In our home, it’s hard to miss our baby gates. Even if they’re open, the big white pressure-mounted gates greet you as soon as you come up our entryway stairs and approach our living space, and you’ll find another in our second floor hallway separating the bedrooms from the laundry machines and stairs.
This is why I was so intrigued when I recently saw a retractable childproofing gate for the first time at our friends’ home.
The mesh-like gate blocks off the kids’ play area and kitchen from the nearby stairs. When my friends want that area open, they simply open the gate, and it retracts into a thin tube-like shape on the opposite wall from the locking system where the gate attaches when closed. In other words, unlike the bulky gates in my home, it appears barely there when the gate is open and doesn’t take away from the home décor.
After seeing my friends’ retractable gate, wondered when such gates are appropriate options to more traditional baby gates, so I turned to a couple of my favorite childproofing experts to find out. What I learned from them makes up today’s hint.
Retractable gates generally aren’t for childproofing the tops of stairs. Retractable gates are mainly made of flexible material, meaning they need to be installed set back from the edge of the stairs and they may not be the best at preventing stairway falls (retractable gate manufacturers tend to recommend the gates be installed at least six inches back from the top of stairs, and many homes may not have the right kind of spot six inches back for gate installation). In contrast, traditional baby gates are solid barriers that can be drilled into walls at the top of stairways.
They’re not the best option if you want to keep your walls hole-free. Retractable gates are a relatively permanent solution, since they involve hardware that needs to be drilled into walls and moldings, says Alex Lund, the owner of the Bay Area-based childproofing firm, Safety Nook, which helped me childproof my home. In contrast, pressure gates, a popular baby gate option on the market and the ones I have in my home, don’t require drilling, though they still may require repairs to walls.
They can be options for narrow and wide openings. “Retractable gates can work with wide openings and narrow openings where other gates might not fit,” says Colleen Driscoll, executive director of the International Association for Child Safety Inc., a trade association for professional childproofers. For instance, for door openings less than 29-inches wide (the size pressure gates generally start at), a retractable gate may work, and some models can also be used for openings as wide as 72 inches, Mr. Lund says.
Retractable gates are worth considering for situations when a gate is only needed occasionally. Childproofing experts generally recommend that gates be left closed all the time, so children learn to view them as barriers. Because you have to physically pull a retractable gate across the opening to lock it, the experts say parents may find it easier to just leave a retractable gate open, making it not the best option for protecting frequently used areas of the house.
But, according to Ms. Driscoll, the retractable models may be an option for places like grandparents’ homes “where the child is not likely there often, and the gate would only be used occasionally.” Similarly, they also may work for blocking off not heavily used formal areas of a house, like a living room.
In short, as Ms. Driscoll points out, retractable gates “can be a good option for parents to consider, but they are not right for every home or every situation.”
Mr. Lund says he installs retractable gates on request, but he doesn’t currently offer them as an option among the gates he brings when he goes to childproof homes. Though, he says, he does like Scandinavian Safety’s Guard Me retractable gate, which should be available in the United States soon, as he says it’s made out of a stronger material than traditional retractable gates. When the gate becomes available, Mr. Lund, who is helping Scandinavian Safety get started in the United States, plans to begin offering it to customers.
Share your experiences with retractable gates, and baby gates in general, below. What gates do you recommend and why?