Do garage doors need to be replaced – or just repainted?

Jeanne Huber

The Washington Post – I have two wooden garage doors, each eight feet by seven feet and original to the house, which is about 25-years-old. The bottom panels appear to have some water damage and need to be replaced. I could install new steel doors, which would need less maintenance, but that would cost about USD2,000 for the pair. I tried finding a repair company online, but I can’t seem to find anyone in my area who does this work. Who makes replacement panels, and at what cost?

A: Judging from the pictures you sent, your doors might just need repainting, not replacing.

Representatives of two companies in the business of repairing and installing garage doors both offered that advice. Office Manager at C&D Doors in Gordonsville Debbie Hopkins said the company recently went to a home where the bottom rail of a 16-foot-wide garage door was completely rotted out. That did need to be replaced.

But in your case, she said, “I don’t see any rotting.”

Vice President of Overhead Door Company of Washington DC Justin White offered a similar assessment. “From what I can see, the paint is just coming off,” he said.

Of course, it’s impossible to accurately diagnose the condition of a garage door simply by looking at pictures, but if the wood is solid, you might just need to wash the surface, scrape and lightly sand where the paint is peeling, and then prime and paint. Because your house was built around 1995, there’s little risk of lead paint, which the federal government banned for consumer uses in 1978.

To test whether the wood has rotted, try poking it with the tip of a screwdriver or an awl. If it goes in only an eighth of an inch or so, the wood is probably still sound. If you can poke in deeper, though, you definitely need to at least replace the bottom panel. “It’s dangerous,” White said. Overhead doors have a cable and an extension spring to help lift and lower the door. “All the tension is on the bottom panel,” White said.

So if the wood there disintegrates, the door can suddenly give way and seriously hurt anyone nearby. White said his company would never assess safety just from pictures. The company would arrange a visit to your home, where someone could inspect the door and, if necessary, measure for a replacement panel or a whole new door. There is no charge for this.

It is possible to replace just one section of a roll-up door, but the challenge with older doors is finding a matching panel.

The wooden doors sold today tend to have raised panels, not the recessed type you have, Hopkins said. Plus, you need an exact size match. To function correctly, the replacement needs to be the same not only in width and height, but also in thickness.

And for visual appeal, the stiles and rails need to match what you have now.

Matching the species of wood or type of manufactured wood product isn’t an issue, though, because your doors are painted.

Even though your doors have a simple frame-and-panel design, with four framed sections on each of four horizontal panels, matching panels might not be available. “The tooling has changed over the years, making the panels slightly larger or smaller depending on the manufacturer,” White said. “Also, the angle at which the panels are cut has changed in some situations.”

The visual effect would be very noticeable – especially because you might not save all that much by going this route.