Seven Ways to Reduce the Effect of the Sun on Garage Door Safety Sensors

It’s mid-May, probably my favorite time of year in
Oregon.  I love the warm weather (not that it’s here to stay), and the
amazing views of snow-covered Mt Hood in the distance as I crisscross the cherry
blossom lined back roads between jobs in Happy Valley, Gresham, Boring and Damascus.

We are also getting into peak season for one of the most
annoying garage door problems: bright sun interfering with the safety sensors.  It can prevent garage doors from closing as
if there was an obstruction.

As much as garage door openers have improved over the last
decade, they all still utilize IR safety sensors that are subject to
interference from the Sun.  Bright
sunlight crowds out the signal between the sending and receiving sensors and
the result Failure to Close.

It typically happens in the mid morning or late afternoon when the sun is at a low angle.  Most homes are only subject to this annoyance for a couple
hours each day for a few weeks of the year.  

As the sun slowly moves to a different position in the sky the problem usually
resolves itself.  In the meantime, people come up with all kinds of work arounds to get by. Strategically positioning a big recycling bin
or a child to shade the safety sensor are the two most popular methods.

Things You Can Try

Luckily there are a couple of steps you can take that may be a more permanent and reliable solutions.  Try these steps:

  1. Make sure that your safety sensors are lined up perfectly. As I explain in my extensive guide about safety sensors, under normal conditions the infrared beam has a wide angle to it and will work just fine even if misaligned by a few degrees.  But the bright sun has the effect of reducing the strength of the signal, which means that the slightest misalignment will result in failure to close.  Check out my explainer on how to line up garage door safety sensors and use the flex test to confirm that they are really dialed in.
  2. Clean the sensors. Any dust that is on the lens will further reduce the strength of the signal between sending and receiving sensors.
  3. Move the sensors, especially the receiving side, out of the sun if possible. Most times the safety sensors are installed right next to the bottom of the garage door track.  If there is room, move them back into the corners of the garage where there is some shade.
  4. Build a “shadow cone”. Use the cardboard tube from a roll of toilet paper and tape it to the eye in such a way that it shades the lens and helps block reflection off the ground.
  5. Put something on the garage floor that isn’t shiny to prevent reflection. Lots of time the sensor is getting hit with the double whammy of direct sunlight and reflected light off the floor.
  6. Move anything that could be reflecting sun towards the sensors.  I once went on a service call where the reflection coming off of a car bumper was the source of the problem.
  7. Replacing the sensors may help as a last resort (or the whole garage door opener if it is old). Older safety sensors are more prone to interference from the sun.

Most of the time we are able to find a solution.  Sadly, there are a few homes out that will always have this problem on bright days when the sun is at just the right angle.  Remember, you can always override the sensors if you need to get your door close right away.