Shopping for Energy Efficient Garage Doors

By Vernon Trollinger, September 25, 2017, Energy Efficiency, Green, Home Improvement, News, Save Money

While most homeowners love their homes, not every home is perfect. There are one or two things the homeowner would like to change, such as an outdated bathtub for a new walk-in shower or updating the look of their kitchen. And then there’s occasional “uh-oh” of the unexpected repair. We’re going to identify several projects and some of the ins and outs of what you can expect.

Shopping for Energy Efficient Garage Doors | Bounce Energy Blog

Shopping for Energy Efficient Garage Doors

To be fair, not every Texas homeowner needs an insulated garage door. If you have an unattached garage that doesn’t have heating or air conditioning and it’s not used for anything but storage and vehicle parking, then having an insulated garage door makes little sense. But, for homeowners who have an attached garage or for those garages that have upstairs apartments, then they make good energy sense.

The thing is there’s a lot of hype about how energy efficient insulated garage doors are. But when you look out for details, you may need to reconsider your expectations.

Big Door, Big Expectations

To begin with, EnergyStar does not have an energy efficiency specification for garage doors. Their reason is that garages are typically unconditioned spaces with no heating or air conditioning, that are pretty much used for storage and vehicle parking — even if it’s an attached garage. Therefore, EnergyStar argues that it’s better to insulate and seal the wall between the living space (house) and the garage to keep out chemical and exhaust fumes because “the potential energy savings from better insulated garage doors is significantly reduced.”

They make a real good point here. Still, improving your garage door’s energy efficiency doesn’t actually hurt your home’s overall energy efficiency. And that raises the question of whether or not it pays for itself. The answer is a little deceptive.

According to Remodeling Magazine, Houston homes that installed new garage doors enjoyed a 100% return on investment. Yes, that’s a really compelling reason to get a new insulated garage door. Unfortunately, that metric only covered property value/resale. Not that it’s bad, however, recouping your investment through energy savings alone seems highly unlikely because garage door R-values have a reputation of being…well, interesting.

Shopping for Energy Efficient Garage Doors | Bounce Energy Blog

Big Door with An Exaggerated Performance

The best insulated garage doors consist of polyurethane or polystyrene insulation sandwiched between inner and outer skins, such as steel or fiberglass.

They also have thermal breaks designed in so that warmth isn’t conducted through the door. For example, a regular garage door panel might have a big, broad aluminum band running all the way around it. This band acts as a thermal conductor; winter cold would pull heat out of the garage, summer heat would radiate inside. Using a low-thermal conducting material like vinyl in the design of that band breaks the thermal conducting.

Now, that all sounds good, but there’s a few things to keep in mind.

First, according to the DOE’s information on insulation, polystyrene foam ranges in R-value from R-3.8 to R-5.0 per inch and polyurethane foam ranges from R-5.5 to R-6.5 per inch. In spite of this, many garage door manufacturers make exaggerated claims that their doors are actually much higher; between R-14 and R-17. Independent tests by experts warn that actual R-values are about one third of what is advertised.

Second, garage doors aren’t just one insulated panel. They consist of several panels that move and how they perform as a unit is key to how well they insulate your garage. Again, advertised R values don’t hold up under laboratory scrutiny, especially if they don’t provide a good seal and let in drafts.

So if you are expecting an insulated garage door to perform like one of your home’s exterior walls, forget it. The ball park average R-value for a residential insulated garage door is around R8. Most home walls with 2×4 construction contain R11 and R13 insulation.

Still, R-8 is eight times better than R-1. So, an insulated garage door will add to your home’s over all energy efficiency by helping to protect your home’s conditioned living space from the outside —just not as much.

For the DIY crowd, there are many, many retro-fit kits out there involving spray-on foam, rigid foam panels, or fiberglass insulation. My DIY preference is rigid styrofoam panels cut to size or spray-on closed cell foam. Fiberglass insulation can be problematic unless it’s installed with a vapor barrier to keep out water vapor and prevent condensation. Kraft or paper faced insulation is a vapor retarder, not a barrier. Once that stuff gets wet, it quickly turns into a home for mold.

Big Doors Need Careful Weatherstripping

Whether or not you have an insulated garage door, weather stripping your garage door further reduces drafts entering your home. Adding vinyl door jamb stripping stops drafts that otherwise get in around the top and sides of the garage door frame. They’re easy to cut and can be nailed, screwed, or glued into place. Garage doors also have flexible rubber bottom gasket which can wear out over time and can be easily replaced. To make the bottom seal even more effective, install a vinyl threshold.These kits are very simple to put in and the threshold’s lipped edge meshes with the door gasket to keep out cold drafts and unwelcome pests.

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About 

A native of Wyomissing Hills, PA, Vernon Trollinger studied writing and film at the University of Iowa, later earning his MA in writing there as well. Following a decade of digging in CRM archaeology, he now writes about green energy technology, home energy efficiency, DIY projects, the natural gas industry, and the electrical grid.

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