Local residents taking garage door matters into their own hands

Montville - Faced with malfunctioning garage door openers and the prospect of a hefty charge to correct the problem, many residents of the Hillcrest senior retirement community are trying to solve the problem themselves.

The door openers began failing in recent weeks because they operate on the same frequency - between 380 and 399.9 megahertz - as a radio system being used at the Naval Submarine Base in Groton.

The system, which the Navy debuted in July 2011 as a way to connect with civilian first responders, is reportedly causing interference problems at many U.S. military installations across the country. The Day reported in July that it has caused issues in Groton, New London, Waterford, Montville and Gales Ferry.

One local independently owned company is charging a minimum of $200 in some cases for installation of a dual frequency kit to correct the problem. This price has led people like Tom Fitzgerald, of Hillcrest, to turn to the Internet to find a more affordable alternative. He recently bought the necessary kit online for about $25 and said he plans to install it himself. He's helped others in the 55-and-older community with their installations.

"I'm waiting for my mailman each day now," said Fitzgerald, who said he wrote a letter to state Attorney General George Jepsen about the problem. "I know some people have paid as much as $300 to have their door fixed."

More than 50 people in the Hillcrest community recently acknowledged their garage door openers were not working properly when resident Sondra Tuchman went door to door to collect signatures.

Fitzgerald said he had a cordial experience dealing with Overhead Door Co. of Norwich, Inc., although the company alerted him in an email about three weeks ago that it would cost $95 for a dual frequency radio receiver and transmitter, $25 if he needed a second transmitter and $105 for labor for the installation.

Shawn Amell, spokesman and owner for the Norwich company, said he has offered one-third off the price of necessary parts to correct the receiver issue - and sometimes more of a discount if there are several customers in close proximity who need the upgrade.

Amell said his company has been placed in a difficult situation because the garage doors have operated on the same frequency for at least two years without problems and Amell was unaware of any looming issues until recently.

"We're a small business. We cannot afford to do this for free," Amell said of installing the dual frequency kits. "You never want a situation like this. There's no winning for us. We're trying to take care of the people in the most economical way possible."

Bruce Lorking, another Hillcreast resident, said he found his dual frequency kit online for about $45. He compared the situation to a car company being forced to recall certain vehicles when a part is found to be defective.

"I don't see why the Overhead Door Company can't do the same," Lorking said.

At the very least, Lorking and Fitzgerald said Friday, the word on the garage door openers seems to be circulating. People are finally aware of a way to fix the problem after wondering why their garage doors would open sporadically or not at all.

"Most people thought it was the batteries in their remote controls getting weaker," Fitzgerald said. "A lot of people ran to RadioShack and got new batteries and found out things didn't work any better."

jeff.johnson@theday.com

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