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If you’re thinking about new automatic gates or you want existing gates automated, one of your biggest decisions concerns the choice of gate engineer. Do you go for the cheapest option? Do you pick the engineer who is available the soonest? Or do you go for the gate installer who shows you the gate designs you like the most? Then do you trust the one who says you only need one set of photocells or the one who recommends rams rather than undergrounds?
There are loads of guides and useful tips in our blog, so you can find lots of answers for lots of your questions about gate automation and aluminium gates. But here are some guidelines specifically aimed at helping you choose the right gate engineer for your project.
Any good gate engineer hired to automate existing gates or install and automate new gates will carry out a site survey and safety audit before they do anything else. This will cover how and by whom the gate will be used and how frequently. It will also review the location of the gates as far as slopes, water table and exposure to wind are concerned.
All these factors affect what types of gate automation can be used and what type of gate and gate automation can be installed.
If your driveway slopes upwards as you enter the property, swing gates will open inwards onto the rise of the drive and ground themselves. You could have outward opening swing gates but is there room on your property for them to open outwards without moving onto public pavements and even the road?
The options here include special hinges that tilt the gate upwards as they open, or you could have the gates mounted higher on their posts than usual so that they don’t hit the driveway as they open. But this leaves a large gap under your gates which never looks right, It also doesn’t stop anyone crawling under the gates to get onto your property.
You could have a sliding gate instead, but it’s also a bad idea to use sliding gates if your driveway slopes across its entrance. This means that the load on the gate motors changes as the gate slides downhill or uphill.
If your gates are on low ground, a high water table may prevent rainwater draining away from underground motors even if they’re installed with appropriate drainage pits.
If gates are installed in exposed, windy areas, fully boarded (no gaps) gates will act like sails in the wind. This either means that gate motors struggle to move the gates against the resistance of the wind or they treat strong winds like obstacles and back off, so the gates never fully open or close. In these situations, increasing the force applied by the motors overcomes this problem but creates dangerous gates that could crush someone.
The viable options a good engineer will come up with include installing a sliding gate instead or using swing gates with spaces (open boarded) to allow wind to pass through the gaps.
Space for gates to move into needs to be considered as swing gates open through an arc equal to each gate’s width and sliding gates need space longer than their length to slide into. Any static obstacles such as walls, trees, the house or steps in the area proposed gates will move through prevent those gates from being installed. Cars have to be parked clear of the same area and the family should be educated about moving gates and what to do and what not to do.
A good gate installer will know all this and talk you through options and alternatives if there are limiting factors affecting your initial choices.
This brings us on to how the gates will be used. In many homes, automatic gates are used a few times each morning as the family leaves for work and school at different times, and then later that day when they all return home. Often, accommodation needs to be made for deliveries during the day, but the gates may not be used most days outside early morning and evening.
Commercial, educational and retail environments may use gates much more frequently and different motors capable of dealing with a higher usage cycle would be specified by a qualified gate installer.
For most homeowners however, gates are not heavy wrought iron or solid, thick hardwood gates and usage cycles are low. A good installer’s choice of lower power motors will reflect this. However, they should also warn you that incorrectly used automatic gates can still be dangerous.
Consequently, while they should carry out a safety audit to identify and eliminate possible danger areas in their gate automation system design, competent gate engineers will also provide education for the new owners about how to use their automatic gates correctly.
Part of the use of automated gates involves how access through the gates is controlled. There are usually five places that this can happen depending on who wants to gain access and who grants it.
Firstly, anyone who lives in the property who may need to operate the automatic gates should have a remote transmitter that opens and closes the gates at the touch of a button. As these are small enough to be carried in pockets or handbags, these are mobile gate controls.
Secondly, modern GSM access control systems allow apps on smartphones to control gate operation. With cameras in entry-phone systems, they even allow you to see on your phone who is at your gates requesting access. They can also do this from anywhere in the world where you have a mobile phone signal.
Thirdly, the first fixed gate controllers are located outside the gates and can include an entry-phone or call button for visitors to communicate with corresponding receiver handsets or buzzers or bells inside the property. There may also be a numerical keypad which allows anyone with a legitimate access code to open the gates by punching it in on the keypad.
The forth location is fixed inside the house and is the receiver component of the communication system from outside the gates. It may include video if cameras are included outside the gates, and handsets for speaking to visitors can be cordless.
The final possible location for standard access control system components is just inside the gates. This is where an egress button can be included for anyone leaving the property on foot to press to open the gates. However, a safety-conscious gate installer will know that these must not be accessible from outside the gates. There are obvious security but also considerable safety risks if anyone can reach through the gap between the gate and the post or pillar to access this release button.
If the gate starts to operate, the space between the gate and post or pillar closes up and can trap an arm reaching through this gap. At this point, nearest the hinges, the force of the gate motors is strongest and can cause considerable damage.
If the location of your gates is some way from your house or sightlines are blocked by trees etc, access control systems with video are invaluable for letting you see as well as hear who is at your gates. But however far gates are from your home, your gate engineer has to get power to them. This can involve digging trenches and laying armoured cables.
There are also various elements of many automated gate systems that require power. Loop detectors are buried in the driveway to detect cars. Photocells are mounted inside and outside the gates on either side of the drive to prevent moving gates from hitting anything in their path.
So, a good gate installer is either qualified to work with electricity or uses a sub-contractor to do this for them. But a good gate installer may also have to build brick gate piers, weld motor brackets to iron gates, wire multiple control elements into a main control board, hang large gates accurately, align underground gate motors with gate hinges and many more varied tasks.
It may look simple when it’s finished and working, but the design, build, testing and commissioning of a reliable, safe and stylish gate automation system is not something many people are qualified to do.
As well as being experienced in the many different aspects of gate automation installation, the gate engineer you want is also capable of advising on gate materials and designs.
There is a wide range of styles and gates can be made of aluminium, iron or steel, various types of wood, a combination of any of these materials, and even PVC.
Sliding gates can be made to look like two swing gates, and it’s even possible to have sliding gates that are counterbalanced. These cantilever sliding gates don’t need a track across the driveway entrance to roll along as they open and close.
In limited spaces, the leaves of bi-fold swing gates fold in half as they open so they don’t need as much room to open.
Sliding gates are usually single but can be installed as two gates that slide apart from the middle.
A good gate installer will be able to advise on gate designs that compliment your home, provide options when there are limiting factors, and advise on choice of gate materials depending on the look required and maintenance requirements.
Another reason for carefully choosing your gate automation installer concerns their ability to look after your new automatic gates.
Regular maintenance will help keep breakdowns to a minimum, but they can still happen. So, you need to know that your installer is close enough to get you quickly for an emergency repair call out just in case.
They should be able to offer you the manufacturer’s warranty on all components of any gate automation system and may also provide their own guarantees on the quality of their installation work.
OK, time to address the elephant in the room; price. Gate automation systems varies in price from ones that use rams and are easier to install, all the way up to hydraulic underground systems that require accurate and labour-intensive installation. As with many services, the costs of installation vary according to your location. However, using a cheaper company that is a long way from you may end up costing more in the long term.
Soft-wood gates may be cheaper than hardwood gates, but they will rot faster, and even hardwood gates will eventually deteriorate. Aluminium gates look remarkably like wooden gates and suffer from none of the effects of weathering and decay. They don’t split, shrink or expand, or rot like wood does and they are priced similarly to hardwood gates.
An underground gate automation kit and additional safety elements, access control system with video and wireless communication, aluminium gates and all the construction work for drainage, and building brick piers will be expensive. But even a simple set up with rams and softwood gates hung on existing posts won’t be cheap.
So, because gates can be dangerous if designed, installed and used badly, it’s wise not to cut corners. Because softwood gates show signs of weathering so quickly it’s best to pay more for hardwood or aluminium. And because a bad installation will cost you more in maintenance and breakdowns, it’s best to get it right first time.
One of the first things visitors to your home see are the gates across your driveway. If these are rotten, hanging off their hinges and covered in algae, you’re not creating a great first impression.
A smart, stylish smoothly operating gate automation system that opens and closes stylish, rot-free gates does a much better job. They will give you a degree of additional security and keep young children and pets safely inside closed gates. And you won’t have to get out of your car or walk to your gates from your home to open and close them manually.
So why would you cut corners? An experienced installer will give you gates that are safe, reliable, simple to use, stylish and create a great first impression.
At Linkcare we work with many gate automation installers all over the country and can recommend someone near you if you need our help. Call us on 01895 232 626 to find out more.