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Everything you need to know about garage door sensors

What is a photo-eye sensor? You’ve probably seen the small boxes attached to your garage door’s side rails, low down on either side, but do you know what purpose they serve, or how to fix them if you have a problem? This is one of the most common problems that we get called in for, and luckily in many cases it’s a problem that we can fix over the phone. So if you want to know how to fix your sensor or to learn why your photo-eye sensor is important, keep reading!

Most people know the basic function of a photo-eye sensor because everyone has experienced this safety feature’s basic function, in one way or another. Some people have a problem where the things in their garage, or maybe leaves from their yard, block the sensor and cause the door to remain stuck open. Others know the rush of closing a garage door then running to get underneath the closing door, stepping over the sensor on their way out – don’t do this by the way, as it is potentially very dangerous!

Either way, you may already know that the photo-eye sensors are two small sensors on either side of your garage that connect to each other with an invisible beam. They can sense when this beam is interrupted, so their primary purpose is making sure that the path of the garage door is clear when the door is closing. If the laser’s beam is broken, the garage door should reverse and sometimes the opener system will have an additional warning, like flashing the garage light. This is an important safety feature and all doors installed after 1993 are legally required to have a photo-eye sensor in addition to their other safety features.

These sensors keep your family and your car safe from the door, so long as they are working properly. Unfortunately, however, they do malfunction on occasion, which can result in two different problems. Either the beam is broken by the problem, and the garage door won’t close at all, or the beam isn’t properly detecting obstructions, and it will close on anything unlucky enough to be in the door’s way.

We see photo-eye sensor problems all the time, so we’re used to handling them, but if you’re not as familiar with the safety features of your garage door than this can be a little more difficult. The first thing to do is to diagnose the problem – if you’re having trouble with your garage door, how can you tell if a sensor is to blame? The primary behavior of malfunctioning photo-eyes is a door that will open successfully but will not close, or a door that closes part of the way before reversing. As mentioned, some openers will give you a further indication of what’s wrong by flashing the garage’s light or making a clicking noise.

If the problem does originate with your photo-eyes, there are a few easy fixes you can try before contacting a technician! Firstly, make sure that there isn’t anything caught between the two sensors, like a leaf or a scrap of paper. Even something that small is enough to interrupt the beam. If your garage is full of stuff in storage, something might have moved or fallen such that it blocks the sensor, interfering with your garage door’s operation.

If that doesn't fix the problem, there are several steps you can do to ensure that the two photo eyes are actually aimed at each other. Most residential-use sensors have indicator lights on them which act as a notification system. If one of your sensors has a light active and the other is either dark or blinking, then you can be sure that the problem lies with the dark or blinking sensor. The photo-eyes should be held in small mounting brackets or frames, and you can manually adjust them with your hand. Make slight adjustments to try and get both sensors pointing straight towards each other. A laser level would make this job much simpler.

If that doesn't resolve your problem, get a damp cloth and wipe down both units completely, paying special attention to cleaning the lenses. Wipe gently until the lenses are clean, the dry with a dry cloth. If that doesn't fix it, try loosening the bolts holding the mounting bracket in place and adjusting the sensor’s actual location until the light comes back on. Be careful not to adjust the brackets on the door itself – you should only need to loosen the screws holding the sensor in place on the frame, not loosen the frame itself. This will allow you to move the photo-eye in a slightly wider range, potentially reconnecting a split beam.

Sometimes there will be an obvious problem, like a difference in the height that the two sensors are mounted. If you have some DIY skills, you can move a sensor’s mount safely and lower both sensors to the same level, but at this point your problems are starting to get a little more serious and might require a technician. If you can’t reorient the sensors so that they connect, the problem might actually be in the wiring that provides power to the photo-eyes. Try finding the wires coming from your sensors and untangling them. If you see any damage on the wires, it’s time to call an expert to install some new cabling.

If your problem is as simple as a sensing-eye malfunction, then you should have it fixed in no time! We at A Plus Garage Doors would be happy to walk you through this process on the phone, or to take a look at a door if the problem persists after trying these steps, so give us a call today!