What kind of opening do you need to block off? If you are blocking off the top of stairs, a hardware-mounted gate is a must. If you are blocking off a heavily trafficked area that you frequently have to navigate with your hands full, look for a gate that opens easily and can be kicked close or closes automatically. If you are trying to block off a large area of a room or a room feature, look for a gate that is freestanding and can be wall mounted.
What size is the opening? Before you shop for a gate, measure all openings carefully both at the lower and the higher threshold, as openings in older homes or in earthquake-prone areas may not be the same. Write the measurements down and take them to the store with you. Some gates may include the extensions you need to fit the doorway; you will have to purchase extensions separately for other gates.
Who will be using the gate? Families with older children who don't need to be gated will encounter multiple areas of potential frustration: Older children may forget to close the gates behind them. They also may struggle to open the toddler-proof latch and end up climbing the gate, which isn't safe. In families with older children, consider a swing closed style gate, and make sure older kids practice unlatching the gate.
How tall are the home's occupants? Gates should be at least three-quarters of the child's overall height. Also, taller adults report that bending over to open a lower gate is frustrating, making them more likely to step over the gate or leave it open. If you or other adults in your home are very tall, consider a taller gate option.
Test the gate before buying. Before going to the trouble to buy and install a gate, make sure that the latch is easy and comfortable for you and the members of your family to use.
Be prepared to turn to an expert. If you are not confident with tools and need to install a gate at the top of your stairs, consider hiring a professional for proper installation. This will be money well spent if it prevents a bad fall.
Avoid used gates, and check for recalls. While it's tempting to accept hand-me-down baby gear from friends or relatives -- or to pick up an inexpensive gate at a garage sale -- be aware that safety gates take a lot of abuse in most homes. Gates may not appear damaged until they break. Like all baby products, gates have been subject to many safety recalls. Check for recalls at the