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Driveway Gate Equipment Review & Opinions

Updated 03-24-11

Overview:
This review offers candid opinions of equipment. Most of the equipment we have installed, and/or examined carefully and received consumer feedback.

There will always be sites that sell the equipment for less. It however may be more prudent to work with a dealer that will assist you in making the appropriate equipment selection, and support you through the entire installation process. As a consumer you may want to know the difference between an operator that will last 5 years as compared to one that will last 20. Getting unbiased and honest information from a dealer can be difficult at times;. so do your market research. A gated entryway is a long term investment for your property.

If you are looking to select a contractor to install a gate & automation, check out our buyers guide. This guide can help you make an informed choice in selecting a contractor and avoid some of the inherent pitfalls. You can get in touch with screened contractors at Servicemagic.

Good rules to follow when selecting equipment is buying from an established manufacturer that's been in business long enough to have developed their product and assure that they will be here tomorrow. The company should have tech support and advanced replacement parts whenever possible.

Mechanical Linear Arm Actuators

Linear arms (sometimes call ram arms) are bolted directly to the gate and post or column, and are the easiest to install. They are the most economical as well. They operate with a motor turning a long threaded shaft similar to the old bumper jacks (jack screw). Most linear arm operators have a bit of play in them. Use positive stops in the closed position so the gate does not wiggle in the breeze. It is imperative that positive stops be use on double gates (bi-parting). All linear operators have their control electronics out boarded in a separate cabinet. Most controls can handle 2 operators (bi-parting gates). See our help center for installation layouts and 3D illustrations of typical installations.

Linear operators offer low pricing and ease of installation. There is however a tradeoff. Linear operator are not as strong as swing arm operators. The inherent geometry of the arm places a heavy stress on them. It is recommended to use a magnetic lock with this type of operator since they do not hold as well when the gate is bumped with a vehicle. It is not recommended to use linear operators on solid fill gates. Wind loading will destroy them is short order.

I am not saying not to use these operators. There are millions of them out there that work very well. Just be careful about your application and sizing them correctly. Most of these operators are overrated for capacity. Some of my favorite units in this class are the Viking Access G-5, the Doorking 6002, and on the lower end the Ramset Jet

Hydraulic Linear Arm Actuators

These units are very similar to their mechanical cousins. They mount the same way and have their electronics controls out-boarded in a separate cabinet. The main difference is the units have a built in hydraulic pump and hydraulic piston that positions the gate. All hydraulic operators need to have positive stops either on the gate, or the operator. Some of the units have built in stops, or can be added inside the shroud that encloses the hydraulic piston.

Hydraulic operators need positive stops because they do not have limit switches to control the position. Instead they use a timer on the pump to turn it on and off. Typically you can hear the motor running for a few seconds after the gate has closed or opened.

Hydraulic units typically cost more than the mechanical units. They offer some advantages for the cost increase as noted below. Almost all Hydraulic units are manufactured in Italy. FAAC is the leader in this category. SEA is another large company making a similar line of operators. There are many smaller companies in Italy that sell their re-branded units worldwide. There is difficulty obtaining service and parts for many of these re-branded units. Stick with the larger well known manufacturers when choosing linear style hydraulic gate openers. As a rule, if a large manufacturer carries a re-branded hydraulic unit, service and parts will be available.

Distinguishing features of hydraulic actuators such as the FAAC 400 is that it can handle heavier gates (up to 1800lbs) than their mechanical counterparts. These units offer outstanding safety because the force of the gates movement is highly controllable by adjusting the hydraulic pressure.

A detractor is they can be a bit more expensive and time consuming to service. The hydraulic unit itself has to be sent to a service center when repairs are needed. The electronics can be serviced on-site.

Top Arm Gate Operators

Elite (acquired by The Chamberlain Group) was the first company to offer a heavy vertical frame chassis with chain driven oil soaked gear reduction box (see the Elite CSW-200). This is a nice piece of engineering. You can expect 20 years of service from this type of design.

Ramset & Viking gate operators are built very similar to the Elite units but cost less money. There are other units like the Osco SWC that also mimic the Elite. The Eagle offers a 5 year residential warrantee. Ramset Operators are an exceptional value for the price. The company is offering a 10 year warranty and has some of the best customer support available.

Viking Access Makes a 24VDC swing arm (Viking F-1) that is built to last with cutting edge technology and is one of the most highly regarded manufactures. The entire Viking line operates on 24VDC and therefore immune to power outages.

Pros & Cons:
P: Top arm units offer the heaviest construction and are ultra dependable. There are many manufactures to choose from that make excellent operators with great warrantees, and competitive pricing.

C: The covers are a little hard remove. You need to remove the arm first, and then remove a couple of screws on the shroud. The arm lands in the middle of the gate which detracts from the look if the gate. These units are the largest operators and do stand out more than others.

Bottom Arm Gate Operators

This type of operator is generally easy to service because the cover comes off to reveal the entire mechanics and electronics. They are one of the most aesthetically pleasing units because the arm can be mounted at the bottom of the gate where it is not noticed.

There are only a few stand alone behind the gate bottom arm operators made. The most popular In this category is the DoorKing 6050, 6100, and 6300 series. The Doorking operator only has 3 moving parts and is very dependable. It is also the fastest gate opener on the market. Gates open in 5-7 seconds as apposed to 12-15 seconds for almost all other operators. These operators are capable of handling larger single swing gates as well as bi-parting gates.

Column mounted operators are somewhat more common bottom arm operators.. They typically have the electronic outboard in a separate control cabinet. Most of these units operate on 24VDC and have battery backup. The column mount units are primarily designed for double gates (bi-parting). They are not strong enough to handle gates over 10 feet wide.
A sampling of units: Viking X-9, FAAC 390, Apollo Hyppo

Pros & Cons:
P: The units offer the best appearance with the arm located out of view at the bottom of the gate. These units have a low profile benefiting the appearance even further. The cover lifts off instantly for complete access to the entire mechanics.

C: Bottom units are not as heavy constructed as the heavy frame top arm style operators. There is less selection; only a few manufactures offer this style.

Slide Gate Operators

There is a great selection of this type operator. The same rule applies as with the swing operators. Elite was the leader in the industry for many years, but other brands have caught up, particularly Ramset and All-O-Matic. The Ramset 1000 is a great buy. It has all the standard features at a great price. Viking Access makes an incredible 24VDC operator (Viking L-3) with a 1/2 HP DC motor attached to a heavy gear reduction box.

Slide gate installation is more complicated than a swing gates. They should be used when a swing gate is not an option.

Most U.S. manufactured operators use a chain to shuttle the gate open and closed. The Italian and Chinese operators are mostly rack and pinion drive. They are not very popular in the U.S. Although the rack and pinion drive is more precise, it is more difficult to install. Most of the Italian and Chinese manufactures offer chain drive units for the U.S. market.

In-Ground Gate Operators

Also know as underground operators. These operators are the top of the food chain. They are the best in appearance, and add a statement of refinement to your entryway. They cost more to buy and install. During installing be sure to install a drainage pipe in each enclosure. These operators are usually installed on gates with columns. The unit is installed directly below and in alignment with the bottom pivot point. I recommend that the operator enclosure be attached by heavy bracket to the column’s steel skeleton.

Gate Depot fabricates column skeletons for this purpose. For further refinement you can flush the control cabinet into the column as well. A typical skeleton it will have a top hinge arm, bottom arm with operator fastening point, arms to hold top or front light fixtures, control cabinet bracket with masonry ring, and possibly mechanical stops.

Mechanical In-ground Operators:
These operators are generally 24VDC. Currently most of the mechanical underground units are made by one company and retrofitted and re-branded by several companies. For instance DoorKing retrofits the unit with its limit switches and uses the same control box it uses on its 6002 linear arm operator with great success. You can find this same unit with several types of electronics driving it. The Doorking 6400 is typical of the 24VDC driven units available. These units have a mechanical lock at the bottom of the gate to open in case of equipment failure. Gates can be removed for service without having to remove the operator.

Hydraulic in-ground operators:
FAAC and SEA are the lead manufactures in this field. There are two types of in-ground hydraulic operators. The most common has the pump and dual acting hydraulic piston in the same enclosure. Usually operated by 120VAC. The other version has the pump out-boarded in a cabinet. Both styles use a hydraulic lock to release the gate during an equipment failure. Hydraulic operators need positive stops because they do not have limit switches to control the position. Instead they use a timer on the pump to turn it on and off. Typically you can hear the motor running for a few seconds after the gate has closed or opened.

These operators are limited to 10’ wide gates up to 800lbs. This limits the unit to bi-parting (two piece) gates. Due to the way these units connect to the bottom of the gate, it is advisable for installations where there is not more than 3 inches difference in side to side elevation of grade on driveway.

Pros & Cons:
P: Can handle a 14’ gate leaf weighing up to 1200lbs. Very Smooth operation, Very quite, Very elegant
C: Needs positive stops and is more costly.

Solar

Solar capable units are a great alternative if you do not have convenient power nearby. Solar operators make sense to use when the gate is located over 200' from a power source. Solar can cost more depending on the wattage of the solar panel required. This is determined by the operator itself. Some operators are designed very efficiently to draw very little idle current when not in use. In addition the batteries will need to be replaced about every 5 years.

Many operators are "solar capable". It is a good idea to check and see what size solar panels are required. It can get costly if they need panels over 30 watts. Best bet is to buy an operator specifically designed for the purpose such as the following operators:
Swing Operators: Liftmaster RSW12V (formally Roboswing), US Automatic Pariot,  Apollo 1500
Slide Operators: Liftmaster RSL12V (formally Roboslide), US Automatic Patriot RSL,  Apollo 7000

Click here for orienting solar panels by location.

Residential Telephone Entry Systems

These telephone entry systems use the existing phone line on the property. They are called “phone line-less entry systems” The telephone company (CO) phone line is passed through the unit. It rings your home phones when someone presses the call button. You can converse with them, and open the gate. A double ring can be programmed into it so you can differentiate an incoming call from a visitor at your gate. Other features are being able to auto dial 3 outside numbers. This allows visitors to contact you on a cell phone or other remote location. They have built in timers to open and close the gate at specific days and time during the week. A feature I like is timed access codes where a specific entry code is tied to a time and schedule. This allows enhanced security to your property by keeping hired help off the property at designated times. If you are technically inclined have a look at this wiring diagram utilizing residential phone entry.

Of the most popular residential telephone entry systems is the Doorking 1812. The Doorking 1812 is an industry standard, made in the USA.

Commercial Telephone Entry Systems


Used where a larger number of people access the gate such as: gated communities, trailer parks, apartment buildings, and business. These units can be stand alone or controlled by a remote computer that manages the user data base and tracks the users as well. These can be sophisticated systems that connect to card readers, transponders, and even biometric readers. The peripheral reading devices connect through the telephone entry system and use the same data base. As a rule these units use a dedicated phone line to call residents and communicate with a remote computer.

Several manufactures make outstanding equipment in the category, here's a few : Doorking 1835, Doorking 1837, Elite Icon26

FAAC, Doorking, Elite, Apollo, Viking Access, GTO Mighty-Mule, Ramset, SEA, are registered trade marks.