I have a friend who used to travel around the country teaching the art of glassblowing. A few years ago, he showed me how to stretch glass into thin fibers to use for texturizing art pieces.

The technique — blowing molten glass from a tube — dates back to the ancient Phoenicians. It produces strands of glass almost as thin as human hair. He told me manufacturers use same basic technique on a larger scale to produce fiberglass. Who knew?

The technique, developed by accident in the Owens-Illinois glassmaking plant in Toledo, Ohio, was patented in 1933. Air filters were the first products made from these mass-produced glass fibers. A few years later, Owens-Illinois merged with the Corning Glass Company to become Owens-Corning. They later introduced their signature building insulation, trademarked as Fiberglas, dropping the second “s.”

That was just the beginning of the emergence of fiberglass into the building trades. Manufacturers soon learned how to combine it with plastic resin to create a material they could form into boat hulls and shower stalls, as well as windows, entry doors and garage doors.

With the right texturizing and colorizing techniques, a fiberglass garage door can be almost indistinguishable from a wooden one. But the fiberglass one isn’t vulnerable to moisture, warping or rot, so it lasts a lot longer.

What Is Fiberglass?

The fiberglass in building products combines glass fibers and a material called fiberglass reinforced plastic, or FRP. It’s mainly plastic (generally polyurethane or epoxy) that undergoes cross-linking during curing. Cross-linking means the molecules form permanent bonds with each other, so these types of plastics — unlike PVC or polyethylene — won’t soften or melt when exposed to heat.

The glass fibers stretch longitudinally throughout the plastic to give it extra strength, much like the steel bands in car tires, or rebar in a concrete footing. Because the bulk of FRP is plastic, manufacturers can mold it into a raised grain and make it look just like wood. The result: A material ideal for garage doors.

Types of Fiberglass Garage Doors

Fiberglass garage doors come in all styles, but some are more common than others. Here are the most popular ones:

Sectional: Horizontal panels hinged together allow the door to open on a curved track.
Tilt-up: A single panel tilts up and rests against the ceiling when you open it.
Bi-Fold: Vertical panels connected by hinges fold together when you open the door.
Carriage-style: One or two single-panel doors swing on hinges like barn doors.

Fiberglass Garage Doors, Pros and Cons

Fiberglass garage doors are generally constructed on steel frames to make them more durable. Some features you’ll appreciate include:

Affordable: Fiberglass garage doors cost about as much as steel doors and considerably less than wood ones.
Long-lasting: Fiberglass doesn’t rot or deteriorate like wood, and it resists impacts better than wood or vinyl. Fiberglass garage doors can last 35 years or more.
Lightweight: Fiberglass garage doors are lighter than wood or steel ones. If you don’t have an automatic door opener, choosing fiberglass will save you effort when opening and closing the door.
Low-maintenance: Fiberglass doors are factory-tinted. The color runs all the way through the material, so it won’t fade. Just wash the door down periodically to keep it looking its best.

If you’re considering a fiberglass garage door, be aware of a few drawbacks

Extra insulation needed: By itself, fiberglass doesn’t provide much insulation. However, you can buy foam-insulated fiberglass doors that block heat transfer even better than wood.
Brittle: Fiberglass can become brittle in extremely cold temperatures, making it more likely to crack.
Turns yellow: Fiberglass tends to yellow after prolonged exposure to direct sunlight.
Not recyclable: Unlike wood or steel, fiberglass is difficult to recycle into other products and usually ends up in landfills.

Is Fiberglass Garage Door Installation DIY-able?

Yes. Fiberglass is lighter than wood, so if you feel competent enough to install a wooden garage door yourself, you can handle fiberglass as well. The difficulty level depends on the style of door.

Swinging and carriage-style doors are the easiest to install. The procedure isn’t much different from installing an entry door, but you’ll probably need help supporting the heavy door panels while you attach them to the hinges.

Sectional and tilt-up doors are the most difficult. The procedure involves installing tracks, which calls for careful measurements and placement, and one or more torsion springs to support the weight of the door.

The springs are dangerous because they’re under tension and could potentially unwind violently. For me, that’s enough motivation to opt for professional installation.

What Does It Cost for Pro Installation?

That depends on the number of door panels, the size of each panel and the style of the door.

Installation of a single-panel swinging door for a one-car garage can cost as little as $500, while a sectional or tilt-up door could run up to $2,500. Prices for a two-car garage range from $750 to $4,700, and $1,300 to $7,000 for a three-car one.

Can You Paint a Fiberglass Garage Door?

Yes. I’ve done it myself, with good results. And although it’s a plastic, fiberglass won’t melt in the sun the way vinyl does if you choose a dark color. The process is similar to painting a wooden door, but sanding usually isn’t required.

Clean the door thoroughly, removing all mold and mildew that could prevent the paint from sticking. Let the door dry, then apply a primer and one or two coats of paint.

It’s most efficient to use a sprayer, but you can also get good results with a brush and roller.

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