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Often the most effective method of isolating a toddler from danger is to create an exclusion zone by installing a gate or barrier. There are many sizes and configurations available from retail stores and it is advisable to carry out some basic research in regards to product quality and ease of installation before making your selection.
You should also carefully consider where you locate gates. Often the most obvious position will be a hindrance to general traffic. A gate located at the top of a stair might be better positioned further down a passage way creating an exclusion zone for the toddler but also allowing access to other rooms.
Care should be taken locating gates with a ‘bottom rail’ to the top of stairs. The bottom rail is a significant tripping hazard and injuries can be serious if a fall occurs down stairs particularly when a toddler is being carried.
Homesafekids recommends using a modular system that will allow the gate to be offset about 1½ stair widths back from the top stair. This will allow the gate to be negotiated and closed before starting the decent.
A common enquiry is whether to gate off the kitchen or install a series of cupboard and drawer latches. As the kitchen is the usually the most dangerous room in the home HomesafeKids recommends a combination.
Gating the kitchen provides a safe work environment and protects against falling accidents caused by the toddler walking or crawling behind an unsuspecting parent concentrating on the cooking. But the reality is there are too many other dangers in the kitchen that should not be left unsecured even with a gate in place.
Detergents and chemicals usually stored under the sink, plastic bags, drawers with knives and serrations, cupboards with glass or ceramic objects, accessible ovens and cook tops all pose a hazard to an adventurous toddler.
The simplest method of installing a barrier is to purchase a pressure gate. These are available in a number of configurations and most have modular extensions to accommodate almost any width.
However before making your purchase familiarize yourself with the environment you are installing the gate to. A range of issues can adversely affect installation:
Check that the two surfaces are stable. Considerable pressure must be applied for these gates to succeed. A loose stair newel post or a fragile plaster wall may not support the gate.
An oversized skirting will foul the bottom fixing pads. This will render the gate ‘too large’ so be sure to measure all distances before making your purchase. Spacer blocks will accommodate a gate that is narrow but one that is too large simply cannot be installed
An undercut as you may expect on a kitchen bench will render the bottom fixing useless and spacer blocks will be required. Ensure spacer blocks are large, flat and adequately grip the substrate.
Rubber pads on a pressure gate will remove paint from a plaster wall. Pressure gates are often purchase because of a perception they are damage free however in order to grip they have to be ‘sticky’ and often will remove a disc of surface paint and perhaps plaster.
Read all instructions before installing. Gates attached to the top of stairs must be restrained using a fixing device. Retaining discs are supplied with the gate and are expected to be screwed into the substrate. There are acceptable methods of restraining a gate without using screws.
Self Closing Gates
These are spring hinged with a self latching mechanism. In principle, self closing gates are fine however it is critical that they are precisely installed and routinely checked to ensure the latching mechanism remains tuned.
It is important to think through the intended use of the gated area. If the toddler is not exposed to the hazard frequently it may be more convenient to use a manually latching gate.
Example 1: Although the kitchen is the most dangerous and frequently used room in the house, mothers will often use the toddler’s sleep time to prepare meals. During these times a self closing gate can be a nuisance.
Example 2: For most 2 storey homes, the bedrooms will be located upstairs and gates will be required at both ends of the stair. In this instance only one of the gates is ever required to be closed.
Self closing gates however are advisable where there are older children who may not be as vigilant in closing a gate as their parents. In this instance the gates need to be checked daily to ensure they close effectively and the automatic latching mechanism activates.
Gates with No Bottom Rail
Some gates are available without a bottom rail and these provide excellent resolution to ‘top of stair’ situations, however it is critical that the attachment points on both sides are solid with no movement and can be securely fastened into. These gates are generally more aesthetically pleasing and are often installed to protect the integrity of an interior.
They can however be more difficult to orientate, particularly the ‘roller blind’ variety as their lack of rigidity can render opening and closing somewhat of an ordeal.
These gates require more considered installation as they tend to be exclusive of adjustment. Both sides must be perpendicular and the ‘receiver brackets’ perfectly aligned.
Modular Gates and Fences
Dangerous environments are often left unprotected simply because parents are unaware of products that can configure around corners or attach to surfaces that may not align. Modular gates and fences are ideal for creating child safety or exclusion zones and can be used to successfully isolate open or unconventional kitchens.
If the span is to exceed 3 or 4 modules it is important to allow for a kink or bend in the unit to attain maximum rigidity.
Attaching to Precious Surfaces
HomesafeKids has developed procedures for attaching gates to precious surfaces without inflicting damage. This is particularly important for kitchen benches that are usually constructed from highly finished materials such as laminate, stone or timber.
This procedure can also be used for attaching to structural glass as may be encountered in a balustrade for example.