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baby gates for stairs

Baby gates, sometimes referred to as stair gates, child gates, or baby safety gates, can be extremely effective for restricting your child’s access to unsafe rooms and staircases. They’re offered in different types with different strengths and weaknesses that should be carefully examined before settling on one particular model.

A typical baby safety gate is 42 to 72 inches wide, which should be sufficient for most doorways and stair landings, and 30 to 34 inches tall, which should be tall enough for most infants, toddlers and pets. Wooden and plastic baby gate models are available in a variety of colors and textures to blend in with their surroundings.  For wider openings and taller children, extra wide and extra tall gates are available. There are three main types of baby gates for stairs and doorways: pressure mounted, hardware mounted and retractable. For fireplaces, there is a separate product category of fireplace safety gates, not discussed here, which are usually made out of some kind of powder coated iron or aluminum.

Pressure Mounted Baby Gates

A pressure mounted baby gate is favored for portability and easy of installation, usually requiring no tools. They feature screw-out pads that brace the unit in the doorway or between the wall and newel post of the stair landing. Many older pressure mounted gates were one-piece constructions (also true of many hardware mounted models), which encouraged parents to unsafely step over them, but modern gates tend to have an inner swing gate with a release latch for easy adult access.

Hardware Mounted Baby Gates

The biggest disadvantage of pressure mounted baby gates is that they can slip out of place gradually, especially if pets or children meddle with them. A hardware mounted baby gate is the safest option by far. These feature brackets that screw directly into the door frame or newel post, which makes them harder to reinstall in different locations, but being embedded also makes them impossible to be nudged. While pressure mounted frames have the gate in the middle of the unit as a smaller section, hardware mounted child gates are usually single-piece units which, when unlatched, swing open with hinges mounted on one set of brackets.

Retractable Baby Gates

A retractable baby gate is the most flexible option. Some models are have clamp-on brackets, hardware mounted brackets or pressure mounted frames; but what they have in common is a polyester mesh screen that draws closed and retracts open across the doorway or stair landing like a sideways window shade. The component that spools and stores the screen when retracted, the roller, can be detached from its wall bracket, so that the brackets can be left in place if the screen needs to be removed. Unlike a pressure mounted gate, where the entire frame needs to be moved or stored, only the roller of a retractable gate needs to be removed, so it’s very compact for storage. Unlike the other two types of gates, whose width needs to be known before purchasing in order to ensure a correct fit, retractable gates can extend to just about any width.

This is not the idea choice for a stair gate. Retractable baby safety gates should only be used for doorways and the bottom of stairs. Since they’re not rigid, and don’t offer exceptional resistance if pushed by a determined child, placing this these gates at the top of stairs may result in the child falling through, which obviously has more severe consequences than falling on a level floor.

Which type of gate you choose should be determined largely by where it’s meant to be installed. For the top of stairs, a hardware mounted child gate should probably be your first choice. For doorways, either pressure mounted or retractable gates are sufficient. If you’re interested in a gate that can be taken to other parents’ homes, retractable baby gates are the most practical choice.

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A baby stair gate is a critical childproofing accessory, one that you’ll want to install that the first signs that your child is becoming capable of walking. Stair gates are arguably more important during the initial stages of walking than when a baby can walk at full speed. In order to walk, babies have to learn how to balance themselves upright, which inevitably means they’ll fail more than they succeed at first, frequently falling backward. Falling on a level floor only hurts, but the consequences of falling anywhere near or on a flight of stairs can be disastrous. A baby safety gate is no minor precaution.

Baby Gates for Stairs

Baby gate products come in different designs with different mounting arrangements, so there’s always at least one model on the market that can work with your home’s stair configuration. With slight variations between products, baby gates stairs tend to be 30-34″ wide and 28-31″ tall. Gates for stairs are designed to use one of two primary fastening methods: pressure-fitted mounts and screw-fitted mounts.

While pressure mounted baby gates obviously require less assembly in terms of drilling, screwing or gluing, they’re prone to egress from babies or pets to butt against them over time, and they run the risk of eventually slipping out of place. For this reason, pressure-fitting stair gates should not be installed at the top of stairs.

Screw-fitted mounts are inherently more secure, and can also be used between doorways to close off access to rooms. But they’re more labor intensive to assemble, and less convenient to reposition if desired. Having the flexibility to reconsider the best placement of a stair gate is an important consideration. While screw fitting gates aren’t conducive to repositioning, most models have a quick-release fittings that allow the gate to be removed when not in use.

Baby gates for stairs aren’t just for stairs (not are they just for babies; they protect pets as well). They can often be used to block access to any area not suitable for children: a kitchen, an office desk with exposed cables, an entertainment center or a dining table. Sometimes your goal is not just to block off stairs, but to whole floors.

Just because a safety gate is a necessity doesn’t mean it has look utilitarian. Many safety gates are quite attractive. A wooden stair gate blends in nicely with most walls, and is usually available in a variety of common colors. While a metal stair gate is less attractive, it’s also far less prone to damage from children and pets.

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A retractable baby gate combines safety with convenience. Using a polyester mesh screen that pulls across the doorway on which it’s installed, retractable baby gates operate in a similar fashion to window shades, but laterally instead of vertically, and locking to a mount installed at the opposite end.

Since these baby gates pull across to a desired length, they’re capable of handling most doorway widths. There are wide and extra wide baby gate products available if your doorway is exceptionally wide. Typical retractable baby gates are designed to handle 42-72″ openings, and range between 30 and 34 inches in height, which should be more than sufficient to prevent toddlers from climbing over them. On the other hand, while the mesh screen is taut when stretched across a doorway, the material is still flexible, and in most cases should not be used at the top of stairs.

Some retractable baby safety gate products marketed as baby stair gates are newer or different designs, and may be suitable for their advertised purpose. Some “retractable” gates are actually older designs, like accordion gates, which use wood lattices to expand and contract. An accordion baby gate is not recommended, as it presents a danger to fingers and limbs when closing and opening. True retractable baby safety gates with mesh screens are often called rollers to distinguish them from other designs.

These rollers are compact alternatives to swinging baby gates, and are ideal for rooms with limited floor space, since they don’t arc outward from the doorway. When retracted, the rolled-up screen extends less than half a foot, so there’s no need to store it elsewhere when not in use.

Some retractable gates only rewind manually with a knob, which may not be an issue for many owners. In many cases, it’s not necessary to fully retract the screen when entering or exiting the room; it only needs to be briefly taken off the mount, then put back. Other models have automatic rewind mechanisms that retract the screen once the locking mechanism is released. This is idea for avoiding the trip hazards of an unmounted, unretracted screen that hangs limp across the doorway.

Most retractable baby gates only have a couple of drawbacks. They have a reputation for being noisy while extending and rewinding, which can be an issue when checking in on a sleeping baby. They’re also rarely the instant install that manufacturers advertise them to be, unlike some pressure-mounted gates. The components usually have to be screwed into the wall of the doorway, which isn’t a complicated process, but it definitely falls into the “some assembly required” category.

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