What’s the biggest, baddest door in your house? Nope — not the front door. In keeping with America’s automotive obsession, it’s much more likely to be the garage door. And though architects and builders like to pay lip service to the importance of the front door, in practice, it’s often the garage door that’s more conspicuous.

This wasn’t always the case. Before World War II, the front door was the undisputed focal point of any house, while the garage was pointedly hidden away at a back corner of the property. In the booming postwar economy of the 1950s, though, Americans finally attained Herbert Hoover’s pre-Depression promise of "two cars in every garage" — and then some. Our houses haven’t been the same since.

Thanks to the countless Americans who still equate the number of cars they own with their value as human beings, multi-car garages have become status symbols. No wonder garages are the most prominent feature in so many modern tract homes.

As my many prior critiques of our auto-centric society might suggest, I don’t like the notion that doorways for cars are more important than doorways for people. Still, I’m a pragmatist, and since in-your-face garages remain a reality for the present, we may as well try to make them look decent.

Let’s start with a look at the most common types of garage doors.

Editor’s note: This is the first in a two-part series.

What’s the biggest, baddest door in your house? Nope — not the front door. In keeping with America’s automotive obsession, it’s much more likely to be the garage door. And though architects and builders like to pay lip service to the importance of the front door, in practice, it’s often the garage door that’s more conspicuous.

This wasn’t always the case. Before World War II, the front door was the undisputed focal point of any house, while the garage was pointedly hidden away at a back corner of the property. In the booming postwar economy of the 1950s, though, Americans finally attained Herbert Hoover’s pre-Depression promise of "two cars in every garage" — and then some. Our houses haven’t been the same since.

Thanks to the countless Americans who still equate the number of cars they own with their value as human beings, multi-car garages have become status symbols. No wonder garages are the most prominent feature in so many modern tract homes.

As my many prior critiques of our auto-centric society might suggest, I don’t like the notion that doorways for cars are more important than doorways for people. Still, I’m a pragmatist, and since in-your-face garages remain a reality for the present, we may as well try to make them look decent.

Let’s start with a look at the most common types of garage doors.

The very earliest was, naturally enough, derived from the simple paired swinging doors used on Victorian-era carriage houses (technically known as biparting doors). Many old houses predating the Depression still use these doors, and other than needing a good bit of clearance in which to swing, they serve perfectly well. Many of these old-timers are quite charming, featuring recessed panels, decorative battens, or windows.

Nevertheless, I see many homeowners ripping out perfectly good biparting doors because they think they can’t be fitted with a garage door opener. Well, they can — so if that’s why you want to get rid of yours, please don’t.

With the elaborate period revival styles of the 1920s, garage doors got so heavy and ornate that side-mounted hinges were no longer up to carrying their weight. This brought about a widespread switch to bypassing doors, which are suspended from a heavy overhead track and slide past each other.

This arrangement, which was derived from barn door hardware, could accommodate doors weighing up to 400 pounds, and had the added plus of not requiring clearance for the door to swing into. Over the years, of course, neglect and lack of maintenance can make bypassing doors hard to operate, but this problem can often be remedied just by cleaning and lubricating the track.

Cheaper, one-piece overhead doors superseded bypassing doors after World War II, and they’re typically found on all styles of postwar houses in both single and double widths. Because most such doors were hastily site-built to complement the style of the house, they’re not as durable as modern factory-built doors.

What’s more, their spring-counterbalanced hinges can be very balky when coupled with a garage door opener, not to mention downright dangerous if improperly adjusted.

Next time, we’ll look at the modern default standard for garage doors, and some tips on choosing the right design.

Show Comments Hide Comments

Comments

Sign up for Inman’s Morning Headlines
What you need to know to start your day with all the latest industry developments
By submitting your email address, you agree to receive marketing emails from Inman.
Success!
Thank you for subscribing to Morning Headlines.
Back to top
EXTENDED: Last call for the best price of the year on the best events in real estate.Register now×
Cyber Monday Sale - EXTENDED! Get 1 year of Inman Select for $75. Offer expires at midnight.SUBSCRIBE×
Log in
If you created your account with Google or Facebook
Don't have an account?
Forgot your password?
No Problem

Simply enter the email address you used to create your account and click "Reset Password". You will receive additional instructions via email.

Forgot your username? If so please contact customer support at (510) 658-9252

Password Reset Confirmation

Password Reset Instructions have been sent to

Subscribe to The Weekender
Get the week's leading headlines delivered straight to your inbox.
Top headlines from around the real estate industry. Breaking news as it happens.
15 stories covering tech, special reports, video and opinion.
Unique features from hacker profiles to portal watch and video interviews.
Unique features from hacker profiles to portal watch and video interviews.
It looks like you’re already a Select Member!
To subscribe to exclusive newsletters, visit your email preferences in the account settings.
Up-to-the-minute news and interviews in your inbox, ticket discounts for Inman events and more
1-Step CheckoutPay with a credit card
By continuing, you agree to Inman’s Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.

You will be charged . Your subscription will automatically renew for on . For more details on our payment terms and how to cancel, click here.

Interested in a group subscription?
Finish setting up your subscription