The first option we looked at was BabiesRus.com’s metal hands-free gate. On the site their pitch goes like this:
“Because of its simple “knee-knocker” mechanism, this all-metal baby gate can be opened with no hands at all – an advantage that will be recognized instantly by any parent who isn’t an octopus. The user just places a toe on a floor-level plate, then puts patella to plate (or knee to gate, in ordinary language). Designed for standard door frames, the all-metal gate has adjustment bolts that fit any gap between 29 and 34 inches – though the design tends to go wobbly near the outer limit of this range. And note that the actual opening is barely 18 inches wide.” – Richard Farr
Certainly sounds great. They caution, however, that it is:
“Not for use on stairs or in windows. Install according to manufacturer’s instructions. This product will not necessarily prevent all accidents. Never leave child unattended. Intended for use with children 6 through 24 months. Always mount flush against the floor. Never use with a child able to climb over, dislodge, or open the gate. This gate is only a deterrent and is not meant as a replacement for proper adult supervision.”
In other words, don’t blame us if your kid is smarter than our gate. Still, the proof is in the pudding, so we visited a neighbor and conducted some simple trials. They also let us take the gate down and re-install it to give us a feel for how labor-intensive it is.
The first thing we discovered is that there is a trick to the installation which is important to know about for security reasons: if you fail to tighten the connections with a wrench fairly carefully, until the latch is no more than a wrench-width from the catch, the gate may open if a child with enough energy and determination pulls up on the foot pedal the right way. These tension screws will need to be tightened at regular intervals, I learned, as they do loosen up fairly quickly with constant use. Otherwise, installation was simple both in their house and in ours, there is no drilling into the doorway required to install the gate, and an easy-to-install extension is available for wide doorways.
A hint: If your child is over 2 years, extraordinarily strong, a genius in the making, or all three, they may be able to get it open, of course, but there is also a simple solution for that: purchase a set of Safety 1st “C” shaped cabinet locks from a local store.
The metal gate is somewhat visually unattractive, perhaps more so than a wood gate, but then most buyers will not be prioritizing looks. The metal body and white threshold do show stains quite readily, making cleaning a regular necessity. Another thing about metal is that energetic, noise-loving kids may discover that they can shake it to produce a loud rattle.
Best features of the gate included its ability to swing both ways, which was very convenient, and its generally kid-proof mechanism and design, including having vertical bars rather than web or cross design which allows children to find footholds and climb over a gate. Of course the much-touted hands-free feature is its main attraction, and since the improved design of the latest model is very usable and durable, this may be the deciding factor for many buyers. We tried operating it with full arms, of various-sized loads, and had no difficulty operating it under any conditions.
This is an economical choice as well, at just $54.99 from Amazon.com.
Our next selection was the Extra-Tall stair gate with alarm, also available at Babies R Us. While the idea was sound, no pun intended, the advantage of having the alarm was quickly rendered null by the fact that the design and mechanical quality of this gate were much inferior. The plastic mounting equipment was fragile, lasting only a week, and the alarm went in and out intermittently.
That said, it was effective when it did work, the alarm sound was distinctive but not intrusive and the height prevented children from getting over it. The installation was time-consuming, but this is a hardware-mounted gate, so it will naturally have a longer installation time than a pressure-mounted gate like the first we looked at.
Getting the gate open was a problem, especially with full hands. It could be opened with one hand, but not easily, requiring a slight lift to get it over the latches at top and bottom. Also, the latching mechanism did not engage easily-it had to be carefully closed each time, a liability for those with little time and/or small children.
This one was a bit more expensive, at $59.99
Our third choice was Simplicity’s Simple Security With Alarm gate. This is a hardware mounted solid white gate with an alarm which sounds when the gate is left open or the latch does not engage properly.
Things we liked:
Solid design prevents climbing, the alarm was consistent and sensitive, if a little loud, and it did adjust easily to fit a wide doorway. No mesh or spaces makes this the perfect gate for families with small pets who could get their heads caught. The latch was fairly easy to open, although again closing it was difficult with a heavy load in the other hand.
However, there was the cleanliness issue, since the glaring white showed every spot. We also learned that the material has a tendency to warp with time and use, which can cause cracking.
It was a little more pricey, but still reasonable, at $69.99 at Albee Baby.
EvenFlo’s Home DÃ?Â©cor Wood Swing Gate in Natural Oak is a higher-end alternative for those more concerned with aesthetics. At $89.96, this topped the others and may not be a practical choice for all buyers, but it is a beautiful and elegant gate, with shaped bars and sliders of beautiful wood.
Best things about it: obviously looks, then extra height and a one-hand latch release which proved to be generally easy-to-work. We found it in a low-use household, so how it performs under high stress was hard to gauge. The mountings were sturdy and the design was universal enough to fit with most dÃ?Â©cor themes. Also, there are alternate versions, in wood, for around $33 and $35, which gives everyone an option.
On the other hand, it is only designed for children from 6-24 months, so it is not a cost-effective long-term strategy – since it is hardware-mounted it is a bit of an investment of time and energy for such a short time of use. The wood is easily damaged and/or splintered, creating potential safety hazards for children.
The last option we looked at was more a site than a specific gate-Babygates.com, which turned out to be very user-friendly and excellently organized, offering search criteria by size, mounting type, gate placement, and material/design. They sort by brand as well for savvy shoppers, and offer baby safety options for a number of possible problems, such as fireplaces, driveways, balconies, etc. Lastly, a price shopper caters to different income ranges, providing a way for any shopper to find the gate they need quickly and expeditiously. They anticipate problems such as irregular or wide openings with a special section devoted just to those issues, and have both a wizard and a comparison tool to help decide between gates.
They don’t guarantee the gates themselves, but most gates do come with a manufacturer’s warranty, so this is a small caveat. Return policies are standard, they do offer a full refund for a leisurely return time-45 days, which should give most households more than enough time to try out the gate, since many problems show up in the installation or immediately afterward.