If you have ever owned a garage, chances are good that your garage door has taken a fair share of dings or worse. Everything from a baseball to a car bumper has likely impacted the door at some point, leaving visible damage. Often, the garage door faces the street and as such, greatly affects the curb appeal and first impressions of the home. Replacing a panel can be both a rewarding and cost-effective do-it-yourself project.
Garage doors can be expensive, so as homeowners we often wonder if we can make the repair and if the project is within our skill set. The answer depends on the extent of the damage, the relative cost, which panel(s) need repair, and obviously, the skills and experience of the homeowner. Does the door still operate as it should? If it needs repair, can the repair be postponed or should it be fixed immediately? Today, we will investigate what we can, and should not do, as a do-it-yourselfer.
How Do I Decide If a Repair Is Needed?
The answer lies in both the circumstances and the damage. Generally speaking, as long as the working components of the door are intact and functioning, the repair is likely optional. Surface rust or minor cosmetic blemishes can usually be repaired without removing or replacing the panel.
However, a garage door panel that has a crease, major rust, or a large dent can often affect the functionality of the door and should be replaced. If the door has significant damage there will likely be lots of cracking, popping, and binding as the door operates. These noises are caused by friction and friction will eventually lead to failure. If you see the suspect panel moving in a manner inconsistent with the other panels, such as buckling, it needs to be replaced.
Can I Replace a Garage Door Panel By Myself?
If you are handy and have experience making repairs, you can probably make the repair alone, but extra care should be taken. Replacing a garage door panel is not especially complicated, but a careless mistake could cause serious injury. To reduce the risk, always have the correct tools, safety equipment, and knowledge you need before attempting a repair. The panels themselves can be heavy, so although the project can be done solo, it is a good idea to recruit some help.
How Much Does a Garage Panel Replacement Cost?
So how do you know if repairing your garage door panel is cost-effective? The general rule among garage door repair companies is that if the door will require more than one panel, replacing the entire garage door is more cost-effective.
A typical single car, uninsulated, aluminum door will usually cost somewhere between $400.00 to $1000.00. A typical replacement panel can cost half that because they are generally a special order. Obviously, any replacement panel must be an exact match to the original, so if a door is older, a unique design, or contains glass, the cost will be even higher. On average, the labor cost of a professional to install a panel can easily exceed $500.00.
How to Replace Garage Door Bottom Panel
Here is a list of the tools you may need if you want to tackle the project yourself, but the more tools and assistance you have available, the better.
- Step stool, or short ladder
- Gloves, eye protection, and any other safety equipment you deem necessary
- (Optional) Come-along (2)
- Locking pliers (4 pr.)
- Wrenches or socket set
- Cordless drill or impact wrench
- Small 2 x 4, or concrete block
Your particular door may require additional materials or tools, but here is a general guideline of the process:
First, you will need to purchase the new panel. As a rule, large home improvement stores will not stock replacement panels, but they can often be ordered using the commercial sales desk, or customer service.
The easiest way to determine which panel you need is to locate the manufacturer’s label on the door. It can be anywhere, but is often located along the edge of the panels. This is important, not only because the panel must be an exact fit, but also because special order parts are usually non-returnable. Owning a spare panel for a door you do not own is no fun.
If the label cannot be found, take accurate measurements of the height, width, and thickness of your panel, along with a few good photos to determine the texture and shape. If your local retailer does not have a customer service desk, ask for the millwork department. These are the folks that work with doors and windows all day and will likely be of great help selecting the correct panel you need.
Step 1. Ensure Safety
The first step is always safety. The concept is to secure the door in a way that removes any forces from acting on the panel you are replacing. The pros will use a device called a come-along. A come-along is essentially a handheld winch and uses a gear to compress two objects together. Most homeowners will not have this tool, so four sets of locking pliers will often do the job.
Pull the emergency release cord to disconnect the opener from the door. Manually lift the door a few inches off the floor and place the 2 x 4 or block under the door. This provides the space you will need to put the new panel in.
Step 2. Clamp Tracks
Using the locking pliers, clamp one to the track just below the roller and another just above the roller on the second section. Repeat for the other side. This will take the weight off of the bottom section and allow you to work more safely.
Pro Tip. If you gave a torsion spring system (identified by its location over the door) it’s a good idea to secure the slack you just created in the cable. You can use another clamp, or whatever you have available to prevent the cable from unwinding off of the spool. This will make the re-installation of the panel easier.
Step 3. Remove Bottom Panel
Making sure the cable is no longer under tension, remove the cable from the pin located on the bottom edge of the bottom panel, along with any handles or hardware not provided with your new panel. Remove the lag screws from the bottom half of the hinge connecting the bottom panel to the second panel.
The bottom panel should now be free, so being careful not to allow it to fall and hit you, remove the panel. A gentle side-to-side push may be required. Recruit some help if you need it, as the panel can be awkward to control. This is a great time to inspect the second panel as well.
Step 4. Install New Panel
Re-install any hardware to the new panel as needed. Making sure the top of the new panel is facing up, install the new panel using the lag screws and hinge. After ensuring that the cable has not twisted nor tangled, reconnect the lifting cable to the new panel, remove the locking pliers from the track, and gently lift the door.
You can now remove the 2 x 4 or block and test the operation. If the garage door opener seems to not operate as well as before, your new panel might be slightly heavier or lighter than the original. If needed, adjust the downforce or up force knobs on the opener until the door opens and closes completely.
Can I Replace Just the Bottom Panel?
Yes. As mentioned earlier, if you are replacing more than one panel, the prevailing wisdom is to just replace the entire door. You will likely save enough money on the parts to hire a professional to install it.
Keep in mind when replacing garage door bottom panels:
- Always maintain control of the door. If you have any doubt about your ability to keep the door stable as you work, hire a professional.
- Remember that even one panel can be heavy. If you need help, get it before proceeding.
- Understand the forces acting on the door. If you do not understand why you are doing something, do more research before attempting the repair.
Is It Possible to Replace Garage Door Panels With Windows?
Yes, panels with glass windows can be replaced. Obviously, these windows will not be in the bottom panel, so you will need to remove additional panels. Replacing this panel can be accomplished by following the steps described here, and repeating the process.
However, more often than not the panel itself will not be damaged, but rather the glass is broken. Replacing a broken window will almost certainly be a more cost-effective project than replacing the panel.
Be Smart and Save Money
Making any repair to a garage door system, including replacing a panel, can be a hugely rewarding do-it-yourself project. The keys to success are understanding the process thoroughly and having any tools or help you require. Just remember to work safely, take your time, and you can do a professional-looking job you can be proud of.