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Posted in: Gate Automation Overview & Project Guide

Buyer's Guide - Driveway Gate Operator Equipment Review

Updated 03-23-17

This overview will offer candid opinions on the different types of gate operators on the market today as well as the various manufacturers. While you will always be able to find budget gate operators or a supplier that offers a rock bottom price, it is prudent to make sure that you work with a dealer who understands the pros and cons of the various options so that you end up with an operator that will fit your needs and your budget. There are always tradeoffs between appearance, durability, features, installation processes, warranties, and maintenance. Installing an automated driveway gate is a long term investment that can add value and convenience to your property, but poor equipment choices can lead to headaches, construction delays, and downtime in the reliable operation of your gate.

There are a few things to consider before making your operator purchase. To start with, you want to make sure that you are working with a well-established company that has a good distributor network. If you can only find one dealer selling that product, it may be difficult to get repair parts in the future. This is vital to a long term install, just like an automobile your gate should last up to 20 years or more, but it will require occasional maintenance and repair.

Next, look at the length of the warranty that is being offered as all equipment breaks eventually and it can be hundreds of dollars to replace a bad motor or circuit board. Obviously a unit with a 10 year warranty will cost you less in repair costs over the long term than one with a 2 year warranty. 

While Gate Depot can help you with most of the basic install or repair questions such as wiring or programming, you may occasionally need more in-depth tech support to diagnose a bad circuit board or motor. This is where the customer service aspect of the gate operator manufacturer becomes important. Many of the manufacturers such as Platinum Access, Viking Access, FAAC, DoorKing and others will offer phone support in the diagnosis of potential issues and will also allow us to dropship replacement parts direct to our customers which can save you precious downtime. Other manufacturers such as LiftMaster, Linear, or HySecurity produce a high quality product, but they do not provide tech support and do not dropship to end users which can lead to difficulty troubleshooting issues and 1-3 week delays in getting your replacement parts. If you are a professional installer this may not be important to you, but homeowners or newer contractors may find this can be a costly and time consuming issue.

Finally, look at the actual cost of the units you are considering. While you can occasionally find yourself overpaying for a product when a less expensive model can do the same job, it is also very easy to find yourself with an underpowered and unreliable unit because you tried to do the job as inexpensively as possible. If everyone is telling you that the operator is going to cost you $1000 and someone says they can give you the same thing for $500, you’re probably buying junk. Gate Depot does carry a few units that are designed for the more budget conscious but these units tend to have shorter warranties and lifespans. In the end, you get what you pay for.

Slide Gate Operators

Sliding gate operators are the most common type of installation on automatic gates. They can move very large gates up to thousands of pounds and in some cases up to 100’ long. More work is typically required on the initial install than with a swing gate, but for the most part that work is limited to the hardware being used on the gate, not the operator itself. Three types are available, chain drive, rail drive, and rack and pinion.

Chain-Drive Slide Operators:
In the USA the chain drive style is definitely the most popular. This type of operator uses a chain driven gear box attached to an output shaft that has a chain sprocket on it. The chain is then attached to the gate with a few options for configuration and pulled along a track or cantilever rail setup. In most cases the operator positioning is determined using limit switches, but in some cases magnetic encoders are used.

Platinum Access, Viking Access and Liftmaster all offer a good lineup of chain driven slide gate operators. All three brands can run on 110VAC/220VAC or 24VDC Solar and include the batteries for full time battery backup at no extra charge. Platinum offers the longest warranty at 10 years residential on the motor and 8 years on the rest of the parts. Viking and Liftmaster offer the same warranty as each other at 7 years residential and 5 years commercial. Price wise, Platinum Access is your best deal for initial cost and warranty. Viking has an incredible reputation in the industry and provides great support. Liftmaster is the most expensive, but does include a photo eye and receiver with their units. They also have the MyQ feature which can tie in with your garage doors as well to allow you to monitor the activity of your gate etc…

Some people prefer to use the older style of setup with 110VAC motors instead of the 24VDC units that run on batteries. This avoids the maintenance issue of replacing batteries every 3-5 years, but in our opinion is not worth the tradeoff of losing battery backup. Ramset, Eagle, DoorKing, and Liftmaster all have decent offerings in this category. Of the four, we would probably recommend Ramset or Eagle. Both product lines are competitively priced and are stout units. Ramset offers up to a 10 year warranty. DoorKing and Liftmaster offer great operators, but because they are such big name brands in the industry you will be paying 20-30% more initially.

Rack & Pinion Slide Opertors:
Rack and pinion operators are very popular in Europe and Asia, but are almost nonexistent in the USA. They are typically smaller than a chain drive operator with a separate cabinet that houses the control board. Sections of gear rack are installed onto the gate itself and the gate is driven by a pinion gear on the output shaft of the gate operator. These units have a good look, but because they are not popular in the USA it can be more difficult to find installers familiar with the process. If you like this style, we recommend sticking with the FAAC brand. They have well established distribution centers on both coasts of the USA so you can be assured of getting support in the future. Because this type of unit is not common, it could be troublesome to buy from a smaller manufacturer which may not be around in 5-10 years for replacement parts.

Rail Drive Slide Operators:
The rail drive style of slide operator has a drive rail attached to the gate iteself which is pinched between a set of drive wheels at the gate operator. These units are typically for larger gates in industrial settings like you would find at a seaport, airport, military base, or prison. It would be very rare to see this type of install done on a residential setup. HySecurity and Liftmaster have offerings in this category.

Linear Arm Actuators

Linear arm swing operators are sometimes known as ram arms and come in either electromechanical or hydraulic style units. The arm is bolted or welded directly to the gate and post and has a separate cabinet that houses the main circuit board and the electronics which control the logic and operation of the gate. Because of their simple and attractive design, linear arm openers can be some of the easiest and most economical to install and tend to be the most popular on residential installations. The operator has the ability to either pull the gate in towards the property, or push outwards away from the property depending on how your site is laid out. The main issue with these units is that you if you plan on building columns and swinging the gate inwards, you will need to cut out a section of the column because of the mounting geometry.

Most linear arm operators will have a bit of play in them so it becomes important to also install positive stops to accurately control the open and close position of the gate. This is especially important on a dual gate to keep proper alignment in the closed position. While some units will have built-in or internal positive stops, others will require you to install a physical stop on the gate and post. 

Electromechanical Linear Arm Operators:
The electromechanical style of linear arm operator consists of a motor attached to your post with a worm gear that moves a carriage nut back and forth on the gate causing it to open and close. They control the positioning of the gate with limit switches, a magnetic encoder, or a combination of both. Virtually all electromechanical linear arms come with built-in battery backup, and many are also solar-compatible.

Our favorite electromechanical arm is the Platinum Access ACTP715. These units run on 110VAC/220VAC/Solar with built-in battery backup and have a 4 year warranty. Platinum Access is an easy company to work with and produces a nice product, in our opinion it is the best bang for the buck. If you need a higher weight capacity, look at the Viking Access G-5 or LiftMaster LA500. Viking Access provides a 4 year warranty and has good service, but is a little more expensive. Liftmaster is the biggest name in the industry and includes a photo-eye and radio receiver with their units. On the downside, LiftMaster is the most expensive, they only offer a 2 year warranty, and tech support is almost nonexistent.

If you want a less expensive electromechanical unit, look at the Lockmaster LKM-MK or the GR-Italia DGT-225. The Lockmaster is made in China and uses limit switches for positioning while the GR-Italia is made in Italy and uses an encoder. Both options are decent for the price, but come with shorter warranties and can be difficult to get support for because they do not have US distributors. Neither of these units is compliant with the UL325-2016 safety standards and that should be taken into consideration for cases of liability for damage to persons or property.

Hydraulic Linear Arm Operators:
Hydraulic linear arm operators mount in the same fashion as electromechanical units but the operating arm is controlled by a hydraulic pump attached to a piston. Positive stops are more than recommended on these units, they are required for the proper functioning of the operator. These units use the stops in combination with a magnetic encoder or open and close timers to determine the positioning of the gate. Older units were high voltage only, but recently FAAC has released a newer style that has a built in 24V battery backup. Hydraulic units are generally stronger than the electromechanical units, and because they have less moving components they can typically operate at a lower ambient temperature, some functioning at up to 30 degrees below freezing. Hydraulic units are also very safe when installed properly because the closing pressure is highly adjustable.

FAAC is the most popular manufacturer in this style of operator. The 400 model was the industry standard for many years and was just recently replaced by the S450H which includes a built-in battery backup. Byan also makes a great product but due to their pricing and lack of end user support, we do not recommend these unit unless you are a professional installer.

The main downside to hydraulic units is the seals, which tend to go bad after 5-10 years. This can cause the units to leak fluid on your driveway and will then need to be rebuilt.

Linear arms are a good choice because they are attractive, easy to install, and economical. However, in general. these units have shorter warranty periods and are not advisable for use with long, heavy, or solid fill gates. They also tend to operate slower than a swing arm operator and will probably have a shorter lifespan.

Swing Arm Operators

Swing Arm Operators typically consist of a steel chassis that houses a motor, a gearbox, the control board, and in some cases batteries. At either the top or bottom will be an output shaft that you attach a scissor arm to that will transfer motion to the gate. Swing arm operators are typically mounted to a 2’ cubed concrete pad, but some models have post mounting options available. These units tend to have longer warranties than linear arm operators, in some cases up to 10 years. Because of the improved geometry and strength of the design, you can also use these operators to do an uphill swinging gate by adding in an articulating arm. If you want your swing gate install to be as stout as possible, the swing arm operator is the way to go.

There are a couple of downsides to using a swing arm operator. If you need to service anything on the unit that can’t be accessed through the door, then you will need to remove the arm cover, the arm itself, and then remove the actual operator housing. This can lead to extra time spent on repairs. The initial cost of the operator is also higher than a linear arm, on a single gate it may only be $100-200, but on a double gate it can be up to $1000 more because there is no separate control cabinet. You are essentially paying for two circuit boards. In addition, the initial install will require a concrete mounting pad. Finally they are not as aesthetically pleasing as a linear arm. The units are bulky and you will not only notice them from the inside of the property, but if it is a top mounted swing arm you will also have to weld the arm about 2-3’ up on the gate itself so it can be seen from outside as well.

Top Mount Swing Arm Operators:
When it comes to top mounted swing arm operators our favorite brand is Platinum Access. They have a wide range of capacities available and all of their units include built-in battery backup and can run on 110VAC/220VAC/or 24VDC Solar. The machines use brushless DC motors for unsurpassed longevity and reliability. Platinum Access also offers the best warranty in the business with a 10 year residential warranty on the motor and 8 years for the rest of the components including gear box and motherboard. Viking Access offers a similar product line to Platinum at about the same price, but they offer a little shorter warranty at 7 years for a residential install. Liftmaster offers basically the same warranty as Viking, but they also include a photo eye and receiver with their units. However the extra cost for the Liftmaster product is more than it would cost you to buy the photo eye and receiver separately, so you are really just paying for the brand name and as stated before it can be difficult to get support from Liftmaster.

Bottom Mount Swing Arm Operators:
If you don’t like the look of the top arm operators but still want the reliability of a swing arm operator you may want to look at DoorKing’s 6050, 6100, and 6300 line of operators. These units can mount on a post mount kit and they have the arm at the bottom of the operator. This allows the unit to attach to the bottom of the gate so it cannot be seen from the outside of the property. Mounting the arm at the bottom of the unit also makes it easier to service the operator since you don’t have to remove the arm to take off the cover. Another benefit of the DoorKing units is the relatively fast speed of opening. Many operators can take up to 15 seconds to open the gate (depending on size), but the Doorking unit can open the same gate in 8-12 seconds. There are a few downsides to the bottom mount DoorKing line; First, they use 110VAC motors so there is no full time battery backup. They do offer their "DC Convenience Open" option for an additional $500 or so but this will only open the gate once. Second, you have to pay a separate fee for the mounting kit which includes the arm, so initial costs are higher. This type of operator is an industry favorite -  in fact ,the owner of Gate Depot has this type of operator installed at his home and it has been running perfectly for nearly two decades! 

Swing arm operators are strong and reliable with longer warranty terms. However they are not as attractive as a linear arm, they take more work for installation or service, and the initial cost of the product can be significantly higher than the linear arm style.

Column Mount/Carriage Door Operators

Column mount or carriage door operators are a good option for swinging gates in certain situations such as using columns or if your gate is located in an alley. In function they are similar to a swing arm operator since they have a scissor arm attached to the output shaft, but they have separate control cabinets and the unit itself is typically mounted to a flat wall surface near the operator. This type of operator is typically powered by a 24VDC motor and many are solar compatible. These units tend to be lower powered and have shorter warranties. While we offer column mount operators from DoorKing and FAAC, we almost exclusively recommend the Platinum Access CM712 for this type of installation. Compared to the DoorKing and FAAC models, the CM712 has the highest weight rating and the longest warranty while maintaining a competitive price.

Underground Swing Operators

Underground or In-Ground Gate operators are the top of the line when it comes to aesthetics and refinement for an estate gate. They consist of steel boxes that are set into concrete at the base of the column or post and attach directly to the bottom of the gate. The circuit board and controls are hidden in a separate box which can be inset into the column or mounted nearby. Because of the low profile these are the ideal choice for doing high end custom gates where the appearance of the finished product is the most important aspect of the install. 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.

That being said, there are a number of downsides to using this type of operator. First and foremost, you will need to provide drainage for the operator itself since it is mounted below grade. The unit itself will need to be aligned perfectly with the center pivot point of your hinges so that the hinge does not bind up. The initial cost of the operators tends to be the highest of all the styles available. Warranties are typically short with the longest one being 4 years and maintenance can sometimes be a pain depending on the configuration of the operator and the gate.

Mechanical In-ground Operators:
These operators are generally 24VDC. You can find this same unit with several types of electronics driving it. The Platinum Access UGP712 is typical of the 24VDC driven units available and can be powered by 110VAC/220VAC or 24VDC Solar. They include a 4 Year warranty which is the longest on the market and can handle a gate up to 700 lbs and 12’. Viking Access and DoorKing offer similar models, although the warranties are shorter and the DoorKing has a lighter duty weight rating.

Hydraulic in-ground Operators:
FAAC is the lead manufacturer 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. 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. Most of these units run on 110VAC or 220VAC but FAAC recently released the S800H which runs on 24VDC with battery backup and a built-in magnetic encoder to control positioning of the gate. This is a great choice for this type of install because of the high capacity rating at 13’ and 1760 lbs, the nicest features of the available units, and FAAC is a reputable company that stands behind its product.