How to pick the type of gate to install

Tips for installing hardware mounted gates and tension mounted gates.

To understand what type of gate you should buy, we first need figure out what your installation needs are because many gate styles can be installed differently. 

Basically the big question here is, “Are you going to bust out your power drill or not?”

To answer that, first ask yourself the following questions:

1) Are you using this gate for the top of stairs?  

2) Are you OK putting screws in your walls/wood/etc.? 

How you answer these simple questions will dictate how you choose to install your gate. I’ll give you a hint: If you answered no to both you will not need to use a hardware mounted gate but let’s not get too ahead of ourselves.

There are basically two options: 

  • Tension Mounted Gates
  • Hardware Mounted Gates

Tension Mounted Gates

This means that the gate itself is held in place by extending pressure outwards via pads that provide a tension mount fit between the walls or door frame. These gates have a threshold bar across the floor so that when the gate door is opened, it provides stability and the proper tension on both sides of the gate.

Some things to keep in mind about tension gates:

  • All pressure gates require two flat surfaces across from each other and cannot be mounted on an angle.
  • The best use of this type of gate is in a wood-framed doorway, a hallway or you could use at the bottom of stairs.
  • Avoid mounting against a hollow wall as the tension mount pads could cause wall damage with too much pressure.
  • These gates are not designed to be mounted on the top of stairways - EVER!
  • Many parents don’t like the bottom bar on the floor because they are concerned about tripping over this bar when walking through the threshold.  The bar exists because it creates the tension between the two flat surfaces.  If you are concerned about a tripping hazard, look for gates with as low profile bar as possible or read the next section.




Hardware Mounted Gates - These are sometimes called stairway gates because they are the only option for use at the top of a staircase. They can be used for most other locations like the doorway and hallway or over extra-wide distances. We use one to block two rooms with an opening of over 90 inches.

As the name suggests – you will have to use hardware or screws to mount into a wall, doorway or banister to create a permanent fixture.

This type of installation is considered the very safest option to prevent the gate from toppling down if your child is a climber and the only option for the top of stairs.  

One structural element of these gates is there is no need for the bottom bar going across the floor. Please note, some tension mount gates offer the option to install with hardware mounting cups and these cups transform the tension mount into a hardware mounted gate.  Take note that even when using the mounting cups, you won’t get rid of the bottom bar on the floor. 

On the negative side, some people are not fans of fixed mount gates because they worry about drilling into their walls and wood and leaving holes after the gate is removed.

I have one word of advice: Spackle. Learn it. Love it. Live it.

Install tips for hardware mounted gates:

  • When installing at the top of stairs, make sure to fix the door to only swings away from the stairway space.
  • Baseboards can interfere with some gate installation kits so read the installation requirements before you purchase. We ran into this issue with our low baseboards in our older home. 
  • Never create a space larger than 3” after the gate is installed.  May people will raise the gate up off the ground trying to accommodate an ill-fitting mounting kit or trying to create a passageway for an indoor pet but steer away from this because any opening more than 3” wide can become a child entrapment hazard.
  • Use a level to see if you have any slope to your floors and walls. Make sure to consult with the gate manufacturer to understand if you need to change your installation approach – do not wing-it!
  • If you rent, using hardware mounted gate may not be an option per your lease agreement. Talk to your landlord to explain your safety needs and ask what your options are especially if you live with stairs.  Talk to other parents in your apartment building… Safety in numbers people.
  • Spackle really is Mother Nature's 8th wonder. As long as you have the same color wall touch up paint, it's like this whole baby proofing thing never... even... happened. Watch this quick spackle video tutorial and your world will be forever changed. For wood, here's a great video tutorial from This Old House on wood filler products.

No matter the gate installation type, always follow the installation manual provided by the manufacturer. The gate company may also have an installation video online which can be helpful if the manual is written with vague looking smiley faced people that can’t talk. 

If you still have questions, time to open a cold one… wait, on second thought, something is telling me drunk baby proofing is not a safe activity, scratch that.

Seriously, if you still have specific install questions it’s time to call the manufacturer’s customer service – don’t be shy. Believe me, those manufacturers don’t want you to be a MacGyver with their product either. 

Whew, we’re through it and hopefully, it wasn’t that bad. Baby gate installation is by far the most daunting of tasks on your baby proofing journey, but with a few tips and maybe a little Spackle you will be creating a safe space for your kiddo to explore and that’s worth the blood, sweat and tears, right? Hint: There is only one correct answer.

Want more gatetastic info? 

Read this post about the different styles of baby gates.

Read this post about why a baby gate is a fantastic way to keep your kiddo safe and sound.  

Make sure to let me know what you think: and I will personally respond within 24 hours!