Selecting a Child Safety Gate

Keep your children away from stairways and unsafe areas using safety gates.

By Bob Vila | Updated Jul 30, 2020 3:11 PM

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When a family brings a child into the world, they begin to look at the home through a different set of lenses. Grand stairways, wide balconies, and mazes of rooms and hallways can pose serious dangers to the wandering child. The baby-proofing industry provides a host of products that can turn a hazardous home into a safe one, and safety gates are the first step to keeping babies and children safe within the home.

Pressure-Mounted Gates
Pressure-mounted safety gates rely on the structure of the gate for stability and are suitable for room-to-room application or at the bottom of stairways. Pressure-points (usually adjustable spindles) press against the wall, stairway rail, or post to hold the gate in place. “Pressure- mounted gates are popular because people don’t like to drill holes,” says Ken Kaiser, chairman of KidCo. He warns that these safety gates are not suitable for use at the top of stairs, as the lack of affixed hardware makes it too easy to topple the gate.

Many safety gates are very specific about where the unit can be safely mounted. It is not recommended that a pressure-mounted gate be installed between two railings or stair posts, as this will not provide a structurally sound mount. Pressure-applying parts should be checked regularly and tightened if needed.

Hardware-Mounted Gates
All homes with children should install a protective gate at the top of the stairs. Hardware-mounted gates are the safe way to install a gate at the top of a stairway because they are held in place with affixed hardware that is screwed into the wall or molding. Most manufacturers recommend that the hinge side of a swinging gate be mounted to a smooth and rigid surface, like a wall or door frame. The gate should swing into the upstairs landing and away from the stairway. Gates should be installed at the top or bottom of the stairway, never at a mid-point.

Most hardware-mounted gates are less expensive than pressure-mounted versions, sometimes up to 15 percent less. “In a pressure-mounted gate, it’s the structure itself that provides the stability, so it often costs more,” says Kaiser. Many manufacturers offer optional extensions for pressure-mounted or hardware-mounted gates that attach to the safety gate to cover a wider opening.

Customizable Gates
Houses may have extra-large spaces, irregular shapes, and angles that require a flexible safety gate. Customizable safety gates allow homeowners to adapt the size and shape of the gate to fit their needs. “We like to call them configured gates or irregular-shaped gates,” says Kaiser. With such gates, it is possible to cordon off areas that do not provide a straight line between two points of contact for mounting. “These are also applicable for extra-wide areas, or for making play pens out of large sections of a room,” adds Kaiser. KidCo’s Configure Gate is a customizable gate that comes in three interlocking 24-inch sections that can each adjust in 10 degree increments to give breadth as well as length.

Safety Gate Standards 
Although federal standards on products for infants impose stringent regulations on paint toxicity, pinch points to avoid loss of limb, fingers, or toes, and small parts that could cause choking, the standards for safety gates are surprisingly lax. “The European standard for safety gates is much higher,” explains Kaiser, “so we build our gates to conform to those standards.”

In the U.S., a pressure-mounted gate must pass a 10-pound push test, meaning it will not fail when 10 pounds of pressure are applied. In Europe, that same pressure-mounted gate must hold for up to 35 pounds of push and pull force. European models must also pass an endurance test, holding up through a repetitive abuse cycle of 10,000 hits, where U.S. models do not. “There are about 10 or 15 things that are required in Europe that are not in the U.S.,” laments Kaiser. For example, U.S. requirements mandate a minimum height of 24 inches for safety gates.

Many manufacturers recommend to parents and caregivers that the infant in question not be more than three-fourths the height of the gate in order to be safe.

Safety gates can be made of plastic, wood, metal, or a combination of the three. Homeowners should consider the intended use of the gate and how durable it must be before selecting a safety gate. “Many homeowners use safety gates for pets, too,” comments Kaiser. “When they ask about material, I say ‘Do you think a plastic gate will hold a Rottweiler?’ ” It’s important to select a gate wisely so that it will stand up to the abuse and keep your child safe.