davidb dives in   Archives

Smart Garage Door Procrastination

I have a common fear: that I’ve left my garage door open without realizing it. This is partly because I’ve absolutely done this, although only when I’m at home. Based on my fear, I’ve successfully trained myself to check the state of the garage door as I leave. However, even with this training, I still harbor this nagging fear.

The pandemic and the subsequent work-from-home stance made this general fear less of an issue, at least in the sense that I wasn’t leaving the garage door open while I wasn’t at home, because I was always at home. Prior to the pandemic, however, I had solved this problem by getting my first smart garage door controller: a Chamberlain “MyQ” device. The primary advantage of the MyQ is that it would alert me if the garage door was left open over a configurable amount of time. While working from home, this turned out to be a surprisingly common issue.

In 2021, the MyQ essentially lost its mind. It would lose track of the state of the garage door, and start saying it was open when closed and vice-versa. You could reset it, but the fix was temporary. If you ever tried to open or close the door with the MyQ, it would flip the open/closed states. I fired the MyQ, and put a “Tailwind Smart Garage Door” device on my Christmas list. Fast forward to December 2021, and I received one of these devices as a gift. This starts the first phase of my procrastination.

The MyQ, to its credit, is really easy to install, at least mechanically. You have to mount the unit somewhere near your actual garage door opener, and velcro the wireless door sensor to your door. The MyQ then acts as a garage door remote, and the sensor essentially tries to tell if it is vertical (door is closed) or horizontal (door is open). This very ease of installation belies its weaknesses: it relies on wireless communication, and the sensor relies on understanding its attitude. Contrast this with my new Tailwind iQ3 – the sensor is just a pair of magnets, and the controller is wired to the garage door opener. No more dodgy attitude sensor! No more open/close failures because the remote failed to work!

In comparison, however, installing the Tailwind system was enough more daunting that I only started the install by taping half of the magnet sensor to the garage door frame (a step to see if the opening of the door cleared the magnet.) And then the rest of the parts sat for 7 months on a shelf. When I revived my interest in installing it, I thought I’d lost a part, since I’d totally forgotten taping the sensor up in the garage.

Next, I ran into a few hurdles. The main one is that for the door side of this magnetic sensor, you are meant to drive “self-tapping” screws into the garage door to hold the sensor bracket. However, my garage door is made of steel. Driving anything into it is non-trivial. In the end, a special drill bit had to be obtained, and some force was needed to actually poke any sort of hole in the door. In retrospect, I should have just taped/glued the sensor bracket to the door – it would have held up for a long time, and would have been much easier to do. The rest of the install is also more work: you have to figure out where and how to mount the control unit, and you have to string the wire from the sensor to the control unit across your garage ceiling. You need to figure out how to wire the control unit into your garage door opener (which largely involves shorting pairs of terminals together until the garage door moves. All of this got done in July in a major installation sprint.

After doing all of the work to get everything connected, screwed into the various services, wired to the correct ports, using the Tailwind app to open or close the garage door revealed the next problem: it didn’t work. When opening the door, for example, it would stop after the door was halfway, and then display an error message. Reading the support pages on the Tailwind site led to a diagnosis that the sensor was always detecting the door as closed. As it opened the door, it would check back a few seconds and note that the door was still closed (it was actually halfway open), and then realize something was going wrong. You could reset everything, but you couldn’t get it to successfully open or close the door, or even notice it was open.

Procrastination, part 2. The garage remained in this state until today. Over the last 3 months, I only had two thoughts: either moving the sensor slightly will work, or steel garage doors are basically kryptonite for this magnetic sensor. Moving the sensor had an “initiation cost” – i.e., I had to find the drill, screw drivers, the stool, and get my car out of the garage. I finally overcame that cost today, and really only needed to move the car, a step stool, a screwdriver, and some tape.

The sensor was installed very close to top of the door. I moved it as far as I could get door-side sensor bracket to stretch, about an inch and half. However, this was enough to fix the sensor false positive. Finally success, about 11 months after getting the device.

Written on Oct 31, 2022.