« Presidents and the Economy | Main | And the Winner Is... »

Thanks, Government

The US Government requires that garage door openers include an electric eye system that prevents the door from closing if the beam is broken.  Unfortunately, given dirty garages, it is really easy for this beam to be blocked by dust and such.  Two years ago, the beam system caused my door to go back up without my knowledge (I just hit the button and went inside) and as a result our garage was robbed that night. 

This time of year is especially frustrating for us.  My garage faces south, so the low sun this time of year overwhelms the electric eye system in most garage doors and causes them to refuse to close.  It is hugely frustrating, and a real security issue.  I glued tubes around each eye to try to shade the sun, but it is still working erratically.  I spent much of last weekend trying to figure out how to bypass the system electrically but I could not make it work.  Finally, I have had enough.  I have spent ten times the cost of the garage door opener in stolen goods and my personal time fighting this stupid device.  Tonight I am going to remove the two eyes and just mount them facing each other on a wall so I don't have to worry about them any more.  Unless someone can come up with a better solution. 

In my mind this is a classic example of government technocracy -- someone decided for us that we should value a minuscule increase in safety over a substantial reduction in security.

Posted on April 7, 2008 at 05:08 PM | Permalink


Tonight I am going to remove the two eyes and just mount them facing each other on a wall so I don't have to worry about them any more. Unless someone can come up with a better solution.
That's what we did when we bought a new one. The two sensors are mounted nose-to-nose on a two-by-four right next to the motor.

Posted by: Aaron | Apr 7, 2008 6:29:03 PM

Even worse, if it's only using two sensors it doesn't even perform the safety function.

No matter where you place a single pair of sensors, it'll be trivial to place a kid on a bicycle or a toddler in an exersaucer such that the munchkin will be whacked by the closing door while the beam is unobstructed.

Posted by: Kevin | Apr 7, 2008 6:34:47 PM

I get the feeling a lot of homeowners have, or will soon start, keeping "two sets of books". By that I mean a list of all the things like this that they've done to bypass stupid regulations, and that will have to be put back when selling the house for fear of a lawsuit or an inspection going wrong. Anyone who does significant work to the house will have to start writing it down since it will get too long to just remember.

Those handicap railings, ramps, and handholds; the removed water-saver restrictors on the showerheads; the low-flow toilet; soon, the internet-connected thermostat... It's only going to get worse, and more and more people will become quiet outlaws in their own homes.

Posted by: Kyle Bennett | Apr 7, 2008 6:39:12 PM

"more people will become quiet outlaws in their own homes."

That is the crazy part isn't it. All of the stupid regulations that people wont put upward have the effect of making them into criminals.

This can hardly be good long term for respect for the rule of law.

Posted by: Jason Rennie | Apr 7, 2008 9:05:26 PM

All good points, that's one of my pet peeves. Even a little bit of snow near it causes ours problems too.

Posted by: Speedmaster | Apr 8, 2008 5:41:19 AM

If the technology is causing such a problem, why not simply open and close the door by hand?

Posted by: Quentin | Apr 8, 2008 6:04:11 AM

If the technology is causing such a problem

I seem to recall a quote somewhere involving a baby and some bathwater. It's not the technology that is causing a problem.

Posted by: Kyle Bennett | Apr 8, 2008 7:00:52 AM

I had a friend (in Fallbrook, California) who had the installer install the electric eye system up in the rafters above his (south facing) garage door. To the best of my knowledge he has never had any problems with his door not closing.

Posted by: dski | Apr 8, 2008 7:32:49 AM

"If the technology is causing such a problem, why not simply open and close the door by hand?"

If we open the close the door by hand, the (governmental) terrorists have won.

Posted by: John | Apr 8, 2008 8:56:22 AM

The problem I foresee with breaking such a law is the potential liability. Suppose your neighbor's kid - or even his dog - gets squished by a garage door deliberately tampered with. A lawyer would have a field day.

Posted by: John Dewey | Apr 8, 2008 8:59:41 AM

So, you don't think the law is a good one. You walk away from your door, assuming it will close, and blame government for your oversight in that instance? That's just peachy, Warren. That's another example of the Victim Mentality that is so bleedin' pervasive in this country. Our door didn't close one night. I learned my lesson. I stay and make SURE it goes down and stays down. I don't walk away from it until I know it's down. I'd be willing to let the first instance go by, but the second instance is sheer stupidity on your part. Pure and simple. An inability to learn, and an ability to blame somebody else for your problem.

Of course, I don't expect you to see this as you blame the gubbmint for all manner of things. And that's fine. Sometimes I agree with you. Not on this one. This one is all on you. You didn't take responsibility for your garage door. The sensors are a convenient cop out. Should they be there? Maybe, maybe not. However, that doesn't negate your fault in not paying attention to your own home, your own door and your own responsibilities in this instance.

And the poster who made the comment about opening and closing the door by hand had a good point. You are not entitled to an electric garage door opener. You have a choice. Since you choose to use the thing, you choose to accept the problems that go along with it. Government enforced or not. Another point which you will probably not agree with.

Sorry, this "issue" or "example" is such a non-starter with me...

Posted by: Mark S. | Apr 8, 2008 9:01:25 AM

Ok, Mark S. how about this? I don't have any children, but yet I have to have this feature installed because of the possiblility of someone's rug rat deciding to drive their Big Wheel up my driveway and possibly get squashed by my garage door. While we are at it how about the laws requiring fences around swimming pools because that same rugrat might drown in my pool? If the parents were held responsible for taking care of their kids, then the need for these safety precautions would be greatly reduced. Problem is that in out society today if a parent is negligent and their child injures themself or is killed on my property that makes me responsible even though the kid was trespassing.

Posted by: Jim Collins | Apr 8, 2008 9:32:56 AM

So Mark, how much of your life has been wasted watching to make sure the door goes down?

I figure 15 sec twice a day, say for 10 years. That's 30 hours of your life. What do you value your time at? At least $50/hr? (to get a bound on that number specifically for you, figure out how much you charge your employer for your time - include benefits). That's $1500 effectively out of your pocket.

As far as Warren's inability to learn, he fixing his problem by moving the sensors. Meanwhile, you're still going to be doing the same thing every day....

Posted by: Jody | Apr 8, 2008 9:43:28 AM

I thought automatic garage doors already had pressure sensors to avoid squishing things that shouldn't be squished. Unless this is supposed to replace them.

Posted by: Max Lybbert | Apr 8, 2008 10:27:21 AM

Well, Jody...you presume that we keep cars in the garage. We don't.

We keep my motorcycles in the garage, and there have been weeks go by when the garage door doesn't open at all. No need.

There are prices and costs to be paid with anything in life. How much trouble is it to actually make sure the door closes? How much trouble is it to be responsible for your actions or lack of same? I guess it's too much to ask, so blaming the gubbmint is the easy way out...

I believe strongly that people should be responsible for their own actions or lack of same, Jody. Parents need to be responsible for their own children. However, you don't live in a vacuum. There are costs to living in a community. That means looking out for others as well. I would posit that these are proactive things. If you did have kids and they got into your neighbors yard, you'd be grateful as hell if they had a fence around the pool to keep your kid out of it and from drowning. And I doubt seriously that you or others round here wouldn't sue to get "what's yours" from their lack of consideration. It's now the 'Merican Way...

Posted by: Mark S. | Apr 8, 2008 10:31:40 AM

Hope you don't mind, I linked to this over at my blog: http://libertarian-evangelical.blogspot.com/2008/04/bureaucracy.html

Are there any legitimate ideas about how to end the slow creep of government regulations into our daily life? Does anyone else think we'll eventually getting to a breaking point where people will say, "enough is enough?"

Posted by: George | Apr 8, 2008 10:57:41 AM

I'll not address the nanny-state issues except to say that I against such policies because, in addition to all the obvious philosophical things, I can argue that in some dimensions they make the world more dangerous.

But the technologist in me wonders if this particular problem might not be solvable without the risk of expensive lawyer interactions.

Can the two units (light source and sensor) be installed in pieces of ABS (black) pipe so the sun can't be "seen"?

Or can both be installed behind the door frame such that the sun never falls on them? (Both on one side of the door with a mirror on the opposite side?)

Posted by: Larry Sheldon | Apr 8, 2008 11:06:40 AM

you'd be grateful as hell if they had a fence around the pool to keep your kid out of it and from drowning.

Or I could ... you know ... be proactive/responsible for my own kids (as you suggest) and teach them to swim rather than requiring my neighbor to shell out a few thousand dollars (if they're old enough to wander, they're old enough to swim). You speak of personal responsibility, but your examples are of how to absolve oneself of responsibility.

Posted by: Jody | Apr 8, 2008 11:15:15 AM

John - The garage door still has a hit sensor in it. When the door senses an obstruction in its path it will reverse directions. This is independent of the light beam sensor. The light beam sensor is easily bypassed. Cut the wires coming out of the sensor and twist them together.

Posted by: ParatrooperJJ | Apr 8, 2008 11:49:02 AM

I was a garage door man for 15 years. I went back to school and became an engineer, so I am no longer in the business. I have met many customers with bloody wounds who tried to fix their garage door before calling someone. I met three customers who knew someone firsthand, who had lost an eye working on their own garage door. I met a guy whose cat was caught under a garage door, and squished, so that the two halves of the cat were held together by a flap of skin.

I met one woman, whose good friend had her 5 year old child killed by a garage door. The law requiring photocells was added starting 1/1/93, after about 50 deaths in the previous decade due to garage doors.

It is true that most garage doors can reverse if they hit something. However, the sensitivity adjustment is frequently out of adjustment, so that the motor does not reverse easily. If it reverses too easily, it will reverse for no reason. I have replaced many garage doors after the motor broke the door in the middle, from pushing while the door was stuck.

You can mount the photo sensors so they face each other just inches apart, and avoid the problems you mentioned. I've seen it done a number of times. However, I think that this a case where an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure. I think it's better to put up with a little extra effort to make sure the door operates safety, then to regret an accident.

Posted by: rick | Apr 8, 2008 10:57:12 PM

Nothing against you rick, but 50 kids in 10 years out of a population of over 280 million, damn there is a real crisis. Don't give me the story about 1 being 1 too many, because then I have to ask about how many other contributing factors there were. Don't give me the bit about how I am a monster because I don't care about children. You couldn't be further from the truth.

I just read a story about a 3 year old who shot himself with a 9mm semi-automatic pistol. The anti-gun crowd is already whining about how preventable this would have been if hand guns were banned. Nobody mentions the negilgent moron who left a cocked pistol in reach of a 3 year old child. A 3 year old child who doesn't have the strength to pull the slide back on that pistol.

How many of those 50 children were killed by doors in disrepair? How many were killed because they were not being properly supervised by an adult? Nobody wants to ask these questions, it is easier to blame it on the garage door. We don't take responsibility for our own actions any more. It is easier to blame something else and then get to politicians to pass another law restricting our freedom. The people pushing for laws like these are the ones who don't care about the children. They need to be taught that there are consequences for their actions and that they are responsible for these consequences, not some inanimate object.

Posted by: Jim Collins | Apr 9, 2008 5:52:46 AM

If you're going to do this, buy and have installed an accessory door-bottom pressure sensor and wiring adaptor (to your opener wiring.) Keep all the old parts.

Then, write a letter to your homeowner-policy insurer/agent explaining that you've replaced the opener safety circuit beam with a more reliable pressure-sensor system, and ask them to place that letter in your file.

They'll either tell you very quickly that they'll cancel your policy if you do that (in which case you say sorry-nevermind and put the old parts back in), or the recipient sees it, thinks "great, he wants me to open a file with the underwriting people to see if they'll deviate from our standard policy form we've sold to millions and write a new one for him just because he can't keep his transmitter and mirror aligned. . . . . Or, I could put it here in his file - just for now - until I have more time . . . " and then you might be covered if you suffocate that annoying little brat next door.

They could, I suppose, write back and approve the exception. If they do, though, you should quickly start buying lottery tickets. It might be a streak.

Just know you'll go uncovered. And keep in mind, "the 50 dead kids" said nothing about the prevalance of broken legs and arms and wrists, smacked heads, "near-suffocations" (a lawyer was "near"), traumatic episodes where the non-contacting garage door nevertheless does approach, almost touch, and certainly frightens, the victim . . . .

If you lose, it"ll run you $30k-$100k for defense attorney fees, costs, etc, plus however much of the verdict you eat. But, if you win, it should only cost you . . . $30k-$100k. That's why they call it a win.

Well, that's why WE call it a win, at least.

Posted by: bobby B | Apr 11, 2008 11:58:32 AM

Geez, why don't you just put a stool over the beam, put your foot on it, have somebody else close the door, which comes down on your foot and bruises it terribly, then sue the ass off the manufacturer, drag the gummint in on it, collect the money, than hire an illegal to open and close the door for you?

Posted by: bob longendyck | Apr 11, 2008 12:49:03 PM

Frustration leads to bad analytical thinking. From my blog take on this

...the libertarian pro-market position regarding garage doors is not that deregulation would allow Warren to install a dangerous door... it's that it wouldn't. Efficient markets would drive out the unsafe pre-1993 versions because homeowners insurance companies, and the door manufacturers themselves, would seek to minimize their liability costs.

I also don't get the physics of how the south exposure causes the door to not close.

Posted by: Jim Hu | Apr 12, 2008 11:43:05 AM

Hey- check out this website for that pesky garage door problem. I think they have it figured out. It worked for me!

Posted by: John Jackson | Oct 9, 2008 12:26:15 PM

The comments to this entry are closed.