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Friday, April 8, 2011

Safety Gate Reviews

Once your little one becomes mobile, baby proofing your house suddenly takes on new meaning. Our biggest baby proofing struggle was finding gates that would fit and work for us. We ended up purchasing three different baby gates in an attempt to find the perfect combination. I don't know that what we ended up with was perfect, but it gets the job done. To help make the safety gate search a little easier for someone out there, I figured that I would share with you our experiences.

Our first gate was The First Years Hands Free Gate purchased by my mother in law.  The extensions were purchased separately.

In this picture the First Years Hands Free gate is being used with 2 extensions, one on each side.
This is a pressure mounted gate that, according to the First Years website, will fit openings from 29" - 34". The gate can also be outfitted with one or two extensions for larger openings up to 39" and 44" respectively. The opening at the bottom of our stairs is 42.5" so we needed to use one extension on each side in order to get the gate to fit. The gate was easy to install and removed without leaving any marks on the wall.

A piece of advice during installation - Initially the gate will not latch (there will be a large gap) but continue to tighten. As you tighten, the gap will become smaller until the gate latches. This indicates that you have securely installed the gate.

Note! Because this is a pressure mounted gate, it should NOT be used at the top of the stairs, as a falling child could easily dislodge the gate.

My favorite thing about this gate is right in the title - it's hands free! To open, all you need to do is step on the foot pedal and push the white panel with your knee (if your hands are free then you can step with your foot and push open with your hand). Initially I worried that once Little Bear got stronger, then he would be able to open the gate himself, however you do need to step fairly hard and I think that it will be quite awhile until Little Bear is able to push down hard enough to get it open.

I also liked that this gate was able to swing in both directions and made an audible click when it was locked (so no guessing if it locked or not!).

There are some drawbacks to this gate. The main thing that I dislike about this gate is that it must be pushed shut. So although it is hands free to open, you still need to close it behind you (although a hand technically still isn't necessary - I can bump it shut with my foot or behind). With the gate being so easy to open, I often forget to shut it behind me. Beware when closing the gate behind you - if you push too hard, it will swing through without latching.

I found this to be a rather small gate. Unless you are planning to install it in a doorway, you will almost have to purchase at least one extension. It is also on the short side, as you can see from the picture below (and keep in mind that Little Bear is a shorty!). Because it is small, I sometimes feel as if the opening is not large enough - especially when my hands are full!

The gate has a somewhat narrow opening and is rather short.

Overall this gate is a keeper.  I would have preferred a gate that automatically closed for the bottom of the stairs but for now, this one does the job.

Our second gate is the Dreambaby Extra Tall Swing Close Gate.  We wised up with this one and purchased this gate with the extensions included.

Currently we are not using this gate, so I put it up in a doorway for you to see.  This is the gate with NO extensions on it. To see it with extensions, click here.
This is another pressure mounted gate. According to the Dreambaby manufacturer, the gate will fit openings from 28" - 42.5" using the included extensions. This gate instals in the same fashion as the First Years Hands Free gate and again was very simple to both install and remove. Again, no marks were left on the wall.

Note! Because this is a pressure mounted gate, it should NOT be used at the top of the stairs, as a falling child could easily dislodge the gate.

I have the same piece of advice during installation for this gate! Initially the gate will not latch (there will be a large gap) but continue to tighten. As you tighten, the gap will become smaller until the gate latches. This indicates that you have securely installed the gate.

nitially we planned to replace the First Years Hands Free gate at the bottom of our stairs with this one but it is not wide enough for the opening. Technically, the gate should be wide enough. Our opening is 42.5" and that is the maximum opening that the manufacturer says it should fit. While the gate does fit, you have to unscrew the mounting screws so far that it is no longer sturdy. When our cat would try to jump over it, he would knock it down - Now just imagine if that were your child instead of the cat! Additionally we had difficulty getting the gate positioned properly due to molding on our floorboards. So unfortunately this gate is out of commission unless we would choose to buy the larger extensions and try again.

You can see how tall this gate is compared to the others!

There were some great things about this gate however that caused me to purchase it in the first place I loved the height of this gate. At 39.4" tall there was no risk of Little Bear getting over it. Plus it makes it easier to open when you don't have to reach down so far. The door opens in both directions which is convenient and my favorite feature was that the door closes automatically! I loved that I didn't have to remember to close it on my own. Although it is not described as making an audible sound when latching, it was easy to hear when it did. It was also very easy to open one handed.

To open, use your thumb to pull the slide back and then lift the gate to push forward or pull back.

Overall this gate has potential as long as you don't mind a narrow walk through and are able to properly fit it into your opening.

Personally I find our third gate to be the most important. It is the Kidco Safeway Gate (G20 model) for the top of the stairs.

Gate is shown without any extensions and is mounted to the walls.
This is a hardware mounted gate so it actually can be used at the top of the stairs. Although you may not like the idea of drilling holes into your wall, it is well worth it to protect your child from a fall down the stairs! These gates are also better for the top of stairs because you do not have to step over any part of the gate which may cause you to trip. The entire gate swings open and shut.

According to Kidco, this gate fits openings from 24.75"- 43.5" but additional extensions are available. For our 42.5" opening, this gate was fine without any extensions. Installation was not difficult, but it is more time consuming than a pressure mounted gate. There are four mountings that must be screwed into the wall with two screws each. The gate came with templates for drilling the holes, which does simplify the process. The hardware did not seem very sturdy for the gate (plus it isn't intended for drywall) so we purchased some heavy duty hardware at Lowe's. A benefit is that the gate itself can easily be removed from the mountings when it is not needed but can easily be repositioned.

Mountings on opening side of gate

Mountings on swing side of gate
Unlike the pressure mounted gates, this gate has an additional safety feature that prevents it from swinging out over the stairs. This is important if a toddler should fall against it or somehow open it. Unfortunately this feature does not seem to be as strong as I would like. I can easily push the gate forward when I open it with just a little extra pressure.

The small circle to the right of the latch protrudes outward to prevent the gate from swinging over the stairway.

To open, you need to push the tab down with your thumb and then lift the gate out of both mountings.  the latch and top mounting are shown above.  The bottom mounting is seen below.  The gate must be lifted the same height from both mountings or it will not open.  If the gate is not properly lifted back into the mountings, it will not close securely.

With the additional hardware, I feel that this gate is very secure.  I also love that the entire gate swings open.  I feel much safer carrying Little Bear when I do not have to go through a narrow opening or step over a railing.  The gate can be opened with one hand, although I find it somewhat more difficult than the other gates.  Mainly I think that this is due to the increased weight that one encounters with a larger gate.

Unfortunately this gate does not have an automatic close feature.  I typically like to do a double check to make sure that it has latched.  The gate does make an audible sound if the top mounting is secured, however there is no easily detected sound from the bottom mounting.  This gate is also fairly short and we did have to mount it above our floorboard moulding, so there is a small gap at the bottom.

This gate is fairly short and you can see the small gap at the bottom.
Even though this gate is not perfect, it is by far my favorite because I feel that it is the most secure.  I would not put these everywhere because they are somewhat permanent, but I think that everyone must have one for the top of their stairs!

So when it comes to gate shopping, don't be shy and don't skimp!  You may have to try out several gates to find what works the best for your family and your home but gates are essential to the safety of your child, especially at the top of the stairs.

Disclaimer:  This is my personal and honest opinion of this product which I purchased independently.  I was not provided with any compensation or products for this review.

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