How to buy and build childproof fences and gates, including step-by-step instructions for a temporary child-safe fence.
Because the early years require setting physical boundaries for your child’s protection, fences and gates offer a real measure of security and peace of mind—though they are never a substitute for your attentiveness.
For a toddler or small child, a fence that’s 4 to 4 1/2 feet high is adequate. Choose fencing with no toeholds in posts, frame, rails, or mesh to allow climbing.
Besides being high enough and unclimbable, a protective fence for young children should allow some visibility. Choose wire mesh rather than solid boards, particularly if fencing a pool area.
Keep outdoor furniture, garbage cans, and anything a child might use as a ladder away from the fence. Check along the fence occasionally for any protruding nails, wire ends, or splinters.
A child-safe gate should swing freely and close securely. To guard against someone forgetting to close the gate, attach self-closing hinges or a gate spring. Also install self-latching gate hardware. Most of these come with a padlock eye for added security when the gate gives access to a dangerous area such as a garden work center or a swimming pool.
If you have a family dog, periodically check along the fence to see if digging or burrowing has left a depression large enough for your child to crawl through.
If your budget doesn’t call for a professionally installed permanent fence, here’s an easy way to build a temporary fence of welded wire mesh and steel posts to turn your front yard or backyard into a safe play area. The fence goes up fast and easily, yet with sturdy results. Its mesh lets you see your children at play. The project is relatively low in cost, and the fence is easy to disassemble when the kids no longer need it.
You’ll need welded, vinyl-coated wire mesh fencing in which a child can’t get a toehold. For a safe play yard, choose 4-foot-wide fencing with 5-foot companion steel posts.
Planning the fence:
Plan for enough fencing to stretch the length of each run or each straight side of the play area. You’ll also need one post for the end of each run, plus enough posts to place at intervals of 5 feet or less in between.
In place of a gate, you can simply hook the mesh to a wooden post at a 4-foot 2 by 4 attached vertically to the house wall. Near the top, bottom, and center of the edge facing away from the play yard, screw in 2-by-3/16-inch screw hooks.
Below are instructions for putting up one run of fencing. To fence in the entire play yard, simply repeat the steps for the remaining runs.
1Nail the fence to a sturdy wood post attached to the house framing will provide the strongest attachment. However, if the layout of your house and yard won’t permit this kind of anchoring, position the first metal post, facing the wire-holding prongs toward the play yard interior, and drive it 12 inches into the soil, using a sledgehammer. Check the post occasionally with a level for plumb.
2Drive another post into the soil at the run’s opposite end. To establish a straight line for the intermediate posts, tightly stretch twine between the two posts and tie firmly. Plan to add intermediate posts at evenly spaced intervals of 5 feet or less.
3Drive the additional posts 12 inches into the ground, measuring from the first post. Align them with the twine and keep them plumb.
4Drive another post at a right angle to the end post of the previous run to strengthen the corner.
5Unroll the wire fencing on the ground on the inside of the posts, and flatten it out. With a helper, lift one end of the mesh to one of the corner posts and hook it onto the wire-holding prongs (or nail one end to a house corner). If necessary, slightly bend out the prongs with a screwdriver. To hook the mesh onto the bottom prongs, which are turned downward, you may have to bend the mesh slightly.
6Pull the mesh tight, and then hook it onto the next post. Continue along the entire run. At the last post, cut off the excess with wire cutters and snip off any protruding wires.
7Bind together any paired corner posts with wire, and snip off the protruding ends.
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