Most low- to mid-range garage openers use a chain drive. It’s a design that makes for an affordable product, but they can be jerky, noisy and a bit unpleasant, even if perfectly functional.
Belt-driven openers are in principle very similar to chain-driven openers, but they are quieter and smoother. Think of it as a refinement of the chain-drive principle. That’s the main selling point of a product like the LiftMaster 8550 Elite Series opener. It’s targeted at a more premium segment of the market, but actually isn’t much more expensive than some chain-driven products. Is it worth the extra few dollars? Let’s have a look.
DDIY:Don’t Do It Yourself
Let’s be clear about one thing first – don’t DIY this opener. LiftMaster products are designed specifically for professional installation. If you are looking to save money on installation and want a DIY opener, look to LiftMaster’s “Chamberlain” brand, which is meant for self-installation. There are even belt-driven ones, and I can recommend the Chamberlain WD832KEV as just such a product.
Since the 8550 is not a DIY kit it doesn’t come with a rail assembly, so your installer will have to provide this at your cost. The advantage here is that the rail will be one single length, rather than multiple pieces that are clipped together from a box kit. This is stronger and more attractive.
I think the 8550 looks pretty good with its big red accent and pearl housing. It’s nothing striking, but I’d rather have something inoffensive than actively ugly. The 8550 isn’t going to win any design awards, in my opinion, but it looks OK. When I think about it, it almost has a tinge of classic car to it, so if that’s your thing you’ll probably like its looks.
The 8550 doesn’t come with much in the box. You get the main unit, the wall control panel, and a single 3-button remote. The one remote is particularly irksome, since they run from $40 and, unless you are living the single life, you’ll probably want another one. This is a 1/2 horsepower equivalent unit after all, and so it should lift a two-car steel door. Remember, though, that DC motors are not rated in HP. The backup battery is built-in, and of course without an inverter only DC motors can have battery backup in the first place.
As far as I can tell, although it supports them there are no safety beams in the box. So that’s probably another additional cost from the installer.
The product listing for this opener on Amazon is a bit misleading, which worries me somewhat. It isn’t labeled as “MyQ-enabled”, but states you can use your smartphone to control it. This suggests that you won’t need the CIGBU gateway that allows MyQ to actually work. However this is not the case, according to user reviews. You still need the $40 CIGBU device in order to make use of the smart function.
This is an important thing to note so as to avoid some serious buyer’s remorse.
Dance Monkey, Dance!
From user reviews and a few videos it’s apparent that the 8550 is quiet. Like, really quiet. Thanks to the combination of a belt-drive and a DC motor the only noise actually comes from the roller wheels and doors. This is especially important if your garage is attached to a bedroom or underneath a living space. The shudder and vibrations of chain-driven openers travel freely through the walls of a home and can be really irritating, making you wish you’d spent the extra money. If, however, this is for a detached garage, or you want to know if your significant other is sneaking out in the middle of the night, you can safely go for the noisier chain-drive model.
I can only assume that this is a higher quality brushless DC motor, since LiftMaster has seen fit to give it a lifetime warranty – not something you’d do if the motor has brushes. The rest of the parts have a five-year warranty, and the battery only has a one-year warranty. Batteries don’t last long in any case, so expect to replace this consumable every few years. Also, if you do use the CIGBU gateway for smart functions you may want to put both it and your WiFi router on a UPS, otherwise a power outage while you are away may leave you with no control via smartphone.
Performance-wise the 8550 seems really good. There are a few negative reviews that mention units failing a few weeks after purchase, but given the warranty and the small number of complaints, I don’t think this is more than the usual manufacturing error-rate.
Show Me The Money?
Although the 8550 only costs a bit more than a DIY chain unit, or about the same as the Chamberlain WD832KEV, once you factor in buying an extra remote and paying for the installation and additional parts, it’s not particularly affordable anymore.
Between this and the DIY belt-drive system I’d say it was down to whether you value your time or money more. Both devices should perform about the same. The battery backup and lifetime motor warranty do, however, add significantly to the appeal of the 8550. If budget is not an issue, go with the LiftMaster; if you want to control costs go with something else, like the Chamberlain.