Plug the term “vinyl” into any search engine and you’ll get pages of information on vinyl records. I’ve had my collection of those to be sure. But to me, “vinyl” conjures items I’ve used in the building trades. Things like water and drainage pipes, siding, faux-wood decking, interior flooring, window frames, door frames, entry doors and garage doors.
In northern California, where I live, garages aren’t as much of a thing as in coastal British Columbia, where I used to live. Up there, vinyl is a common garage door material because it’s lightweight, easy to clean and mold- and rot-resistant.
Routine maintenance of the property I rented in Victoria included power washing the garage door once a year. That’s all it ever needed.
It isn’t likely you’ll mistake a vinyl garage door for a wooden one. Vinyl more closely resembles aluminum or steel. Plus, it rarely dents and never needs painting. Vinyl garage doors are built on a steel frame, with room between the front and back panels for foam insulation. That keeps a garage warm even during cold Canadian winters.
What Is Vinyl?
Vinyl is a petroleum product manufactured with ethylene derived from oil. It can take several forms, but polyvinyl chloride (PVC) is the one most often used for construction materials. It’s produced by adding chlorine and heating the mixture at really high temperatures.
You’ll find vinyl in food wraps, safety glass films, paints, adhesives and shower curtains, but PVC is the only type rigid enough for making building materials. That’s why the terms vinyl and PVC mean basically the same thing to builders.
Records, by the way, are also made from PVC. So instead of saying “spinning the vinyl,” you could say “spinning the PVC.” You wouldn’t be wrong, but the first phrase definitely sounds better.
Types of Vinyl Garage Doors
When shopping for vinyl garage doors, the tilt-up door is by far the most common type on the market. It consists of a single panel that swings out and up as it opens. Because the panel rests against the ceiling in the open position, it’s also known as an overhead door.
Wayne Dalton offers its 8700 model vinyl door in two patterns, Colonial and Sonoma. Other manufacturers have similar offerings. Some, like Door Boy in New Jersey, offer carriage-style swinging doors made from vinyl planks.
According to San Jose-based Precision Garage Door, sectional doors with horizontal hinged sections are also available, but typically must be custom-ordered.
Vinyl Garage Doors, Pros and Cons
The proliferation of PVC in the environment raises increasingly urgent environmental concerns, particularly in communities near factories that produce it.
Production and disposal releases toxic chlorine-based chemicals, leading Greenpeace to identify PVC as the most environmentally damaging plastic. That’s a major downside. But vinyl garage doors do have offsetting upsides.
Low to no maintenance: PVC never rusts or warps. Apart from keeping the tracks and door opener in working condition, a vinyl garage door needs little attention. Vinyl hardly ever dents, and scratches don’t show because the color is baked into the material.
Low cost: Vinyl doors are slightly more expensive than steel or aluminum ones, but less expensive than wood and fiberglass.
Longer warranty: Doors made with other materials typically come with 10- to 20-year warranties. Vinyl garage doors typically offer a lifetime warranty.
Limited color availability: Dark colors absorb sunlight and fade quickly or damage the vinyl, so choices for factory finishes may be limited.
Poor insulator: By itself, vinyl does little to prevent heat transfer. In cold climates, vinyl doors need extra insulation.
You’re stuck with the original appearance: Vinyl doesn’t lend itself to cosmetic modifications. Barring color fading, which can occur if the door comes without a UV-protective coating, the door you install today will look the same in 20 years. If you do a major renovation and the door doesn’t fit the new design, you’ll probably have to replace it.
Is Vinyl Garage Door Installation DIY-able?
Doubtful. I wouldn’t try to install an overhead or sectional garage door myself. Setting the tracks accurately, anchoring them securely and adjusting the torsion springs to ensure smooth operation of the door are all jobs I’d rather leave to experienced pros.
Anyone who does have the skill and confidence to do this job, however, will find it easier to set the door on the tracks because vinyl is so light.
A carriage-style door is a different story, because the installation procedure isn’t much different from that for any swinging door. Again, vinyl’s light weight is an advantage that makes it easier to lift the door onto the hinges.
What Does It Cost for Pro Installation?
Installation costs range from $650 to $2,300, with the average about $1,200. Cost varies with the size of the door and its style. Larger doors cost more to install, and sectional and overhead doors cost more than swinging doors because it involves more work.
Can You Paint a Vinyl Garage Door?
Yes. It’s generally best to use light shades, because they absorb less heat from sunlight than dark ones. Manufacturers generally recommend latex rather than oil-based paint. If you want a dark color, choose a vinyl-safe paint that contains reflective material to protect the vinyl.
A word of advice: Painting will probably increase your maintenance work load.
Vinyl doors are so easy to keep clean because the factory tint extends all the way through the material and stands up to power washing. Once you apply a coat of paint, you introduce the possibility of chipping, cracking and peeling. You’ll need to repaint every five years or so to maintain the door’s appearance.