The beauty of today’s homes lies in their diversity. There are huge great rooms, sweeping staircases, oversized openings, patio doors, etc. Gone are “standard” doorways, which today can mean anything from 30″, 32″, 34″, or 36″.
That’s why so many different child safety gates are on the market and it’s easy to understand why 3.5 million units are sold, making gates & enclosures one of the top ten baby product categories.
For a point of comparison, there are more than twice as many safety gates sold each year than baby monitors.
Purchasing the right gate the first time around is important to eliminate the unnecessary returns.
Questions like: where will the gate be installed? (at the top of the stairs, in a doorway), how wide is the opening? (exactly since there is no standard), to what surface will the gate be mounted?, (wood door frame, hollow wall, wrought iron, brick, wood) can help you determine which is the best gate for your individual circumstance.
Gates generally fall into two categories: pressure or hardware mounted. The installation decision should be determined by where and how the gate is being used.
Safety gates can be wood, metal, plastic or mesh ranging from 22″ to 33″ high and be as long as 13′. Most experts agree that accordion style expansion gates with the crisscross diamond shapes should be avoided since they can ensnare clothing, pacifier strings, etc.
Unless the safety specifications at time of manufacture can be determined to show they pass the minimum safety standards, consumers should avoid hand me downs and garage sale purchases. A pet gate does not necessarily pass child safety standards.
Pressure mounted gates require no holes or hardware for installation and are best suited for less hazardous locations such as a doorway between rooms or at the bottom of a stairway.
Most traditional pressure gates have panels that slide past each other and are really barriers using a locking bar or other locking mechanism combined with rubber feet wedging the gate into place.
They can be easily dislodged if not properly readjusted each time they are opened, which often encourages adults to “climb over,” causing another safety hazard. The soft travel models are mesh barriers with no walkthrough feature.
Other more recent pressure designs stay mounted in uneven openings and utilize a step-through, walk-through, or swinging gate section that can be opened in either direction with one hand without bending over.
These newer styles are a little more expensive but their convenience encourages proper use.
Hardware gates are considered safer than pressure gates because they are permanently mounted and are best for areas where safety is paramount, like at the top of stairs.
No one likes to drill holes but parents need to understand that a little wood putty or spackling can save an agonizing trip to the hospital emergency room.
The screws generally included with these gates are for mounting directly into wood. Installation into other surfaces like dry wall, brick, wrought iron or glass blocks will require additional hardware available from any hardware store or home improvement center.
Specially designed gate installation kits are offered by several companies to aid in the mounting of any gate or barrier. Gates should never swing out over the stairs and should have a built-in directional device to prevent this from happening.
Most hardware-mounted gates must to be mounted from point A to point B in a straight line.
Some newer hardware mounted multi-purpose gates can form angles to cover odd-shaped or irregular areas like staircases, hot tubs, fireplaces, and wood-burning stoves.
A well-made safety gate protects a child from danger while at the same time is convenient and easy to operate with one hand by adults.
It is especially dangerous to step over any gate while carrying a child or packages. The JPMA recommended age for gate use is 6 months to 24 months although higher gates could be used for taller children.
Use should be discontinued if the child can open the gate independently, climb over it or if the height of the gate is one-quarter the height of the child.
Pressure gates that utilize a locking mechanism bar must be installed away from the child since they can act as a stepladder.
In the USA, there are no mandatory federal child safety gate standards beyond those for toxicity of materials, small parts and sharp edges or points.
Voluntary standards concentrate on the size of openings, height, vertical strength, bottom spacing, the configuration of the uppermost edge and plenty of label warnings.
Before buying a gate consider the following:
- Where is the product to be used? Pressure mounted barrier gates are not recommended at the top of the stairs. Wall mounted gates should not open out over the stairs and should contain a stop to prevent this.
- What are the exact dimensions of the opening? The widest pressure gates are about 48″ while wall mounted gates are available up to 13′. Special use gates are available for openings where mounting points are not in a direct line.
- When hardware mounting, it is normally very easy and inexpensive to fix holes in wood or drywall with putty or spackling available at any hardware or paint store.
- Retail prices are normally commensurate with fit, finish, features and function.