Bring More Tech (and Amazon Boxes) Into the Garage With a Smarter Opener

Most every premium garage door brand these days has a Wi-Fi remote that lets you check the status of your garage door from your smartphone and open or close the door remotely. Increasingly, Wi-Fi remotes tie into home control services including Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant and let you monitor who comes in and when. They all beat the old clip-on open-close remotes that attach to your car’s sun visor. Some do more than others.

After researching what to do to improve the garage of our 40-year-old house with 20-year-old openers, I decided the best technology to control garage access is the Chamberlain myQ Smart Garage Hub.SEEAMAZON_ET_135 See Amazon ET commerce It’s a $ 50 device that connects virtually any opener of the past 25 years, regardless of brand. If your opener needs replacement, you can get the same myQ technology built into many openers from Chamberlain and sister company LiftMaster, which sells the practically identical WLED Belt Drive Wi-Fi Garage Door Opener (click to read PCMag’s full review of that model). The best feature of myQ is the Amazon Key partnership, which lets Amazon deliver packages inside the garage and monitor the delivery person with a video feed.

Read on for more on how to decide on a smart garage door opener — and if you’re game, how I also updated the rest of my garage, which cost a heck of a lot more than $ 50.

Ryobi’s traditional belt-drive opener, with a twist: power backup using a Ryobi power tool battery.

Choices in Garage Door Operators

Wi-Fi lets you control your garage door from anywhere. Some of the companies that have Wi-Fi operators, the industry term for a garage door opener, include:

  • Chamberlain / Liftmaster / Merlin (same company: Chamberlain Group)
  • Craftsman / Sears
  • Genie
  • Mighty Mule
  • Ryobi (a slick design lets you attach a Ryobi One+ portable tool battery to the opener for battery backup; see photo above)
  • Skylink

The cheapest operators, such as the Skylink Atoms AT61611 ($ 125), won’t have Wi-Fi. There are Wi-Fi-equipped openers for $ 175 and up that let you control and monitor the garage door remotely. If Wi-Fi is not built-in, there are more than a dozen third-party adapters that make virtually any opener accessible from the web or smartphone. These adapters work via wired or wireless signals to the opener, and by Wi-Fi to your home access point; they may require a sensor on the door.

Remote software lets the happy homeowner see a package delivered, safely, inside the garage. And the UPS person doesn’t worry about being chased back into their truck by a protective canine. In real life, the process is pretty much foolproof, and you quickly stop worrying about the safety of the stuff in your garage.

Choices in Garage Door Software

Third-party remote Wi-Fi openers (used here in the industry sense) comprise software and hardware that open the operators (the physical motor and drive chain/belt or gearing). They all can control the doors from afar. That means you can manually open the door for a service person, a neighbor, or non-driving idiot family member who again forgot the house keys (consider a keypad door lock).

Many Wi-Fi openers work with Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant/Google Home, the incredibly useful IFTTT (If This, Then That) protocol, Apple HomeKit, and Samsung SmartThings. They typically show door status (open, closed) on your phone, and e-mail or text you when the door opens or closes. They may automatically close the door at a set time at night in case someone left it open. Most use the 2.4-GHz frequency of your access point or router, not 5 GHz.

Most vendors include a list of operators that aren’t compatible. Beyond that, don’t expect them to work with garage door openers — sorry, operators — pre-1993, which is when the Consumer Product Safety Commission mandated automatic reversers. In the 1980s, about five children a year were killed by automated garage doors that closed on them. No more, and nobody seems to complain the government is too intrusive.

Opener software (and necessary hardware) include:

Alcidae Garager 2, $ 130.SEEAMAZON_ET_135 See Amazon ET commerce It’s a 1080p Wi-Fi camera with night vision and two-way audio that attaches, typically, to the bottom of the garage door operator. There’s remote opener software. You can stream audio/video to your phone or tablet. If you want stored video you can recall, up to seven days worth, that’s $ 5 a month. Select clips can be stored. The Garager 2 works with Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant.

Chamberlain myQ, part of many Chamberlain/LiftMaster garage door operator systems, or $ 50 as a module, the Smart Garage Hub,SEEAMAZON_ET_135 See Amazon ET commerce for most any brand made 1993 or later. myQ is easy to set up, and that alone is enough to recommend it. You can open or close the garage door from anywhere (same as any other Wi-Fi opener system), a family share system that lets three others also open/close/monitor the garage doors and control up to 16 myQ accessories, typically in-house lights using wall-plug modules. myQ is compatible with Apple iOS and Android, Google Assistant / Google Home, and IFTTT (If This, Then That).

myQ supports Amazon Key for delivery inside your garage door. Oddly, support for Amazon Alexa has been lacking although some third-party workarounds have been published. Chamberlain has abandoned, at least for now, the $ 1 a month subscription fee for IFTTT. Some installations will also need the myQ Home Bridge ($ 70) to work with Apple HomeKit and Siri voice control if the system doesn’t have built-in WiFi.

Garadget WiFi Smart Garage Door Controller, $ 80.SEEAMAZON_ET_135 See Amazon ET commerce It’s easy to install and avoids most wires by using a laser sensor pointed at some reflective tape on the garage door. It is compatible with, Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, IFTTT, and SmartThings, among others (remember the Pebble smartwatch?).

Genie Aladdin Connect, $ 55.SEEAMAZON_ET_135 See Amazon ET commerce It’s useful for multi-door garages, includes hardware for one garage door and supports up to three, and if your house has four or more, you can probably afford to pay someone to create a way to control that many.

Gogogate2, $ 140.SEEAMAZON_ET_135 See Amazon ET commerce One controller supports up to three garage doors. It works with Apple and Android devices, supports third-party cameras, and uses IFTTT apps to expand its functionality, including for voice control. Setup is more complex than, say, myQ. It wires into an existing operator and uses a sensor mounted to the garage door.

Nexx Garage Remote Garage Door Opener, $ 100,SEEAMAZON_ET_135 See Amazon ET commerce that has a difficult setup offset by a simple-to-use app, customizability, and compatibility with both Amazon Alexa and Google Home / Assistant, as well as Samsung SmartThings and others. It can be programmed to open automatically when the car approaches the garage. You must run a low-voltage wire to a garage door-sensor.

Amazon Key for Garage: Packages delivered inside your garage, protected from the weather and the odd thief, with delivery information via the Chamberlain/myQ app. $ 100 shop jack, left, stands in for the author’s hoped-for $ 5,000 post lift.

Amazon Key: myQ’s Best Feature

If you want packages delivered inside not outside, hassle-free, look into the Amazon Key apps, part of the Amazon Prime subscription.

For inside-the-house delivery, Amazon Key for Home, you need a smart lock kit from Kwikset, Schlage, or Yale. (Note Amazon agreed to three partners.)

For in-trunk delivery, you need Amazon Key In-Car, a 2015 or newer General Motors vehicle with OnStar, or Volvo with On Call telematics, and a currently active telematics subscription.

For Amazon’s in-garage delivery system, Amazon Key for Garage, there is currently one compatible technology, the myQ / Smart Garage Hub system, either as a $ 50 module (a physical hub) attached to any brand of compatible operator, or integrated in a $ 200-$ 500 Chamberlain / Liftmaster operator, and for video with the Amazon Cloud Cam (Key Edition) camera, which adds $ 120. Many, but not all, Amazon packages are eligible, and occasionally I found in testing Key delivery took one day longer than normal two-day Amazon Prime. Key for Garage is in 50 cities and their extensive surrounding areas as of mid-2019 (complete list).

As for security: You have to believe (and should) that your driver is not going to rip you off – really, is anybody looking to grab a broken lawn chair, a 350-pound snowblower, or smelly hockey gear kept outside the living area? As a practical matter, a delivery person wouldn’t last long stealing things, just as a hotel maid wouldn’t because a theft pattern would quickly show up (one package a month lost on each of 10 driver routes, 10 packages a month on the 11th route). If you’re a little (if not a lot) paranoid, Key for Garage is nice versus Key for Home because you might like that access is to the garage only and then you can deadbolt the access door to the house.

So far over two months, the Amazon Key for Garage system has worked perfectly for me. We get a notification delivery is about to happen. The package shows up, in the garage. We get a notification delivery took place, and when. With the Cloud Cam, we can see the delivery taking place. After you see this happen two or three times, you’re satisfied it all works according to plan. The Cloud Cam sends you a snap of the delivery and lets you watch event clips of the past 24 hours.

Premium storage, three plans, for 3-10 Cloud Cams and 7-30 days storage runs $ 7-$ 20 a month extra. You cannot currently swap in a non-Amazon video camera, although you could rig a third party camera that captures every garage-door-open event, working outside the Amazon Key app. I found after the first two weeks that the UPS guy was going to deliver, he did, the video was boring, and no packages got wet.

It would be nice, in our opinion, if Chamberlain/LiftMaster extended the garage access app to more vendors than Amazon. The company won’t comment on how long Amazon has Chamberlain locked into an exclusive, or vice versa. But, says Jeff Meredith, Chamberlain’s president and COO, “It’s not hard to imagine a garage being configured for things like home delivery – [a garage] equipped with reserved shelving for various sized packages and a refrigerator to accommodate online grocery purchases, which are set to quadruple between 2018 and 2023.”

Currently, the myQ app allows access by the homeowner plus three guest accounts that don’t have to share passwords. Additionally, the outdoor keypad can be programmed for a controlled number of accesses using an assigned code. Meredith said, “A dog walker, nanny, service person, realty agent, neighbor, extended family or delivery person … could all benefit from myQ.” For that, you might want a dozen limited-access guest accounts.

The Chamberlain Group is the major player in garage door openers (it also does access systems), but there’s big and then there’s big: Chamberlain’s parent, the privately held Duchossois Group, has an estimated $ 2 billion in revenues; Amazon is two orders of magnitude larger at $ 232 billion. If Chamberlain remains with Amazon exclusively, makers of competing garage door systems could partner with Walmart, Costco, Sears, pharmacies, or grocery delivery services that Amazon doesn’t own.

A wall-mount garage door opener, here the LiftMaster 8500W, and torsion springs on a shaft over the garage door header. It frees up space over the car for, say, a big storage rack. Yes, Marie Kondo would weep that you’re not throwing old stuff away.

How I Made a $ 50 Project Become Much More Expensive

Integrating myQ and Amazon Key into our garage was part of an ongoing garage and outdoors automation project with multiple outdoor cameras (brands TBD, see David Cardinal’s in-depth article on outdoor security cams for details), smart lawn sprinklers (Racchio), water leak sensors and auto shutoffs (product TBD), and outdoor lighting (Samsung SmartThings controls). Here’s what I did.

I went the new-opener route. I also added ultra-quiet rollers, weatherstripped the doors, and bought wall-mount openers for a cleaner design and had internal battery backup. And I had the two operators professionally installed because I also wanted the doors and rails tuned up, but mostly because you shouldn’t DIY a torsion bar spring installation. All told, it cost me about $ 2,000 rather than $ 50.

This garage-improvement project was launched because I wanted to fully use a two-bay, two-door garage equipped with ancient openers, doors that didn’t keep out the winter cold, a garage filled with one bay of junk, and lots of promise because the inside ceiling rises to 11 feet, enough to allow (until you price them) a shop lift for working on a car. The 160-pound wood doors banged and clanked on the way up or down. The safety reversers sometimes reversed when nothing was in the way.

The full project – in my plans – started with an epoxy or terrazzo-look floor ($ 1,000-$ 7,000), and it required shot blasting or diamond-grinding the existing surface for proper adhesion ($ 500-$ 1,000). There would be two new doors ($ 250 to $ 5,000 apiece, with really nice wood Craftsman-style doors matching the house at least $ 2,000 apiece). See video below to understand some of the hassles of DIY floors, starting with learning that your concrete has already been sealed and learning the top layer of concrete has to be ground or bead-blasted off.

The garage door operator would mount to the side of the door frame opening and drive a shaft running above the door header, eliminating the drive chain/drive belt above the centerline of the car. New tracks for the rollers would follow the sloped 4-in-12 pitch of the ceiling, allowing for a shop lift ($ 2,500 – $ 10,000) in one bay and overhead storage in the other. Ideally, the garage door openers would integrate battery backups in case town power failed and so did our backup generator.

I’d add more lighting in the ceiling, additional AC outlets in the wall, a gas-heater for work on wintry days, and a couple of speakers for music. Finally, a 240-volt transformer ($ 500-$ 1,000) would go in to charge the EVs and plug-in hybrids I test. Once there’s 240 volts in the garage, you can bring in a bigger air compressor.

Reality hit hard. Even $ 10,000 wouldn’t do the full job and “in my plans” became “in your dreams.” New, architectural-series doors were scaled back to the existing doors plus $ 250 of weatherstripping and insulation. The old floor remains, and even if I chose later to DIY the epoxy painting (carefully) to save money, the surface prep is hot, noisy, and dusty — one of those jobs you want to job out. The two-post shop lift became a $ 150 two-ton Harbor Freight compact jack, but don’t laugh: In the past year, I saw two professional race shops with HF jacks, okay? I also added four jack stands and wheel chocks.

As for the openers, the myQ technology was the bang-for-the-buck and ease-of-use winner. Because the existing openers were 20-plus years old, I opted for new Liftmaster openers, $ 500 apiece, with jackshaft drive (attaches directly to the torsion bar roller), integrated battery backup, keypad remote, and one each wired and wireless in-the-garage remote controls. With this opener, there’s no center drive rail, and later I can install the door rollers in a custom metal track that follows the ceiling. That would allow the future shop lift, and in the meantime, the garage looks a little more open. The follow-the-ceiling roller tracks can be added later.

The myQ app works well. I would like the option to the status of both garage doors on one screen, rather than one screen per door. I’d also prefer to get open-close messages as texts, not e-mails. Otherwise, it’s fine.

What Makes a Garage Door Opener Worth $ 500?

The top-of-the-line Liftmaster opener deadbolts the door every time it closes.

The operators I chose for my garage doors are currently about $ 500 street, the LiftMaster 8500W (photo right; Chamberlain equivalent, RJO70). It has Wi-Fi and myQ built-in. The wall-mount design frees ceiling space, so you can put a storage rack hanging down between door rails. It’s quiet. The mechanism actually slows the last foot of travel for a softer, quieter touchdown.

An electronic deadbolt auto-engages when the garage door is shut. If the power is out, the integrated battery opens the door, helpful for people who don’t always carry house keys or forget them. Each 8,500W operator comes with four controllers: an outside keypad, an inside wired switch (usually installed next to the door), an inside wireless switch (usually next to the house entry door), and a visor-mount wireless receiver. An included LED ceiling light (quite bright) mounts near any electrical outlet (typically the one used by the old ceiling-mount opener) and is wirelessly controlled.

To see your package being safely delivered, you have one choice: the Amazon Cloud Cam, $ 120.

If You Want to Do It Yourself

The LiftMaster 8500W operator (opener).

You can add-on adapters that bring Wi-Fi-control-from-anywhere to existing openers. myQ is about as easy as it gets. What’s especially nice is that this is one of the few instances in tech you can retrofit new technology to an existing product without having to buy a whole new device.

With modest skills, you can DIY install a new garage door opener – operator — with Wi-Fi if it uses a drive belt or chain, which is the most common type. A torsion spring opener calls for a professional installer; the spring needs careful tensioning and if it lets go, you could be hurt or killed. (This is not the usual abstract profession-drive-closed-course warning. That spring is dangerous.) If you put in a new chain- or belt-driver operator, not torsion-bar, with the springs running parallel to the horizontal tracks, make sure the springs have a safety cable running through the middle and if not, add one, because really old springs can break apart.

If the garage is under a bedroom, you want the quietest operator. In order from high to low in quietness and price, the preferred operator is:

  • Wall-mount operator with torsion spring (quietest, costliest).
  • Ceiling mount with belt drive.
  • Ceiling mount with chain drive (least quiet, cheapest).

But: If noise is the problem with a current opener, first replace any existing steel-wheel rollers with ball-bearing nylon rollers, at most $ 25 for a 10-pack, the number you need for a typical four-section door. Also, replace the pulleys (two per door). Or, get a garage door tune-up for $ 50-$ 100. A door that doesn’t close square to the ground makes noise. That alone, squaring the door, plus nylon rollers, made a significant difference with 20-year-old Craftsman belt-drive openers in our old house.

Read up if you’re thinking of doing this yourself. If you want affordable, effective, and simple-to-install, you’ll probably find a myQ system is the way to go, especially if you’re a frequent Amazon shopper. You only need to automate one garage door, which means $ 50 for the myQ Smart Garage Hub (MYQ-G0301) or $ 200 belt-drive operator with Wi-Fi/myQ integrated such as the Chamberlain B550. You should also spring for a new set of nylon rollers.

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