What goes down doesn't always go back up

January 24, 2004|By ROB KASPER

IT CAN be a cold world when your overhead garage door holds you hostage.

That happened to a friend of mine this week as the persistent bitter weather laid siege to the metro area, stressing machinery and their keepers and making daily life more difficult.

Garage door repair people I spoke with offered various explanations, from the practical to the philosophical, of why automatic doors behave badly in such harsh winter.

"Cold weather makes things break," said Butch "just call me Barkey" Barkey, the assistant service manager of Overhead Door of Baltimore. "Besides, if a door breaks in 80-degree weather, you just leave it open and nobody cares."

"Cold weather brings out the worst," said Harry Hall, owner of Precision Garage Doors Inc. in Laurel.

Mostly these men were referring to the metal springs that do the bulk of the heavy lifting involved in opening and closing an overhead door. Extreme cold makes springs less pliable, and sometimes a spring snaps, they said. But so, it seems, do some of the people who find themselves stuck in their own garage.

"Nobody ever says `take your time getting here,' " Barkey told me. Instead, some of the suddenly garage-kept set can get quite anxious and demanding.

"They have to get to the office right away, or they have to pick their husband up at the airport," Hall said.

Customers are counseled, Hall said, to be patient, to wait in line. Just as air-conditioning repair shops get hit with a rash of calls when a blast of hot weather hits, garage door repair services get mobbed when a mass of arctic air settles in. During such "bad garage door days" a wait of a 24 to 48 hours for service is not unusual.

"We try to accommodate people who are stuck. If we have a truck in the area, we will send it by," said Erin Smith, who along with her husband, Rob, operate Bob's Overhead Door Repair Service in East Baltimore. But she said such unscheduled stops have to be woven in with regular business. "We couldn't stay in business if all we did was sit here waiting for emergencies," she said.

Not everyone, it seems, treats a stuck garage door as a crisis. There are, Hall reported, laid-back types who know enough to "get two buddies," ease the garage door up without breaking its parts, get the car out and get on with life.

Theoretically, a properly installed overhead garage door is so well-balanced that, once the motor is disengaged, you can lift it up manually. That is what the pros in the garage door repair world told me.

As someone who lives a garage-deprived lifestyle, this information was new to me. So, too, was the news that an overhead garage door requires periodic maintenance. The rollers - the wheels attached to the sides of the door - need to be lubricated. Barkey told me there is a $5 can of silicone spray, the one his company sells is called Overhead Door Silicone Spray, that does the trick.

The hinges that the rollers are attached to also need to be checked, to make sure they are properly aligned and are firmly attached to the door. There are also cables that fray and the aforementioned springs, which can crack. I got the impression that springs - the torsion variety seems to be preferred to the extension - are something the layman does not want to mess with. If your spring has sprung, you call a garage-door professional.

When the garage-door professional arrived at my friend's home this week, he quickly fixed the door's emergency release system. But the pro was baffled by the door's balky movements, which my friend likened to a runner loosening up before a race. The garage door would open but only in increments. It had to be closed, then ordered to reopen several times before it eventually assumed the wide-open pose.

I passed along the lubricate-your-rollers advice to my friend, but he said he was not ready to go in that direction.

Instead, he said he was rethinking the whole hard-charging, gotta-get-out-of-the-garage gestalt. Since he can no longer be certain the garage door will open, or whether, once he goes out, it will let him back in, he is considering moving all his early-morning winter appointments to the spring.

After all, he said, it is fate, not rollers or springs, that opens doors in life.

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