I’ve lived in several apartments complexes in my life. The advertisements for these apartments often boast that the complexes are gated communities. In my experience, this has been mostly an empty boast. The gates of these complexes often ended up broken and were usually left standing open. This led to some very beloved cars being stolen right out of the parking lots of three separate apartment complexes, and some understandably dire reviews of the complexes online by those cars’ owners.
As a car enthusiast, I can understand their pain. In most cases, they had rented the apartments with the belief that a gated community would provide some protection for their treasured vehicles. But because those gates were broken, the thieves simply pulled up with a flatbed truck and stole them right out of the lot. Why was it such a challenge for these apartments to keep their gates in good repair? I asked this question and the answer was the budget. The gates had broken so many times that there was no money left in the fund for repair. They were waiting for corporate to authorize funds and negotiating with the installer about the warranty. This is one hazard of buying bargain-priced gates and fencing for a residential development. Instead, paying a little extra for custom made steel gates will save you money over the long-term in repairs.
The Basics of Driveway Gates for Residential and Commercial Properties
A gate needs to fulfill a few basic functions, and it needs to do so well. Most importantly, it needs to keep people who aren’t supposed to be on a property out. At the same time, a gate needs to make it convenient for people who belong on that property to get through. And in order to perform its role, the gate needs to be built well enough that opening and closing the gate doesn’t damage it. Believe it or not, that last one is the part a lot of properties have trouble with. Usually, it’s because they’ve tried to save money with a cheap gate.
There are two basic styles of driveway gates:
The first is a wrought iron-look gate made of either steel or aluminum. Usually, these open by swinging, but sometimes they use a slide action. Of the two materials, aluminum is lighter, and moving it causes less strain to the motors and the gate itself. Steel, on the other hand, is better able to resist the impact of a two-ton vehicle hitting it, which is likely to happen fairly often at low speeds.
The second style of gate is a purely functional chain link fence that usually opens and closes by sliding on a track parallel to the fence. This version of a security gate is used mostly on commercial and industrial properties, and even there it is being replaced by more attractive fencing that looks like wrought iron. That’s because a wrought iron-look gate made from steel is much better at securing premises than its chain link competitors.
Where Budget Gates Go Wrong, and Why
Driveway gates at the lower end of the price scale are mass produced in standardized widths with attachment points that are almost in the right place. This tends to result in some improvisation when these gates are installed, and that is a source of constant strain on the gate and hardware. It doesn’t help that these gates are shipped disassembled and then assembled onsite. While this saves money on shipping, it results in some serious issues.
When a gate is bolted together instead of welded, each part is moving as an individual piece. That’s why these gates rattle and wobble as they open and close: the individual pieces are starting and stopping at slightly different times. Bolts are also subject to shearing forces as each individual piece lurches into motion, and they’re subject to these forces again when they stop. This adds up to a lot of strain on each bolt over time, and often means that the bolts end up shearing through.
Welding mitigates a lot of these problems. A weld fuses two pieces together into a single piece of metal over a greater area. A weld is usually a few inches long compared to a bolt’s fraction of an inch. What this means is that welds are vastly stronger than bolts and distribute forces much better. Proof of this is the fact that after a bolted-together gate has broken enough times someone will often come in to weld the whole thing. This does make the gate substantially stronger, but welding in the field has drawbacks:
- Welds are vulnerable to corrosion since welding burns through the paint and the galvanization beneath it. While primers and paints are available that are meant to replace these coatings, they are inferior to what comes from the factory.
- Contamination of the welds is an issue. What this means is that the zinc originally used to galvanize the steel and hydrogen or carbon from the paint can mix with the weld and weaken it.
- It’s only possible to weld the gate’s pickets from one side on gates in which the pickets are attached to the side of the rails. This leaves them vulnerable to being broken off even after welding.
These are fundamental issues with the design of inexpensive gates, and they can’t ever be fully fixed by modification. That leaves the purchaser paying for repairs over and over.
What Makes Custom Made Steel Gates Better
The first and most obvious advantage of a custom gate is that it looks better. This isn’t solely an aesthetic improvement, either. Pickets centered and running through the rails have a neater appearance, but they also make for a sturdier gate. That’s because they can be welded on multiple sides so they will hold against force coming from any direction. Since they can distribute forces, this creates less stress on any potential point of failure. Placing the majority of the gate’s weight in the center, rather than to one side, also puts less stress on the motor.
All of these factors mean that a custom steel gate lasts longer with fewer repairs than budget versions. And since it remains in use, instead of sitting open waiting for repairs, it does a better job of securing property. While a custom made steel gate costs more upfront because it has to be made by skilled tradesmen and shipped in one piece, the purchaser is likely to make their money back in savings on repair very shortly. This is especially true if the gate is intended for a large multi-family residence whose tenants are notoriously hard on their properties. Ordering a custom steel gate from the same manufacturer as the fencing surrounding the property will save hassle, as long as the manufacturer makes a high-quality product.
Fortress Fence is one such manufacturer. Fortress Fence’s Classic, V2, and Titan lines are high-performance fences that are easy to install around commercial and large residential properties, and their Versai fence does the same for private homes. Fortress will create a custom gate for any of these fence lines that’s as simple or ornate as desired, and that withstands abuse by people as well as the elements. Fortress Fence is part of the Fortress Building Products family, which sells other high-quality, carefully engineered products such as railing and bamboo-based composite decking.