From the category archives:

Electric and Electronic Fence

Automatic gates, also known as electric gates have a few benefits over manually operated gates, but two of them make the electric option essential. They make swinging or sliding rather unwieldy gates open and closed as simple as pushing a button. More importantly, they offer several optional tiers of remote access control and security.

The mechanics of hinges and guide rails of swinging and sliding gates are essential the same for manual and automatic gates. Gates of either type may consist of metal, wood or vinyl. What’s different are the components that do the heaving lifting, alternately known as gate openers or gate operators. Strictly speaking, an electric gate opener is meant to refer to a controller for light duty residential gates, while an electric gate operator is intended to for heavy duty commercial installations; but in practice they’re often used interchangeably.

Electric Gate Openers and Operators

A gate opener is the heart of an electric gate. This is an electromechanical or hydraulic armature enclosed in a waterproof hood for above-ground installations. In swinging gates, the motor’s arm extends to the center of the gate panel. For a dual gate opener, a separate operator is positioned at either end. Underground swing operators contain the mechanics inside of metal boxes underneath the plates for the gate’s hinges. Since underground gate openers have no machinery visible to the onlooker, they’re usually considered the most aesthetic. They’re also the most expensive type of automatic gate openers.

Whether or not electric gates are a viable option depends on your location, or rather, the proximity of the fence to the power mains. If the gate is too far from your residential power source, which is often the case for farms and other sprawling properties, it’s still possible to power the operator’s batteries, which typically need 24 volts, by solar panels if they have access to adequate sunlight.

Sliding Gate or Swing Gate?

Whether or not you opt for swinging or sliding gates is largely a matter of personal preference, but there are logistics to consider, like the slope of the site or any possible misalignment of posts as the ground expands and contracts with changes in weather conditions. In most cases, sliding gates, while more expensive than swing gates with above-ground controllers, are more likely to maintain alignment due to their guide rails. You will, however, need as much track in the open position as you need in the closed position. In other words, if your dual gate spans 24 feet between posts, you’ll need an additional 12 feet of track beyond either post. If you’re installing a dual swing gate on a higher-than-normal grade, you’ll probably need to have a concrete foundation poured between posts to connect them and keep them aligned.

Access Control Systems

Finally, electric gates offer different levels of access control, depending on your budget. This can mean, for instance, that you can enter and exit your driveway with a remote controller that spares you the trouble of getting out of your car. Or you can install a programmable keypad controller at the entrance that can be set with temporarily assigned access codes for service workers, like handymen or maids. You can manually buzz guests in without having to walk to the driveway entrance. If money is not an object, you can install a full-featured controller with an intercom and security camera. Electric gates can give you all the convenience, functionality and security you could possibly need.

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Driveway gates come in an overwhelming array of styles, so it’s important to focus on the critical features that make for a satisfying long term purchase. Let’s take a look at these features, focusing on modern automatic driveway gates instead of manual ones.

How will your gate opener be powered, and where will the power come from? If your houses electrical mains are too far away, as is the case in most rural settings, you’ll have to rely on solar power. If you need a solar panel, you’ll have to ensure that any surrounding trees don’t block the sunlight.

Driveway Gate Materials and Build Quality

The materials and build quality should be considered before settling on the design of the driveway gate. Do you want wooden driveway gates, metal driveway gates, vinyl? Regardless of the fence panel material, posts should be installed at least 5’ deep to account for wind and any irregularities in slopes, and 5” square tubes of 3/8” thick steel is a good standard for a secure foundation. The tubes for the posts and the rest of the gate should be acid-washed and treated with primer. Acid washing ensures that the final paint job will properly adhere to the metal, and the primer protects the gate against rust. Fence panels made of hot dipped galvanized steel offer most of the look, feel and durability of wrought iron driveway gates at a much lower cost.

The style of gate will depend on your needs and priorities. Economy style gates are quite popular, since sliding driveway gates aren’t feasible for many suburban residences with narrow driveways where the house and the property line are only three or four yards apart. In this situation, a single swing gate is the most practical option. A typical model is a 12” gate reinforced with three cross-members, controlled by a swing-arm opener. This is the most common setup for a do-it-yourself installation. The cost of the gate and the controller (the hydraulic or electromechanical assembly that operates the swing arm) is often under $1500.

As implied above, swing gates usually require less installation and maintenance that sliding gates for residential purposes, unless you already have a fairly large fence to begin with, or live a a pronounced slope. Single swing gates are most often cheaper than dual swing gates by half, since you’re not committed to buying a pair of driveway gate openers. Unless you’re aesthetically attracted to the symmetry of the dual swing gate design, a single swing gate is usually more pragmatic.

Remote Gate Control Systems

Finally, consider what kind of remote access control you’ll want to control the gate. The simplest and most economical style is the one-button remote with a visor clip, like ones for garage doors. The next level would be a keypad controller, allowing the resident to leave the remote behind. The most expensive and feature-complete option would be a keypad with an intercom and camera, allowing the resident to verify guests and buzz them in.

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