GATES AND FENCES
One of the last projects for a new home or an upgrade to your existing home will be fences and gates. If you have a swimming pool, you must have it fenced and gated in such a way as to prevent children from getting to the pool. These requirements are spelled out very specifically in most communities. The height of the fence and requirements for access to the pool through a gate other than through the house must be observed. Check with your pool contractor, fire marshal, and insurance company to insure that you meet all requirements.
Prior planning for fences and gates will pay dividends for new construction. Gates and fences require a substantial number of holes anywhere from 2 feet to 6 feet in depth. If you plan now to pay particular attention to where underground wires, pipes, telephone service, sprinkler systems and utilities reside on your lot, you can insure that your fence contractor does not cause damage to them when he starts digging.
Fencing comes today in a vast array of sizes, shapes, colors, textures, and materials. The purpose of the fence will narrow the choices somewhat. Your budget for a fence may narrow it further. The most familiar fence in many neighborhoods is the wooden privacy fence. It is inexpensive by comparison and it affords total privacy; hence the name. These fences are not for a lifetime. They will last anywhere from 5 to 10 years and will deteriorate with age. Wood changes shape with the weather, which causes wooden gates to sag and bind and loosen, so some maintenance is needed. Needless to say pressure treated posts are a must.
Vinyl fencing is rapidly overtaking the wooden privacy fence. It offers the same in privacy with greatly enhanced appearance over time. Products are developing rapidly so you must do your research to determine which products have a history of holding up. A good warranty is valuable here as the sun can destroy a vinyl fence if not manufactured properly.
Chain link fencing with privacy inserts has some excellent looking products today. This is excellent for a dog run, as it will hold up to an active dog without looking abused. This is the most popular commercial type fence without the privacy insert and may be of interest to you if you have some acreage that you want fenced.
If privacy is not the purpose but rather to keep unwanted animals, children, and neighbors off of your property, then a picket style fence will be in order. Wood, vinyl, iron and aluminum will be your likely choices. Iron will rust if not maintained. Aluminum will be the most expensive. It will not rust but will not stand up to a lot of physical abuse from kids or animals.
You will have several choices to make regarding the top of the fence. Anything from barbed wire or spiked protruding pickets to a smooth top rail. You will also need to choose the top cap for the posts. You must decide the height of the fence. Usually 5 or 6 foot is appropriate depending upon your purpose. The last thing to consider regarding pickets is their size and spacing. You must check to see what restrictions your city or community may have in this regard.
The City of Houston requires a maximum spacing of 4 inches between pickets if you have a pool. I have a very upset friend who had a beautiful fence installed only to find out that the 6-½ inch picket spacing did not meet city code. The fence dealer failed to point this out to him when he selected the fence. In all fairness, the dealer may not have known that this property was actually under the Houston City code. Make sure you know before you choose.
Consider using a combination of fencing and plants to create a barrier. You may be able to use lesser expensive, even shorter fence, combined with some shrubs that may give the appearance of no official fence at all.
So much for the fence, now let’s discuss gates. After all, what good is a fence without a gate? Well, on occasion a gate does not need a fence to go with it and vice versa, but that would be the exception rather than the rule.
First let’s consider a swinging gate. Do not try to swing a gate uphill. Insure a level grade so that the distance under the gate remains constant (usually 2 to 4 inches). Keep this in mind when your driveway is prepared. Swinging gates should open inward away from traffic on the outside of the property. Many times the driveway begins an immediate upward slope. If you plan on adding gates later make sure you have a level area for the gates to traverse.
It is a good idea to consider setting the gate posts before the driveway concrete is poured. Then have the gate posts formed up with the driveway and poured at the same time. This will present a very professional look to your gates. This could be a problem and will require coordination if the builder is not responsible for the gate posts but is responsible for the driveway. If you can be sure to put at least two three inch conduits under the driveway at the gate post area even if you never intend to automate the gate. Just do it and thank me later.
If you will be using columns, resist the temptation to have the gates hung from the column. Actually they hang from steel brackets that are welded to a post that is inside of the column. It is better to allow the column to have its own integrity without the intrusion of a gate support. Use a steel gate post external to the column, preferably aligned with the inside (backside) of the column. This will simplify the installation of the gate, will allow for a gate operator in the future that will not disturb the column, and will prevent the gate from swinging into the column if opened too far. If you must have the gate centered on the column, the use of the external gate post will not degrade the appearance. In my opinion it enhances both the gate and the column. If a repair is needed to the gate it can be done without having to disturb the column.
Do not have a sliding gate on a grade that is not level. Plan for this now when the driveway is prepared. A channel or pocket may need to be created for the gate to slide over when in the full open position. Be sure to plan on this and have it done when the lot is graded in preparation for the slab and driveway. Do not forget to consider drainage. Keep your gate out of standing water.
When deciding whether to use a swinging gate or a sliding gate two primary restrictions apply. First, if you do not have room to slide the gate open without crossing your property line or running the gate into an uphill grade, a tree, a utility device, mailbox, etc. then you will be forced to use a swinging gate. Second, if you have small children or pets that may come in contact with the gate, do not use a sliding gate. It is just too easy for someone to get hurt. It can be a rolling guillotine. Do not allow an opening over 2 1/4 inches anywhere on a sliding gate below 48 inches above ground level. This is crucial for automatic gates, but is a good safety rule for any sliding gate. Don’t give a child an opportunity to stick his head through the gate.
While safer, the swinging gate must have room to swing open without striking a car parked inside. A swinging gate will usually need a lock to secure it even if a gate operator is used. The leverage that can be exerted at the end of the gate, or between two gates that join in the middle, will cause the gate to flex and allow someone to squeeze through.
Keep in mind that the longer the swinging gate leaf the greater the stress on the gate post. It is much better to have two nine foot leaves that meet in the middle, than one eighteen-foot gate leaf that requires extraordinary hinges and a post to support it. As a general rule, do not try to swing a gate leaf larger than fourteen feet. Twelve feet is better.
The swinging gate is safer while the sliding gate is more secure.
Automatic gate installation is not as simple as installing a garage door opener. Many do it yourself types think that it should be and figure that they should be able to handle it themselves. This is one of those projects that when you are done you will probably wish you had hired a professional to do it right the first time. Even the professionals struggle to get it right.
So what’s the big deal? First review the previous chapter on fencing and gates. Selecting the appropriate gate operator to match your gate just based upon the material it is made from requires some thought. Add to that the weight of the gate, the size of the gate, the peak number of cycles per hour, the weather conditions in which it must function, the power required to run the gate, the method of opening the gate, the method of closing the gate, the safety devices you should have and the ones you must have, where you want the operator located, what you would like it to look like, and a host of other questions which means that you had better be talking with someone who knows this highly specialized business inside and out. This person will not be your homebuilder.
Some people think that if they have a gate that is hard to move because it is heavy or the hinges are stiff that adding a gate operator would be a good solution. In fact the opposite is the case. A gate operator must have a freely moving gate with quality hinges or rollers to start with or you will have problems. Gate operators are designed today to sense when an obstruction is causing the gate to resist movement. When this occurs the operator will either stop, or reverse, or shut down entirely in an effort to keep from hurting someone. This is like a garage door that will reverse hopefully before it damages you or your car. You will note that today all garage doors with openers must have photo beams to auto-reverse upon contact. Gate operators at this time are not required to have the same level of safety devices. As a consequence many do not.
Ideally the gate will change direction before coming in contact with you or your car. This requires photo beams and / or metal detection loops in the pavement. A gate is actually a moving vehicle without a driver. Think about it. Every year children and adults are injured and sometimes killed by a moving gate. Even if you want to do it yourself, consult with a professional first. We are very willing to help in every aspect at Gates in Motion, Inc.
Not only is choosing an operator for your application involved, installing it requires a multi-talented and equipped individual who can weld, pour concrete, dig holes, run wiring, make electrical connections properly, read instructions, and program on board computers that control the gate operator. Most injuries from gate operators actually occur to the men who install or service them because of the electrical, mechanical, and even hydraulic systems that must be dealt with in each case.
I don’t mean to scare you completely away from using these wonderful devices. I do want to impress upon you the importance of dealing with someone who knows this business well from the beginning. I think you can see that a great deal of planning needs to take place to accommodate a gate operator system. It needs to be planned from the beginning just like the rest of the house. Gate operators should have their own dedicated circuit and they will need those conduits under the driveway.
How you will open the gate, usually by a remote control like your garage door, and how you will close the gate, either by remote or automatically, are questions that must be answered both for going in and for going out. The same questions must be answered for anyone else you expect to be able to have access to your property through the gate; for example, your kids, relatives, friends, delivery persons, maintenance persons, utility reader persons, emergency personal and so on. This usually will require a telephone entry / intercom device, keypad, and / or an emergency access device. A host of questions go with this topic. Be sure to consider the garage door opener transmitter. You may be able to get one transmitter with multiple buttons to open your garage door, your gate, and the gate to your gated community if you plan it from the beginning.
A gate operator is a delight to own when working properly. But what do you do when the power fails or the operator fails to open or close the gate? More questions with solutions but the answers will vary depending upon your desires and budget. Be sure you can easily operate the gate manually when necessary.
One parting tip, ask for a U.L. 325 listed gate operator. These meet more stringent safety measures. Some operators are not listed but are still very reliable and safe. Your gate operator professional will be able to explain which is which. Pricing can vary considerably here depending upon the system you design. Expect to pay at least $1,500.00 for a bare bones operator system. You could easily pay two to ten times that for a more sophisticated system.
Call us for service on gates and related items such as telephone entry systems & remote controls if you live near Houston, Kingwood, Summerwood or Humble, TX.