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Evolving Gates
The Latest Improvements in the Industry

By Dr. Jacqueline A. Soule


Though motorized gate operation equipment has seen the most innovation in recent years, gate hardware and the materials used to build gates are being improved upon also.


Vehicle recognition technology for automatically opening gates includes advanced lasers to read barcodes on cars traveling up to 25 mph, and license plate-reading cameras. The decreasing costs of reliable facial recognition, fingerprint sensing and iris scanning technologies increase their potential as everyday gate-activation methods.

Any fence or wall around a property will need at least one gate to offer access to the property. Installing a gate opens a wide array of choices - and just what kind of gate depends on fence or wall materials and design, client safety, and the overall budget parameters. Gate technology continues to improve on many levels including types of materials used in the gate, the mechanisms that secure gates and allow opening and closing, and most importantly, gate operating devices. But before exploring all that, here is a review of the fundamentals.

Gate Basics
Gates can open with a swing, roll, slide, or vertical pivot, this last like guard arms in parking garages. Elegant vertical pivot gates are available, designed with a counter-balance and termed cantilever gates, these are gaining popularity for high end properties, especially in areas where snow can block other gate opening systems.

Along with gate options, gate terminology abounds. Depending on the space, there can be one or two gate panels that swing, roll, or slide - generating terms that include single slide or single action, versus dual slide and dual action. Special cases and security gates with triple action are available but are rarely required. In general, a single gate panel that swings or rolls is the least expensive option.

As for the opening/closing mechanisms, be they hinges or roll/slide/pivot hardware, and the securing mechanisms - these have the potential to be weak links in the fence system, and are subject to ongoing upgrades.

Electric locks are solenoid or electromagnetically operated. Solenoids open when the correct access code is received and the solenoid is given an electrical impulse to open. Electromagnetic locks stay closed until the correct code breaks the circuit and allows them to open. In both cases it is highly recommended to include a backup override option in case of power outage. In most cases, a mechanical metal key is included as a fail-safe opener when power fails.


With a standard inverter, any motorized gate equipment designed to operate on 110-volt house current, can be powered with solar technology, which now comes in 24-volt and 48-volt systems instead of the 12-volt systems of the past.


This gate is built with a wood composite material manufactured by Trex Company. It is stronger than vinyl, only a little heavier than wood but more dense, and as an engineered product, the installation process is straightforward and consistent.

Gate Innovations
Electric locks have been around for a long time, but they are constantly upgraded to use less power while improving tamper-proof locking security.

Gate opening intercom systems, which once relied on hardwired intercom lines or telephone landlines, now of course operate with cell phones. Some systems will ring as many as three telephone numbers to contact the owner when the entrant pushes the contact button. Commonly a cell phone app allows the owner to converse with the entrant, including both vocal and visual channels, and remotely key open the gate if desired. These systems are popular because the client does not need to be at home to open the gate for deliveries. To date, few instances of hacking cellular gate systems have been reported. Note that such cellular technology is fine in urban settings, but these systems are not optimal in locations with poor cellular coverage, requiring a satellite system instead.

Solar power options for gate latching and opening are improving. Years ago, 12 volt was the standard for solar systems, but today most systems are 24-volt or 48-volt. With a standard inverter, any motorized gate that runs on 110-volt house current can be operated with solar power, eliminating the expense of running power lines to the gate. Most such solar power systems can be paired with a cellular opening system. Note that solar latches require solenoid locks, the kind that require power only to open, as opposed to electromagnetic locks which draw current continuously.

In some applications, it is desirable to include technology that will prevent a gate from closing while a vehicle is traversing the opening. Miller Edge offers sensing edges that are used for gates as well as hundreds of other applications. In most cases such sensing edges are touch sensitive switches that send a signal to start, stop or reverse a motor, and possibly sound an alarm. There are also non-contact systems that operate with infrared sensors (think of the "eyes" that open supermarket doors). Both choices can be added to automotive gates.


Hardwired, gate-opening intercom systems have been replaced with cellular technology but in rural areas with limited cell phone coverage, satellite


More compact designs in hydraulic self-closing hinges, such as the Tiger by Locinox, allow them to be installed on smaller residential gates than before.



Reflective fence inserts from Pexco are designed for chain link gates, as well as fences, to alert vehicular traffic of their presence, especially at night. They can also be used to create directional clues for drivers by installing them diagonally in the shape of arrows (above).

Gate Innovations
In the "materials" category, wood composites (see page 22) are growing in popularity as a fencing product and can be used for gates also. They are stronger than vinyl, having been tested to withstand hurricane force winds, and designed to outlast wood and perform better.

Master Halco (

manufactures a patented, zinc-coated, galvanized steel post that can be used to augment wooden gates and gate posts. Called PostMaster, they strengthen the structures and speed up the building process: gates can even be built inline as opposed to on the ground.

One of the most advanced areas in gate innovations is in vehicle recognition. There are systems that use barcode readers to verify barcodes attached to authorized vehicles, and then activate the automatic gate opener. Advanced laser technology allows vehicles to approach at up to 25 mph, and ignores radio and static interference such as high-end window tints and xenon lights.

Other systems use a combination of cameras, software and access control hardware to grant entry to vehicles based on their license plates. And forthcoming is the use of facial recognition, fingerprint sensing and iris scanning as common gate-opening triggers.

If your company is facing a number of fence installations, the American Fence Association (AFA) offers programs to certify Automatic Gate Operator Designers and Automatic Gate Installers. Their overall goal is to offer consumers an additional layer of confidence when selecting a landscape contractor, while increasing the skill level of the workers in the field. Like so many things in landscape contracting, the selection of a gate and its latching and operating system is a circular process. The gate should match the fence or wall - and yet the type of gate desired may dictate what type of wall or fence is ultimately selected. The plethora of new possibilities in gate materials, hardware and operation technology allows you to offer a wider selection of fencing to clients.

As seen in LC/DBM magazine, January 2018.

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March 18, 2018, 12:26 am PDT

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Last Updated 03-15-18
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