New garage doors may soon need backup batteries for emergencies

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A bill to ensure new garage doors operate during power outages passed the California Assembly last week and appears headed for the governor’s signature.

Sen. Bill Dodd’s bill requiring battery backups in new automatic garage door openers is in response to the devastating October wildfires, which killed 44 people in Northern California, several of whom appeared to have become trapped in their garages.

“Obviously, we saw a lot of horror stories about people dying in their garages,” Dodd, D-Napa, said Sunday. “Whether it’s a fire or an earthquake, people in these types of situations tend to panic. This will just make it a lot easier and a lot safer for people.”

Senate Bill 969 passed the senate unanimously in May and the Assembly Thursday on a 53-6 vote. It now heads back to the Senate for what’s expected to be an easy confirmation vote before heading to the governor’s desk. The bill will require all newly sold or installed electric garage door openers to be equipped with backup batteries that’ll power the motors during outages.

Dodd, said he was able to get behind the bill because the cost to consumers is minimal, perhaps $70 more than models without batteries, he said.

The bill will not require existing homeowners to install new openers or add backup batteries to their existing units, he said. That would have been cost-prohibitive for many people, he said.

He hopes, however, that people will consider upgrading, especially in senior communities where many might be less able to lift heavy doors in an emergency, he said.

Even he had difficultly manually opening his garage door while leaving his Silverado home during the fires, he said.

Dodd said he planned to bring the idea up when he visits a retirement community in Solano County, and hope a public relations campaign is mounted to spread the word about the batteries.

It’s possible the handful of “no” votes in the Assembly were related to a concern that the bill would be “just one more thing” for people building, or rebuilding, their homes, he said.

Dodd said he has no reason to think the governor won’t support a bill enjoying such strong support.

“I’m pretty proud of the fact that we could get a bipartisan vote in both houses,” Dodd said.

The bill has the support of the Consumer Federation of California. Assembly member Cecilia Aguiar-Curry, D-Winters, is co-author.

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