Safety gates: Where you need them, how to install them

Consumer Reports News: June 24, 2009 05:26 PM

It's crucial to get the right type of safety gate for each location in your home. Gates used at the top of stairs, indoors or outside, must be hardware-mounted. You can use pressure-mounted gates at the bottom of stairs and between rooms.

Prices range from $12.99 for a basic wooden pressure-mounted gate that extends to a maximum of 41 inches, to $134.99 for a wall-mounted gate of three 24-inch interlocking adjustable sections.

Here are more details on the two gate types:

Hardware-mounted or permanent gate
This type of gate requires screws for installation in a doorway. You drill holes in a door frame or into the studs behind a wall and attach the gate with brackets and screws. If properly secured to the doorjamb or between two walls, hardware-mounted gates are the most secure choice, although no gate can be guaranteed to keep a child in or out. Many hardware-mounted gates are made of wood, enamel-coated steel, or aluminum tubing.

Where you'll need it: At the top of the stairs. Hardware-mounted gates are the only safe choice for stair locations. Most will swing open only one way, although you can decide which way you want a gate to swing. At the top of the stairs, a gate should swing away from the stairs (not over them) for maximum safety.

Installation: You must drill holes into the door frame or, if the opening doesn't have a wood door frame, you must drill through the drywall or plaster into the wood framing behind. (You can fill in the holes later with wood putty or wall-patching compound when you no longer use the gate.) You can remove many of these gates from the mounting hardware when you want the doorway or opening free.

Pressure-mounted gate
A pressure-mounted gate is held in an opening by pressure against the door frame or walls. This type of gate can have two sliding panels that adjust to make the gate fit the opening. (You remove the panels or slide them to the side to walk through.) A pressure bar or some other locking mechanism then wedges the gate into place without hardware. A swing-style pressure-mounted gate, which has a gate door that swings open, is also an option. Pressure keeps it in place and installation doesn't require drilling. Like hardware-mounted gates, pressure-mounted gates are often made of wood, enamel-coated steel, or aluminum tubing. They may also be made of plastic, wire, or nylon mesh or plastic-coated wire, which may be framed with end tubes and top rails of either wood or coated metal. A few are made with transparent plastic center panels.

Where you'll need it: Pressure-mounted gates are suitable for less hazardous locations, such as between rooms. They're useful in areas where falling isn't a major concern, such as in a doorway separating two areas with same-level flooring; you might use one, for example, to cordon off your kitchen so you can make dinner without a crawling baby underfoot. You could also use one at the bottom of a stairway to discourage your little climber from venturing upstairs. Many manufacturers recommend not using a pressure-mounted gate at the top of stairs. We believe it is unsafe to use anything but a hardware-mounted gate at the top of stairs.

Installation: To set one up, you adjust it to fit the opening by squeezing it into position. A pressure bar or other locking mechanism wedges the gate in place, leaving no permanent holes, although it may mar the door frame or wall. Basic pressure gates fit openings between 26 and 38 inches, give or take a few inches, depending on the model. Many homes have wider door openings, so manufacturers offer wider models—some as wide as 62 inches. Some models have optional extensions you purchase separately. The Summer Infant Sure & Secure Custom-Fit Gate ($109,, for example, can expand to fit openings as wide as 12 feet simply by adding more panels. (We have not tested this product.)

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