I like things that are different just for their own sake. If everyone is buying Coke, maybe I feel like having a Pepsi. I know this is sort of a hipster attitude, but I liked being different before it was cool, OK?
Anyway, this garage door opener from Sommer works a bit differently than the chain- or belt-driven products that we see more frequently in the wild. Instead of having a stationary motor that pulls a chain or belt attached to your door, the direct-drive approach has the motor itself moving up and down the rail, by pulling itself along a chain with the door in tow. Sort of like a cool little tram running on the ceiling.
It’s really quite neat, but you may be wondering what the point is. This design originally comes from Germany, and manufacturers say there is no quieter opener technology. This would be even quieter than jackshaft systems, presumably. Since there’s only one moving part (the motor), they say it will last a lifetime. Is it really that good? Let’s see.
Since the main unit does not actually contain the motor, the Sommer has a lower profile than traditional chain- or belt-driven systems. The Sommer plays it really safe in terms of looks – plain black plastic with opaque covers for the lights. Honestly, this is better than trying to do something fancy and then ending up with something really ugly, as is the case with the Chamberlain Power Drive models. The materials of the cover don’t look very good in terms of finish though, based on the photo. Luckily you won’t normally spend time close-up.
I’ve never felt the need to say anything about the design of accessories before, but I have to say that the remotes that come with the Sommer are not to my liking. They look like cheap flash drives. Maybe you only have to look at the actual opener once or twice a day, but that ugly remote sits on your keychain all the time and follows you around. If I bought this I’d seriously consider finding alternative remotes. Likewise, the wall panel looks “plasticky” and cheap. Considering that this is a $300 product, I’m more than a bit disappointed at this.
This 3/4 HP model can lift a door that weighs up to 550 pounds. That should handle even heavier doors made from wood or other weighty materials. Personally I think 3/4 HP is the best all-round power rating, even if a 1/2 HP opener could handle your door. It’s just a few bucks more and I’d rather run the motor with some reserves than at close to its limits. Of course, your own budget is king, but take this into account.
It’s also worth noting that Sommer provides a lifetime warranty on not only the motor unit, but the entire product, parts and all. So things are looking up in terms of long-term durability. I can only put this rare occurrence down to the fact that the direct-drive design only has one moving part, so the only other failure point would be the solid state electronic components. Either way, Sommer feels that a 50-year (e.g. “lifetime”) warranty is doable. They also have U.S.-based customer support, so claiming your warranty should be no issue in case your German is a bit rusty.
Safety First and First Safety
The standard safety features you’d expect are present here. There are two photo eyes that Sommer refers to as “high-quality”. Either way, the door stops for children, animals, and inanimate objects. The remote system also has code-hopping, which would have been a disastrous omission at this price point. This technology changes the radio code every time you click the button, making it essentially impossible for criminals to hijack the code and gain access to your home when you’re gone.
The Sommer doesn’t have any internet-enabled smart features, so if you’re looking for more than just something that will open your garage door quietly for years, you need to look elsewhere. Apart from the basic opening and closing functionality, all you really get in addition is support for lighting – a standard feature on almost every garage door opener.
Keeping It Simple
The Sommer represents a well-built, single function device that looks to last a lifetime or Sommer will fix it for you. It’s not the most feature-laden opener we’ve seen, but it does the job it’s designed for. Based on user reviews it really isn’t hard to install either, and really is as quiet as they say. The styling of the main unit is OK, but on closer inspection it looks cheap. The accessories are ugly, especially the remotes.
Would I buy this over a belt-driven opener? If I didn’t care about the smart features some of those units have I think I’d go for the direct-drive. I just think the design is better overall. For the price Sommer is asking I think it’s just about worth it, despite my quibbles. However, you may want to put it on a wishlist and wait for a sale, given that you don’t need a new opener right away, that is.