It seems like every time a friend of mine gets married and buys a home, the first thing they and their spouse do is get a puppy. Usually, after the puppy is grown, the couple then announces that they’re expecting their first child. Obviously, there is a link.
This isn’t a surprise. Puppies and infants both start out adorable, are fond of putting strange objects into their mouths, and they both look at you with begging eyes and a whimper when they want something. Both also require a lot of effort to keep out of trouble. That’s why so many of my friends’ homes have been dominated indoors and out by a succession of ugly gates that block doors and hallways. Indoors, these temporary gates may be necessary. Outside, an attractive, sturdy gate that matches the deck’s existing railings would serve my friends much better than the plastic ones they usually use. I’ll explain the benefits of a permanent gate and give some tips on how to choose and install an outdoor deck gate.
Outdoor Safety Gate Basics
Even though most railings manufacturers sell standard gates that work with their railings, in my experience homeowners don’t tend to take advantage of this option. Instead, when a couple has a child or pet they need to keep confined, they opt for a plastic safety gate. Not only do these look ugly and out of place, but they’re less safe than real gates yet just as permanent, since most safety gates screw into place. And while plastic might be more friendly to a child’s bumped head, with metal or wood railings around the rest of the deck, a plastic gate is irrelevant.
Plastic has plenty of other issues, too, as you might imagine. Gates meant for indoor use (and sometimes those meant for outdoors, too) will grow brittle in the outdoors when exposed to UV light. Once a brittle gate is tested by a frustrated two-year-old, the plastic can crack, and that means a potential for injury, both from the plastic shards and from a potential tumble down the stairs.
And plastic gates aren’t just hazards for kids; they can actually be dangerous to adults, too. Since standalone plastic safety gates are usually much shorter than deck railings, when you’re distracted–say by a clingy toddler or a jumping pet–it’s easy to forget the gate is there and walk into–or even trip over–it. This is less likely with a gate the same height as the existing railings. However, baby and pet safe deck railings don’t have to compromise on style or safety for you or your kids and pets.
An Outdoor Deck Gate Built to Your Needs
If you’re looking to avoid the issues (and appearance) of plastic, one way to do so is to build your own gate. It’s much easier than you might think.
Building a wooden gate frame: If your deck railings are made of wood, you can build a wooden gate yourself with hand tools and basic skills. Simply measure the distance between your posts and deduct the width of your gate hardware. This will provide the measure of your side rails. Your vertical measurements will simply match the top and bottom rails of your existing railings.
Adding balusters to your wood frame: If you intend the gate to be permanent, you can match the wood balusters used on your existing railing, or you can opt for metal balusters. These are available in small orders for exactly this sort of project, or in larger orders for replacing wood deck balusters with metal ones. Metal balusters are extremely strong and sturdy, don’t splinter, crack, or flake, and may help to distinguish the gate from the rest of the railing. This visual cue may be important for distracted pet owners and parents.
Building a gate to match your metal railings: If you have metal railings on your deck, there is an even easier option for a custom outdoor deck gate. Simply order a section of metal railing, gate hardware, and side rails. The side rails are the most important part of this conversion. Cut the panel to length the same as you would the wooden frame in the previous paragraph, insert the side fittings into the top and bottom rails on each side of the section, attach the hardware, and hang the gate.
Gates made from railing sections are not only easy to make, they go well with nearly any railing. A simple metal gate will complement entirely wood railings just as well as it complements railings that mix wood and metal. Utilitarian railings made using basic 2x4s can be enhanced by a simple black steel gate with slim, no-nonsense metal balusters. Without seeming out of place, the same gate also suits more ornamented railings with curves, knuckles, and other purely aesthetic details. For railings that have wooden components, such as wooden lattices instead of balusters, a simple steel gate is one option, but a wood-framed gate with ornamental steel balusters will give a ‘secret garden’ look to the deck. Ultimately, either will look far better than a plastic safety gate and will last longer than the plastic equivalent, too.
The Fe26 line of railings by Fortress Railing is one example of an outdoor use railing system that makes it easy to turn a railing section into an outdoor deck gate. Fortress railing panels are made of pre-galvanized steel or aluminum, coated with an e-coating, and given a high-quality DuPont powder coating to protect them from UV rays and moisture. Their gate hardware and side rails have the same unique, extra-tough coatings, and Fortress even has the dimensions to create a sharp-looking outdoor deck gate are already worked out for you (page 28). Fortress also offers individual railing balusters to use on custom gates that work with your existing railings. For more thoughtfully designed and well-engineered products, take a look at Fortress’ other product lines, such as fencing and bamboo-based composite decking.