When it comes to installing baby gates, everyone focuses on the “how” element – and rightly so to some extent. If you do it wrong, at least you could end up with an ineffective baby gate, and at most you could end up with a manufactured hazard to your child.
But there are other questions to answer before you install a baby gate – and in fact, answering them correctly will save you the hassle and uncertainty in the long run.
When To Install A Baby Gate
You need to install a bay gate before your baby starts crawling.
You want them to accept it as a thing that’s always there, an impassable boundary as much like a part of the wall as any other.
If you wait until they’re crawling, and then you change a vital part of their environment, you’re just dangling a puzzle and challenging them to solve it. Install your baby gates before they can tackle them with any kind of active curiosity.
Where To Install A Baby Gate
This will depend on the layout of your house or apartment. Before they’re crawling, you’re going to want to block off the base of any Rocky Mountain-style staircases.
Some distance from the front door is another great spot so that they learn only to go through that door in your company and under your guidance.
Similarly, any pantry area should be gated off, because what to you might seem like harmless foodstuffs, to a baby is a cave of endless experimentation and potential choking hazards.
What Kind Of Baby Gate Goes Where
If you have staircases, and your baby’s growing older and stronger in their crawling skills, go for hardware-mounted models at the tops of staircases, rather than pressure-mounted models.
Because at the top of a staircase, a loosely attached or pressure-dependent baby gate can be a practical invitation to fall back down the stairs.
And no, I’m over-egging this danger: falls from stairs are the number #1 cause of visits to the ER reported for children under 2.
A hardware-mounted model will be much less inclined to shift in their grip, so it’s the safer option in those higher locations.
Pressure-mounted baby gates are fine in less intrinsically hazardous locations though – especially where the force of gravity has only the length of a fall on their butt to use against your baby.
Let’s do this.
Let’s install some hardware-mounted gates, to stop your baby from getting past the top of your stairs.
First, assess your working area. Measure the opening of the staircase to make sure the gate you have will fit.
There is nothing worse than getting halfway through a job like this only to realize you’ve misjudged the space.
You’ll feel like a dummy, and also, which is worse, you’ll feel like you’re letting down your child. Get your tape measure and measure the size of the opening you need to fill.
Top Tip: If you’re putting your gate at the top of your stairs, measure back 6 inches from the edge of the top stair, as that’s where you want to install the gate to avoid a falling hazard for your baby.
Find A Stud
You’re going to need either a stud or a door frame so you can secure your baby gate. That’s what “hardware-mounted” means – screwed into something that’s not about to move.
If there’s no stud or door frame, you’re going to be drilling through drywall until you reach the wooden framing of the wall.
Now, a word of caution. Manufacturers frequently supply plugs that let you screw the baby gate into the drywall itself.
Most professionals would wince if they saw it though because drywall generally isn’t robust enough to support the weight of, say, a crawling baby hanging on to a gate for all they’re worth.
Sturdy wood is your friend in these situations.
If there’s no wood to be had, you’ll need to build your own frame. Add a piece of wood on either side of the gate (re-measuring around this inconvenience), and attach your frame to the drywall with a toggle bolt.
Once you have a sturdy piece of wood to attach your gate to, drill some holes and attach your wall mounts. If the gate hinges from one side or the other, install your hinges on that side. If it opens in the middle, install hinges on both sides.
Top Tip: Sometimes, the screws that come with the gate won’t be long enough to bite into the wood. Don’t just accept them – find longer screws if necessary. Security is key in this operation.
Make sure the bottom wall mount is less than 3 inches off the floor. Curious hands can get trapped under gaps of just a few inches.
This sounds obvious, but you’d be surprised – install the gates so they swing open “inwards” over the floor of the upper level, not “outwards” over the stairs. If you install them outwards, you’ve essentially created a slow-motion baby catapult.
Assuming your baby gate doesn’t come fully assembled, as some do, put the pieces together. You’re going to want to use the instructions the gate comes with for this. Take your time and pay attention, one misplaced screw or bolt could see you having to start the whole thing from scratch if it affects how the gate functions.
Once you’ve assembled the gate, hang or clip it onto your mounts, and test it several times. It should be able to withstand a fair amount of use from you as an adult so that your child can’t get lucky and work it before you want them to.
Take Appropriate Measures
As with hardware-mounted gates, measure the space first, making sure the gate you have fits the space.
Extend your gates to fit the space. You can usually do this easily, and then spin some bolts to lock the gate into the space. When there’s no gap between the frame and the handle of the door, you’re good.
Other pressure-mounted gates fit in place by using sliding gates. Pull the panels apart until they fit the space – the pressure between the panels should keep them in place.
Make sure the bottom of the gate is less than 3 inches from the floor.
If your model uses one, lock the gate in place with a pressure bar, and don’t forget to test it before deciding the job is done.
Whether you go for hardware-mounted, pressure-mounted, or a combination of the two, once your child can get past them, your baby gates have served their purpose.
Remove them as soon as you know they’re redundant, and move on with the fun, toddling phase of your life.