DEAR MIKE: I have a metal gate on the side of my house that I would like to close by itself. Over the weekend I found my son trying to escape after I opened the gate to move some items into my back yard. Do I need to replace the gate to accomplish this? -- Calvin L.
DEAR CALVIN: It's a good idea to make your gate self-closing, especially with small kids. If you have a swimming pool, it is a code requirement. The code isn't meant to keep kids inside, but rather to keep them out by making sure the gate closes after somebody passes through it.
You certainly don't need to replace the gate to make it self-closing. All you need to do is buy a gate spring, mount it to the gate's hinged side and the frame, then place the spring under torque.
Your metal gate's hinges will be attached to the opening in the wall, which may be wrought-iron or block. The spring is attached using only four screws.
Springs come in varying lengths and colors, but they all attach the same way. Usually, the package contains screws sufficient for mounting the spring to wood.
Since your gate is metal, you will need to buy some self-tapping screws. This type of screw has a sharp cutting edge on its tip so that it cuts its own hole while it screws into the metal.
The spring will have one of its ends stamped with the word "top." The spring should be mounted such that the top is mounted to the upper right and as vertical as possible. This will apply regardless of whether the gate is hinged on the left side or the right side.
If the gate is hinged on the left-hand side, the bottom of the spring will mount to the frame and the top will mount to the gate. If the gate is hinged on the right-hand side, the bottom of the hinge will mount to the gate and the top will mount to the frame.
Follow the same rule for a gate mounted directly to a block wall. The spring should lie in the same plane as the gate.
If you mount the bottom of the spring into a block wall, you can drill a hole into the block and use concrete anchors.
I think the easiest way, however, is to use a product called Tapcon anchors. Simply mark where the holes should be on the block and use a concrete drill bit to bore the correct diameter hole into the block (Tapcon also sells bits that correspond to the anchors). After the hole is drilled, it's a matter of simply screwing in the anchor.
Once the spring is mounted, you will need to place it under torque. The top of the spring will be hexagonal so that you can grab it with a wrench. Turn the top of the spring clockwise and lock it in place.
The spring will come with either a pin or a flat "stop" used to wedge in between the top and the bracket. This will keep constant torque on the spring. Open the gate and let it go to see if it will latch.
If there isn't enough torque for it to latch, give the top of the spring another turn or two. If the gate will close and latch when opened only to a 45-degree angle, your job is done.