Well, close your garage door from almost anywhere in the world. You’re still going to need a cell or wifi connection for your smartphone. Recently, we participated in an extreme garage door makeover project with Clopay Garage Doors. Since our original garage door opener actually required physical assistance opening our old, lightweight door, we reached out to LiftMaster for a little help. They sent us their 8550 garage door opener which we’ve been testing for several weeks now. If you think all openers are made the same, wait until you hear about some of the features this LiftMaster garage door opener brings to your door. Read on to hear about the garage door opener installation, programming, functionality, noise levels and high-tech bells and whistles.
LiftMaster Garage Door Opener – 8550 InstallationThe gents from Radford Doors made incredibly quick work of installing the LiftMaster 8550. The fact that they had installed thousands of openers and that they were a team of two definitely worked in their favor. Unlike many openers which have a track that comes in sections, the LiftMaster 8550 has single piece track that’s surprisingly compact. Although the multi-piece tracks are said to be solid, I feel more comfortable knowing that our track is all one piece. Given that the track sees more action in its life than a private military contractor in the Bush admin, single-piece tracks just make more sense to me. With a minimal amount of assembly, the guys were soon bolting the end of the track to the front wall of the garage and securing the motor/head unit to brackets. They also ran included wiring to the two beam sensors that make up the safety stop for the door. One nifty trick of the trade they employed was to carefully swing one of the sensors so that about a foot or so of cord would wrap itself around the shaft of a long screwdriver. After that coil is slid off the screwdriver, a neat coil of cord ensured the cord wouldn’t be too short and also gave a little flexibility in case the sensor’s location needed to be changed in the future. They did the same thing where the wires connected to the motor unit, and with the wiring for the wired control panel. If you want the same effect without risking smashing your sensor into something, you can carefully hand-wrap the wire around the screwdriver shaft. The wiring was also secured every couple feet with a low-voltage wire staple gun.
Once the opener was connected to the door, and the wiring was run, the opener was plugged in. Rather than the length of power cable we had hanging down from the ceiling before, they neatly wound the power cable around the length of one of the mounting brackets. It’s another small and simple detail that makes for a much cleaner looking installation. Using a few buttons on the motor unit, they then programmed the door opening and closing stop points. In well under an hour, the pros from Radford Doors had our door opening and closing, and I didn’t even have to get under the door and lift like I did with our dying old opener.
LiftMaster Wired Garage Door Smart Control Panel
If we rated the “smartness” of our old door control panel, lets just say it wouldn’t be applying for Mensa membership. In fact, our old door control panel was really just a $2 button. Going from that to LiftMaster’s control panel was like moving from a punch card “computer” to an iPad. A menu-driven system displays time, temperature and even diagnostic info, including a battery charge monitor for systems equipped with a backup battery. Most everything is programmable, including an option to auto-shut the door after set number of minutes (1,5, or 10 minutes, or a custom length between 1 and 99 minutes). I personally didn’t program an auto-shut since I often like to work on projects with the garage door open. But for those of you that are prone to forgetting to close the garage door, LiftMaster will warn you with blinking lights on the main opener unit before shutting the door at whatever interval you programmed.
Motion Detecting Light
The wired control panel also comes with a motion detector function for activating the light. The light is actually two bulbs, one on each side of the opener, rated at up to 100 watts each. If you find the motion detector annoying you can turn it off via the control panel settings. You can also set how long the light stays on once activated by the detector. One feature I wish it had was an ambient light sensor. Unfortunately, if you have a garage with natural daylight, the motion detector will still trigger the light even when it’s not needed. However, you can turn the light back off (or manually control the light if you’re not using the motion sensor) with a simple push of the bottom button on the wired control panel.
Wireless Remotes and HomeLink
Although our previous opener appeared to have been made in the Carter administration (or earlier), I upgraded it with a Genie aftermarket remote kit so I could add a keypad opener and slightly sexier remotes to our vehicles. I was also able to use that kit to program the HomeLink buttons that came from the factory in my 2006 vehicle. Since the 8550 said it was HomeLink compatible and my car was too, I didn’t anticipate any issues. Unfortunately programming the HomeLink buttons in my car didn’t go quite according to plan.
Here’ How to Program HomeLink Buttons in Most Cases:
In my case, I couldn’t complete step two. No matter where I held the transmitter that came with the 8550, at what angle and at what distance, my car would not recognize the signal. With a little guidance from the folks at HomeLink and LiftMaster, it became clear that my vehicle was one that required a repeater kit to be compatible with the 8550.
It turns out that in 2011, LiftMaster upgraded their radios to increase range and help eliminate interference (more on that here). The result is that “Most older vehicles will not communicate directly with the radio, and will require a “Repeater Kit” to upgrade the in-vehicle remote system to be compatible with this improved radio system. One repeater can control multiple cars and openers; if all vehicles in the garage are HomeLink®, only one HomeLink® repeater is needed.”
While a little frustrating, presumably LiftMaster weighed the benefits of newer radio technology with the hassle of some having to get repeater kits. This transition also is not unique to LiftMaster. According to the HomeLink website: “The HomeLink Repeater Kit is designed to allow compatibility between a newer Chamberlain, Sears Craftsman, or LiftMaster garage door opener fitted with a yellow antenna wire and the HomeLink system in your vehicle. These garage door openers were manufactured in 2011 or later. ”
Although the HomeLink site has a vehicle selector that provides step by step instructions for programming each vehicle (the process is pretty much the same for most cars we’re aware of), the site unfortunately does not spell out if your particular model and year will require a repeater kit. As a result, you’re left to troubleshoot programming until you or customer service from LiftMaster or HomeLink tell you that a repeater kits is needed.
The good news is, once I received the repeater kit, I had the system up and running in less than a minute. Although the repeater kit comes with a new button, it’s really only used for programming your car’s HomeLink buttons, and you can still use the original transmitter that came with your opener if you have a vehicle without HomeLink.
LiftMaster Garage Door Opener Operation & Noise Level
The first thing I noticed with the LiftMaster 8550 opener, or actually didn’t notice, was noise. Our old door and opener sounded like Pamplona, with a particularly angry batch of bulls. It was loud. Even though our garage isn’t directly attached to the house, it’s still a real pleasure not feeling like I need hearing protection every time the door is opened or closed. If your garage is attached to the home, you’ll definitely want to consider the LiftMaster 8550. Its belt drive system is shockingly quiet. Although we unfortunately don’t have before video of our door, we do have something at a comparable sound level (though there were typically less flames involved). Skip through to about 1:30 to get an idea of how noisy our old opener and door was:
And here’s the quiet scene in our garage now:
The LiftMaster 8550 MyQ Internet Gateway and iPhone App
In case you aren’t wowed by the 8550′s elegantly back-lit control panel, LiftMaster has a few more gizmos up its sleeve, including one that I’d say makes it the door with the longest range for opening and closing on the market. By longest range, I’m actually referring to the optional myQ Internet Gateway and iPhone (or Android) app. Installing the Internet gateway is extremely simple assuming you have an available ethernet port on your network. Before you install it, especially if your installation location is like our and isn’t super accessible, make a note of the Serial # on the bottom of the gateway. You’ll need that when configuring the LiftMaster app. Then simply plug the gateway into your network and plug it in for power.
Once you download the LiftMaster App to your phone, you’ll need to register at LiftMaster.com. You can then log-in via the app and enter the Internet Gateway as a new device. From there, you can not only check the status of your garage door (open or closed), but you can see a record of recent activity with it. Most importantly, you can open and close the door remotely. While this may sound gimmicky, there are many circumstances you might want to kiss the engineers and execs at LiftMaster that made this feature happen. If you’re like most people you might occasionally forget whether you closed the garage door after leaving on a long trip. If you’re a block away, then circling back is always an option. However, if you’re 800 miles into the Griswold family road trip when you have this realization, or worse yet, sitting at an Internet cafe in Katmandu (they do exist), circling back isn’t an appealing option. Fear not! As long as you have your iPhone and a cell or wifi connection, checking on the door and closing it if needed takes just a few seconds. The remote access can also be handy for letting someone into the garage when you’re not home.
I got a little frustrated with having to re-login each time we opened the app, until I realized there’s an option to stay logged in via the account settings. There’s also the option to just use a four digit pin to control your system, which I found a lot more user-friendly than entering a full password every time. LiftMaster makes the security and relative level of ease accessing the app entirely up to you. I did feel the app user interface could one minor improvement. Once you setup your garage door, it just shows an icon for it without the word “Open” or “Close.” As soon as you touch the garage door icon, it will open (or close if it’s shown in open position), which can be a bit surprising. Ideally, those icons should have an action button that’s a little more clear. That minor quibble aside, the Internet gateway and app combo make the LiftMaster 8550 one of the smartest garage door openers on the market. It’s made even more smart with optional programmable alerts which you can easily set to send you push notifications or emails when your garage door is opened or closed. You can even set parameters for the alerts to only trigger after a certain duration, or during certain days and times. Those alerts are a great security feature. The first year of service is free, but if you want the remote fun to continue after that, you’re looking at an annual charge of less than $20.
LiftMaster Garage Door Monitor
You don’t have to be on a trip to an obscure country half way around the world for garage door anxiety to strike. If you’re the forgetful or worried type and find yourself wondering if you ever got around to closing your garage door once you’re tucked away in the comfort of your own home, LiftMaster has you covered there too. With a little accessory called the Garage Door Monitor (clever name!), you can enjoy both visual and auditory confirmations of the current status of your garage door. Setup on this gizmo is easy, although it does involve pressing a button on the monitor and then pressing the Learn button on the Opener itself. Unless your name is Usain Bolt, you’ll want to program the unit at a distance you can safely cover in 60 seconds. The beeps from the monitor can be quite jarring, but thankfully LiftMaster made not only the volume adjustable, but you can turn it off entirely as well. A solid green light assures you your door (or doors) are closed, while a blinking red reminds you at least one door is open. If you do realize that you forgot to shut the door, you can do it (after verifying your Lamborghini Veneno or fragile toddler isn’t careless placed in the door opening) by simply hitting the Close button.
LiftMaster Wireless Keyless Entry Keypad
Like many opener companies, LiftMaster makes a wireless keypad accessory available. You typically see these mounted on the sides of a garage door opening or just around the corner from the front of the garage door. Typically you program a four digit pin and then use that to open and close the door from the outside of your garage. I use my wireless keypad all the time, including with our previous unit, and I was happy about some unique features on this model. The biggest selling point is that there is an optional one button close feature. I say optional because you can disable it if you prefer to enter a pin for both opening and closing. I love the feature since I’m not terribly worried about someone unauthorized closing my garage, and the one button feature makes it much more convenient for me to close the door from the outside. You can even program a temporary PIN if you want short term access for a guest or worker.
LiftMaster Remote Light Control
To be quite candid, we didn’t put the LiftMaster Light Control Unit through its paces as much as most people might have. Our home’s lighting is completely automated, and I can control almost every light in our home via my smartphone, iPad or from our desktop. But for the 99.9% of you that aren’t home automation geeks like I am, the Remote Light Control might be more useful. Basically, the control plugs into a wall outlet, and your chosen light (up to 600w/5Amps max) plugs into it. You then program either one of your vehicle remote buttons to control it, or you can set it up to be controlled via the MyQ app on your iPhone if you’re using the MyQ Internet Gateway. This can be a great accessory to avoid coming home to a dark house or entryway.
If you’ve ever been in an extended power outage then you already know how much we can take electricity for granted. Things you never give a second thought to suddenly have a way of becoming vitally important when the power goes out. The garage door opener is definitely one of them. Just imagine if you have a outage and urgently need to drive somewhere. If you’re car is in the garage, and especially if you have a really heavy door, your garage door might start feeling more like a prison gate than a convenience. That’s why the 8550 features a battery backup. With it, you’ll be able to raise and lower your door at least a couple times in an emergency situation with no power.
If your old garage door opener requires manual assistance for opening, or it sounds like the space shuttle every time you open or close it, it may be time to upgrade. If you are planning on upgrading, the LiftMaster 8550 offers an impressive blend of power, stealth, and intelligently engineered options. From smart control pads, to Internet access, to battery backup functionality, LiftMaster delivers a product that will function exactly how you want it to, whether you’re in your car, in the garage, in the house, or halfway around the world.
Where to Purchase the 8550 & Accessories
Although you can buy the LiftMaster 8550 Garage Door Opener DC Battery Backup WITHOUT the Rail Assembly for around $220 on Amazon, we recommend finding a reputable local LiftMaster installer to get you up and running. The following accessories mentioned in this review are all readily available on Amazon:
Win a LiftMaster Garage Door Opener FREE in August, 2013!
If we’ve enticed you with the LiftMaster 8550, we’re happy to let you know you can win it (and some vital accessories) absolutely FREE in our August 2013 Free Stuff Giveaway, sponsored by LiftMaster. Visit our Giveaway page for the easy-to-enter details on the contest.