a pair of replacement springs that match the specifications of the old springs. They generally will be specified for 7-foot or 8-foot high doors. They may be sold as a pair of springs, or in a kit that includes new cables, pulleys, and mounting brackets. If the old parts seem worn, it's a good idea to replace them all at the same time you are replacing the springs.
Prepare the Garage Door
Open the garage door fully and secure C-clamps to both garage door tracks to prevent the door from accidentally shutting while you are working. If you wish, you can also block the bottom of the door with a long brace. Additionally, you should unplug the garage door opener so that it can't be accidentally activated while you are working.
Detach Extension Spring
Unbolt the first extension spring from the bracket that holds it to the back of the door track (this is the one furthest from the door).
Disconnect Lift Cable
Disconnect the lift cable from the bracket where it connects to the door rail, just above the door opening. Disconnect the moveable pulley from the end of the spring, and unthread the loose cable from the pulley.
Disconnect Safety Cable
Disconnect the safety cable that runs through the spring. The extension spring is now free for removal. Repeat steps three through five for the other door spring.
Attach Safety Cable
Begin installation by threading the new safety cable through the spring and attaching the ends of the safety cable to the track brackets.
Attach Lift Cable
Attach one end of the new spring to its connection point on the door track and the other end to the moveable pulley. Make sure the cable is threaded from the bracket on the lower corner of the door, up over the stationary pulley, looped through the moveable pulley at the end of the spring, then back to the bracket on the door track. When making the final attachment of the cable to the track bracket, apply a slight bit of force to stretch the spring by a small amount (though no more than 1 to 2 inches). Repeat steps six and seven for the other door spring.
Lubricate and Test Springs
Apply some garage door spray lubricant to the springs. Plug back in the garage door opener, remove the C-clamps, and test the operation of the garage door. Some adjustment of the garage door opener lift power may be needed, as the new springs may be more powerful than the old ones.
How to Replace Torsion-Type Garage Door Springs
Prepare Garage Door
Lock the garage door in the closed position by attaching C-clamps inside the tracks, adjacent to the lowest wheels on the door tracks. Disconnect the garage door opener. Position a stepladder so that you're standing slightly off to the side when working with the winding cones on the springs.
Check the size of the winding bars against the openings in the winding cones on the ends of the torsion springs. Most bars have both 1/2-inch and 7/16-inch ends that will fit most torsion springs.
"Unload" the Springs
Insert the end of the winding bar into the bottom lug fitting on the winding cone, making sure it's full-seated in the opening. Hold the bar tightly as you loosen the two setscrews on the winding cone. Make sure to grip tightly, because as the setscrews loosen, a notable amount of force will be released.
Alternate the winding bars into different holes on the winding cone, gradually unwinding the springs until there is no tension remaining. This will take a number of downward one-quarter turn revolutions until the spring's tension is fully released—you should feel it when no more tension is present.
Disconnect Torsion Springs
Once all force is released, disconnect the torsion springs from the center mounting bracket by unbolting them using an open-end or adjustable wrench. Slide the springs slightly down the torsion bars towards the end.
Disconnect Lift Cables
Use a pair of locking pliers to hold the torsion bar in place in the center bracket. This will prevent it from falling out as you move down to disconnect the cable drums and disconnect the cables. Detach the lift cables from the door brackets at the bottom of the door.
Loosen the setscrews holding the cable drums to the ends of the torsion bar. Slide the cable drums off the ends of the torsion bar, then slide the old springs off the torsion bar. Inspect the cables; if they show signs of wear, now is a good time to replace them as well.
Attach New Springs
Slide the new springs onto the torsion bar, making sure the "right hand" and "left hand" springs are on the correct sides. Bolt the stationary mounting cones of the springs onto the center mounting bracket, in the same manner that the old springs were attached.
Reattach Lift Cables
Reattach the lift cables to the brackets at the bottom of the door. Slide the cable drums onto the ends of the torsion bar and make sure the cables are anchored inside the drums. Make sure the cable is fully wound up so there is no slack, then secure them by tightening their set screws down against the torsion bar.
"Load" the Springs
Now comes the trickiest part. Using two winding bars, begin twisting the winding cone and torsion spring to "load" it. Follow the manufacturer's instructions for the number of twists required to fully tighten the spring—this is generally between 30 and 36 one-quarter twists. You will be twisting the spring in an upward direction.
Anchor the Springs
Once the spring is correctly loaded, tap on the side of the winding bar with a hammer to nudge the winding cone down the torsion bar about 1/4-inch—this will slightly extend the spring. While still holding the winding cone in place with the bars, tighten the setscrews down about a half of a turn to secure the cone to the torsion bar. Be careful not to over-tighten, as this can deform the torsion bar.
Apply a garage door spray lubricant to the springs. Remove all clamps, plug in the garage door opener, and operate the door several times to check its operation. The springs may require some further winding if the door doesn't stay fully open on its own, or some unwinding if the door does not close all the way.