Steel garage doors are by far the most popular type of garage doors. They come in multiple sizes and colors, and are very cost-competitive, strong, durable, low-maintenance, and do not warp and rarely dent.
Steel garage doors are in close competition with other types of garage doors, some of which have also a core of steel: modern fiberglass and vinyl doors have laminated vinyl/fiberglass surfaces at their front and back but also a core of steel and foam.
We can distinguish three types of steel garage doors: 1) single layer doors (non-insulated), 2) double-layer doors and 3) three-layer doors.
Single-layer steel doors are made of a single sheet of galvanized steel. They are the cheaper units, and a good choice for detached garages, or for when sound-proofing and thermal comfort do not matter.
Double-layer steel doors have a galvanized steel skin on the outside, and a layer of either polyurethane or polystyrene on the inside - for soundproofing and insulation.
Triple-layer steel garage doors are similar to double layer units, but they have an extra galvanized steel layer on their inside, to protect the insulation layer and to make them stronger.
If soundproofing, thermal comfort and strength are important to you, prefer this type of garage door.
As mentioned earlier premium vinyl garage doors aren’t just vinyl. Behind their vinyl surfaces (at their front and back) there is a foam core (often polyurethane) and steel.
The polyurethane insulated base sections provide high thermal performance, while the steel provides strength.
Steel vs. vinyl garage doors Prices
Modern vinyl garage doors, engineered with a foam core and steel, aren’t cheap units; they are cheaper than wood but more expensive than standard insulated steel doors.
Expect prices in the $1,000 - $2,000 range and more - a lot less than standard wood doors, but slightly more than equivalent steel doors.
See: Garage door prices
Cons of vinyl garage doors & Problems
Vinyl isn’t an environmentally-friendly material. Quite the contrary. And that’s an important disadvantage, when we compare vinyl doors with other alternatives.
There are some complaints and negative reports about traditional large vinyl garage doors, namely warping problems in climates with very cold winters or very hot summers.
Contrary to steel doors, vinyl garage doors aren’t being sold by large retailers, and are not part of the offer of many large manufacturers. North American manufacturers: Waine-Dalton, Amarr, OverheadDoor, Fimbelads
These vinyl doors can also become noisy and fragile when subjected to very low temperatures. But new engineered vinyl doors do not have these problems. They are a largely maintenance-free and very durable type of garage door, without the downsides of traditional units.
Premium vinyl garage doors use special polymers to protect the door from the ultraviolet effects and, most of all, thick steel C-channel running on each door panel for strength; these steel-reinforced elements can make the doors very strong, while their foam backs provide high insulation value.
Why buying a vinyl garage door instead of a steel garage door?
People interested in new engineered vinyl doors are attracted by their look. These doors are a good imitation of wood and relatively cheap - that’s their major selling points.
Like fiberglass garage doors, vinyl doors provide the look of wood, though not so perfectly. "Perfect" imitation is not as easy with vinyl doors as it is with fiberglass. Like fiberglass doors, vinyl doors are available in many colors and wood patterns, and they offer higher insulation value than wood – and a much lower maintenance.
Another major selling point is their resistance to salt air - they are often recommended for coastal regions because of it.
But to they deserve the investment?
There are better choices from an environmental point of view; and overall there are better alternatives for strength and low-maintenance at lower prices. It’s not by chance that steel garage doors dominate the residential market.
Traditional aluminum garage doors are rust-proof, low-maintenance and low-cost doors. They are also very light and easy to operate.
Cheap aluminum garage doors (tilt-up and single-piece) are cheap units.
Insulated aluminum garage doors are pricier (at least twice the price of cheap units), but still competitive with steel garage doors.
Aluminum vs. Steel Doors: Denting, efficiency and strength
Aluminum garage doors are prone to denting (contrary to steel doors) and a lot less energy-efficient and less strong than the best steel doors.
Aluminum is a highly conductive material, and doors made with it can't ever provide comfort and block heat transfer (to the outside or from the outside).
If you are looking for comfort, or if your garage is attached to your house, look elsewhere...
Obviously, aluminum doors with insulation layers may overcome part of the problem, but insulation is not common in traditional all-aluminum doors and it doesn't make them a good choice.
Warranties of all-aluminum garage doors vary, but some manufacturers offer a lifetime limited warranty for their premium units. It doesn't differ much from steel doors.
New glass-Aluminum garage doors
Some big manufacturers are marketing glass-aluminum garage doors, with an attractive wall of windows.
These doors offer a wide range of window options, to control the degree of light transmission and privacy, and are low-maintenance dors with corrosion resistant features.
Glass options vary in their strength, colors and appearance (mirrored, laminated, tinted, light filtering…), but all these doors have a very low-insulation value.
They can't be a good choice to keep your garage comfortable. Quite the contrary.
Besides not being as strong or as safe as steel doors (or all-aluminum garage doors), they are largely incapable of keeping heat inside (in the winter) or out (in the summer).
Bottom Line: Aluminum vs. steel Garage doors
Steel garage doors do no warp and rarely dent. They do not pose problems such as sagging in the middle (as it may happen with large glass-aluminum doors). They provide strenght and durability. And they can be insulated with foams and offer comfort and soundproofing, which is difficult or impossible to attain with aluminum doors.
Cheap all-aluminum doors, with their low-maintenance and low costs, can be a good choice if you don’t need strength or extra durability. They are light and can be a good option for detached garages, when thermal comfort and sound-proofing do not matter.
As to glass-aluminum they can never be a good option. They can be aesthetically pleasing or provide good views, but just that.
The garage door strength is important for safety or durability, and varies with specific construction details and the materials that make the doors - and, obviously, with the quality of some of these materials: there are bad and good fiberglass, and different types of wood, or different steel thicknesses.Modern premium fiberglass garage doors are composite doors, combining a steel core behind a fiberglass skin. Many of them have also polyurethane insulated base sections, in order to achieve higher insulation levels.
As to modern wooden garage doors, their biggest selling point is aesthetics. Wooden garage doors can also be a reasonable choice from an environmental and energy-efficiency point of view, but they can be expensive and a poor choice for strength or from a maintenance standpoint.
Wood, fiberglass garage doors aren't as strong as steel doors, unless they too use steel in their construction - which many in fact do: new composite wood and fiberglass garage doors are reinforced with steel C-channels in their panels.
Advantages of steel doors over fiberglass and Wooden garage doors
Steel garage doors have become standard products. They come in a wider variety of standard sizes, styles and colors as compared to fiberglass and other types of doors. They are – in part because they are the most popular type of garage doors, and because they are massively produced and sold – the most competitive type of garage doors, and offer high strength and security.
For strength and security, prefer a steel door with at least two layers of galvanized steel, and pay attention to their gauge number (the gauge number is commonly used to refer to the thickness of the steel layers).
Low-cost steel garage doors have thin panels, say 27- or 28-gauge steel panels; mid-level doors come with 25- or 26-gauge steel panels, while premium garage doors use 23-24 gauge steel panels (the lower the number the stronger the door).
Choosing A Good Premium Steel Garage Door
The best steel doors use thick layers of steel and a core of polyurethane foam or other high-insulation material...
Premium steel garage doors are 24 gauge, 2-inches thick, and have an insulation-value (R-value) around 7-8.
Many manufacturers are advertising R-values between 12 and 18 for their doors, but these values are largely meaningless (see: Insulated Garage Doors). The real R-values are much lower.
The type of galvanization is also very important. Hot-dip galvanization prevents rusting. Rust-preventing zinc coats are more effective and better than electro-galvanizing.
Note: The strength of a door is measured by its gauge number. The lower the gauge number, the stronger and more dent-resistant the garage door is: 24 gauge doors are stronger than 25 gauge doors...
Pay also attention to the seals and gaskets of the door. The insulation value of the door will not matter much if the door is leaky. The edge and bottom seals (and the quality of the installation) are of extreme importance for air-tightness.
The best steel garage doors come with a large warranty: 20 years, or even lifetime. The warranty should cover all the parts of the door, or most of it: paint finish, insulation, hardware, adhesive, seals…
More information: IDA, International Door Association
Steel doors strenght & Wind-Load steel Garage doors
Strength is important for safety and durability, and steel garage doors offer the utmost strength. Many models of steel garage doors are available with wind-load reinforcement systems, for hurricane-prone regions.
In the USA, states like California, Kansas, Missouri, Nevada and Utah have wind-load reinforcement requirements for garage doors.
These requirements follow the International Building Code (IBC) and the Florida Building Code (FBC) and the ANSI/DASMA standards.
If you live in a high-wind region, make sure that your garage door is "wind-load" certified (see Box at left)
Do not underestimate this issue. “Wind load” doors are not much more expensive than common doors, and can save you many worries.Many of the most popular garage door models are available with wind-load reinforcement systems.
They may look identical from the outside, but they are engineered to withstand extreme-wind conditions and to meet local building codes.
You just have to select the protection level. Wind protection labels can help you make the right choice.