When my daughter was learning to walk, my wife and I knew that it would only be a matter of time before we had to install a safety baby gate. If you’ve read my blogs over the years, you know that my wife and I have very analytical minds and we like to research our options before making a decision. Not only did we have to consider the fact that we have numerous staircases, but we also had a cat with its litter box in the basement to keep our child from exploring.
These are the kinds of things you’ll have to consider when looking for a baby gate. Think about who in the household will be using it (babysitters, parents) and abusing it (it will be tested for durability—trust me). This blog will talk a lot about the types of gates available nowadays. You can still get those old school plastic pressure mounted gates that lock in the middle but if you’re installing it in your home in one spot, there are more permanent options to consider too.
The different types of baby gates
The only baby gates I had any exposure to before becoming a parent were those cookie cutter folding gates that were common years ago. The ones that look a lot like this:
Before my daughter was born, I was convinced these were the best types of baby gates simply because it was all I’d had exposure to and well, I had seen that they seemed to work fine keeping my cousins from falling down the stairs—so they had to be good right?
The truth is, these are probably the simplest and most primitive baby gates available now. Baby gates aren’t quite like baby monitors, where the technology 10 years ago looks like a pinto parked next to the current world of Ferraris in comparison. However, they can blend better with your decor and provide you with what I feel are better levels of safety. Here are some of your baby gate options:
- Hardware mounted: As the name suggests, this is a baby gate requiring parental installation. The Evenflo Top of Stairs Hardware Mounted Wood Safety Gate is the perfect example of this. With these types of installations, you’re mounting latches and brackets to either side of your staircase or guarding area and then installing a door that swings open and shut. Brackets can either be flip latches or spring loaded doors. In order to counterbalance the weight children put on these things, some doors actually have locks in place that require you to push up or down on the door first before releasing. These types of installations are recommended the most around staircases or home entry/exit doors.
- Pressure Mounted: Pressure mounted gates are probably the ones that you’re the most accustomed to. These gates usually have rubber stoppers of some sort on the ends and are held to walls by tension, kind of like most shower curtain rods. Pressure mounted gates are usually the best options for renters or those not able to screw brackets into walls or staircases. However, there are some pressure mounted gates out there that have you screw additional rubber stoppers into the wall and then mount the gate with that pressure tension. These gates don’t have to be giant white contraptions though. As you can see with this KidCo Gateway Pressure Mount Safety Gate, they can appear just as sleek and contemporary as a hardware mounted gate
- Freestanding gates: Freestanding baby gates are usually reserved as temporary fixtures. These are the kind of baby gates you might take with you on vacation, for visits to other peoples’ houses and are usually to keep lighter (crawling) babies out of trouble or enclosed somewhere. Freestanding gates can be folded up in instant and tucked into storage or put away for the next adventure and can be used indoors or outdoors. A good example of one of these is the KidCo ConfigureGate Auto Close Safety Gate. Many of the free-standing gates you see nowadays are Play Yards. In the case of that KidCo gate, it’s just a temporary place for you to set up to let your baby sit and play safely.
How high should my baby gate be?
While baby gates do come in all shapes and sizes, it’s important that you pick up a gate that your baby isn’t just going to climb over. By the time your child is a year old, they’ll be looking for some pretty clever ways to bust out of baby jail. As a good rule of thumb, you should (at a minimum) get a baby gate that’s at least ¾ the height of your child. Most baby gates are usually 24 inches or more. If your child is a curious climber or keen to try to get themselves through narrow spaces, try to find a gate that has narrow vertical slats and nothing that narrows anywhere that they could get a limb stuck in.
How wide should my baby gate be?
The width of a baby gate isn’t quite as crucial a consideration nowadays. While you’re going to get the odd gate that’s narrow by design (to fit in the average doorway) having an open concept or wide entry area doesn’t mean you’re out of luck. There are lots of options out there that let you flex and adjust the width of your gate to match your entryway. You can also buy extending kits or additional panels in some cases. This is the type of trouble that’s easily avoidable by purchasing the right gate for your needs in my opinion. You should really only be thinking of extender kits or extra panels if you’ve moved and you’re so heavily invested in your baby gate that you can’t live without that one.
Take a look at a gate like the Munchkin Hardware Mounted Steel Safety Gate. This gate is pretty similar to most mounted gates you find these days. If you look at the middle of this gate, you see a bit of a bump. That’s actually a sliding track piece. The gate is purposefully in 2 pieces to slide and adjust to the width of your doorway. Measuring your doorway in advance and picking up a gate that meets its width will save you a lot of headache (and possible returns) down the road.
If you have a really wide entryway you’re trying to block off, look at something like the Safety 1st Wide & Sturdy sliding gate. A gate like this gives you the flexibility to cover an area nearly 5 feet long and is over 2 feet high.
Finding the right frame
Baby gates aren’t just plastic and screws anymore. In fact, none of the baby gates I have at home are made of plastic. Most mounted baby gates nowadays are made strictly of metal, wood or some mixture of both. The only time you run into rubber or plastic with mounted gates may be with stoppers or clip locks.
Those simple pressure mounted gates I grew around are usually the only plastic ones out there nowadays. It would be unusual to see mounted plastic gates. I’m not saying they’re not out there but it wouldn’t be my first choice. Plastic does have a tendency to bend and warp and under the right amount of constant pressure from your baby pushing up against a mounted gate, I’m sure it will start to sag and buckle over time.
There are fabric-led gates out there too but again, they’re few and far between. The Summer Custom Gate I linked above is a great example of that. Fabric-heavy gates are probably best left for ground level enclosures. I wouldn’t put one of these gates at the top of any staircase. They’re not really capable of bearing any load.
Successful installation of a baby gate isn’t as easy as pulling two ends apart and mounting something into place. Even the simplest of baby gates need to be secured with enough purchase on the walls not to be pushed down in a second.
When installing wall or mounting brackets for your baby gate, it’s best to follow the instructions to a tee. All gates look pretty simple to install, but missing your mark by even a centimetre or two can throw the entire alignment off, especially if your gate has multiple latch locks to clip into. When I was installing a swinging door gate, I installed the bracketing end with the door first. After attaching the door, I was able to get a good read on where on the other end of my staircase I needed to put the locking latches. It took me around an hour but it worked and still works to this day where my near 3-year-old tries to open the gate to let herself down the stairs (she’s a big girl now as I’m reminded about 14 times a day.)
The best rule of thumb to use when installing a baby gate is the old adage that “slow and steady wins the race.” Give yourself a couple of hours to install the gate or else you could easily end up with a lopsided install where one end faces farther forward than the other or worse, doesn’t even lock properly.
What if I have a pet?
If you have a pet, you have a few options to consider. The first is finding a baby gate with a pet door. Baby gates with pet doors are harder to come by and your options end up being quite limited. Gates with pet doors can also have odd latching systems and can lend themselves to some weird setups, especially if they have a narrow inner door through the middle and aren’t a regular walk through gate.
If you do specifically have a cat at home, a baby gate with a pet door isn’t the only option you have. Some ingenious parents have installed a standard baby gate in their homes but raised the installation a few inches to allow a cat to sneak underneath if need be. Cats can fit through some pretty narrow spaces, so if this sounds like a good idea to you, leaving a 7-8 inch clearance is about all you need to get this done. Your cat can have free roam of the house and the opening will be small enough that a child can’t fit through or get stuck.
When do I stop using baby gates?
The day you stop using a baby gate is simple. Every single baby gate and lock I’ve come across offer the same advice. You stop using something once the baby has “defeated” it. I don’t know why, but I like the idea of baby “defeating” something. In other words, once they’ve figured out how to operate the gate themselves, you may as well get rid of it because chances are they’ve now become self-aware like baby Skynet.
Baby gates don’t have to be a hard purchase but you should really have a good idea of what you want in your house and the type of gate you can and can’t install. Hopefully, this blog has given you some good direction on where to get started. You can find all of the baby gates I mentioned above and literally dozens more online at BestBuy.ca.