Garage door openers are standard in most homes today and are so often taken for granted…right up until something goes wrong! One of the most common service requirements involves the ‘photocells’. So, what are the photocells, what do they do and what can a homeowner check on their own?
All residential opener systems manufactured since the early 1990’s have had an infrared light beam safety reversing device as a standard safety item. This device requires a sending and receiving unit placed at four to six inches above floor height. These are placed directly adjacent to the garage door track so they are easy to spot. This makes them also subject to inadvertent damage or other problems. First, let’s look at what this device does. The photocell monitors for an unbroken beam of light to allow the garage door opener system to close. Should the beam of light be interrupted the door will immediately stop its downward travel and reverse to the full open position. This safety device is required primarily to prevent personal injury to the user or a pet but also protects against property damage. If something is left in the doorway the door will not close on it. Most all photocell devices have indicator lights on them that will indicate if they are in alignment and clear. The indicator lights should be steady if everything is normal. If there is a blockage the indicator lights will be blinking in most cases. If the lights are off there may be other issues, more on that later.
OK, now that we’re familiar with this device, its purpose and function, what symptoms might occur if there is an issue with the photocells? The most common symptom of a blocked, damaged or non-functioning photocell device is failure of the door to close when activated. Travel will begin only for the door to immediately reverse to the full open position and stop. If this occurs, what can the homeowner do? There are several items that are easily checked before calling for service.
1. Check the lenses of the photocell for dirt, insects or spider webs. Yes, even these small obstructions can cause the photocell to ‘see’ an obstruction and act as if there is someone or something in the doorway, resulting in ‘no close’ condition. Remove any dust, insects or webs with a soft, damp rag. Try the door again, it should close. Note that with dust, insects or webs the indicator lights on the photocell may still be in the OK mode even though the photocell reacts as if it is blocked.
2. If the photocell indicator lights are blinking normally there is a physical blockage, an alignment issue or a photocell failure involved. What might cause an alignment issue? Tools stored near the garage door tracking, trash cans or yard equipment being dragged out near the photocell device and similar situations are most typical. The photocell devices are normally mounted on either adjustable or relatively flexible brackets.
A. Should your photocell be blinking check first for a physical obstruction. Simply remove the obstruction and see if the indicator lights return to steady light and try the door again.
B. Should there not be a physical obstruction check the alignment of the devices. Simply move one of the adjustable devices or flexible brackets around gently to see if you can produce a steady indicator light condition on the photocells.
C. If neither of these actions solves the failure to close condition there may be a photocell failure involved. This will require a replacement photocell and/or possibly a replacement circuit board.
3. If the indicator lights are simply ‘out’ or not lit on the photocell device you may have a wiring issue, a faulty photocell or a faulty circuit board.
A. First, visually inspect the wiring between the photocell device and the power head unit for the opener system. If the wiring is damaged it is most typically near the photocell end as it is only a few inches above floor level and might be pulled, cut or otherwise compromised more easily than at the motor end. Should you find damage you should call for service, or, if you are handy enough, replace the damaged wire to see if the indicator lights will return to the normal steady ok status. Once the problem is corrected, try the door opener system to see if it functions properly.
B. If the wiring appears to be undamaged most probably you will need new parts. Be prepared with the brand and model of your opener system before you call for service or parts. In most cases replacement photocells and circuit boards are available.
Overhead Door Company of Central Jersey is always available to assist you with any service issues you may encounter with your garage door or garage door opener system. We are easily reached at 908-722-5785, on the web at www.OverheadDoorCo.com and conveniently located on Route 202 South in Branchburg between River Road and Readington Road. We’ve been providing service in central New Jersey since 1972. Call one of our professionals today if you are experiencing a garage door system malfunction, we’ll be glad to assist.