Friday, November 10, 2006

Mind the Gaps: Babyproofing a railing & banister without breaking the bank

Our living room is bordered on one end by a banister and staircase opening to the lower level. This didn't seem like any big deal to the childless people we were when we bought this house, but our newer, more savvy selves were horrified when our baby began crawling and headed right for the banister (on his way to the family's collections of pointy and/or fragile things).

We priced Babies R Us's railing netting. It was expensive for the quality and had enough negative ratings to give us pause. It came in one color: white. It was fastened by strings- which baby Geek would either tug endlessly and/or eat. It seemed to be less-than-flexible in accommodating our staircase railing's odd angle.

As the DIYer parents we are, we sought alternatives. That took us to Anchor Industries' factory outlet: http://www.anchorinc.com/outletstore.html My dad is an engineer for Anchor, so he gets a sweet discount. They don't list their surplus awning skirts online, but they do indeed have them in the outlet.

Materials
As Anchor is the maker of custom tents and awnings, I knew I could find a world of grommets and fabrics with which to enclose our banister. I had no idea that answer was pre-made, masquerading as an "awning skirt."

This delightfully pre-grommeted and presewn weather-resistant fabric (great for outdoor porches and patios) is sturdy as well as cheap (about $2.50/YARD while the best prices on banister enclosures average around $2/FOOT). The fabric has grommets every foot along one straight side. The opposite side has a scalloped cut and small piping accent. It's quirky-stylish, or so we tell ourselves...

When measuring, it is critical to allow for surplus footage for each end of your barrier if you intend to either fasten the end to a wall or wrap the end around a rail or newel post. Another advantage of this material is that you can purchase it in LONG continuous lengths (most of the babyproofing supplies are in 5' or 15' foot lengths, so then you must figure out how to "stitch" the ends together in some type of effective overlap.

The material cuts well with household scissors, so we were able to closely shape it to our staircase. It is much less opaque than cloth or canvas, so you can see through it (though the photos may not convey this well). We didn't want to use a clear barrier less baby Geek think all open railings have invisible protective barriers.

Installation
IMPORTANT NOTE: when fastening the material to the banister remember to allow surplus on the ends if you intend to secure the material to a wall or wrap it around a rail/post.

Using 14" plastic zip ties (the best thing since duct tape), we fastened the top grommeted edge of the awning skirt along the railing's fat handrail. We chose to use the grommets at the top because the top fasteners will bear most of the strain when things press against the fabric. The grommets seemed least likely to stretch or tear over time. We left the upper zip ties a little loose until we installed all the zip ties and then pulled everything taut.

The opposite edge of the panel has a gentle scallop design which hung at the bottom. We cut tiny slits into the fabric at each rail and pulled zip ties through- locking them around the posts after pulling everything taut. Again, we used 14" zip ties, but hindsight reveals that a cheaper, much shorter length would have worked equally well.

Anchoring to Wall
At the end of the railing, we have the largest gap between rails. A standing toddler could quite easily slip through the 8 inch gap between the wall and the first rail (and anyone with a toddler knows they head straight for danger and/or destruction). Rather than overfeeding our toddler into captivity (skinny kids could always visit anyway), we anchored the end to the wall. We were going to install wall anchors, but found a stud directly below the point where the banister connected to the wall.

Jim drilled some pilot holes in a flat, skinny piece of hardwood, we rolled the wood in the surplus cloth. Jim used two washers- a very large plastic one and a smaller one in metal. The plastic washer helped prevent/hide the distortion of the skirt when subjected to the twisting of the power drill. Unfortunately, the plastic washer's opening was much larger than the head of our screws, so we added a tasty metal washer to keep the plastic one in place. I like the end effect, but I've always liked an exposed infastructure look, so who am I to judge style?

Securing to Newel Post
After crossing the living room and winding down the stairs, the other end of the barrier fabric terminates at the newel post. One this end I opted to wrap the post tightly and zip tie to connect. It's one thing to put holes in walls around here, but we try to minimize the drilling into woodwork for reasons both structural and aesthetic.

Time
The whole project would have taken about 1 hour and a half continuously if we hadn't procrastinated for weeks about drilling the pilot holes in the skinny board. But what fun is a project that doesn't drag on and on?

Tools
Household scissors, power drill, and preferably two people (helpful in simultaneously securing and pulling taut; plus it's hard to argue methods alone)

Materials
* Skinny piece of wood (1" x 2"; length was equal to the distance between the banister handrail and our wooden floor trim)

* Zip ties (our fat handrail needed a surprising 14" tie, our skinny posts could easily have taken a shorter/cheaper length). Sold locally in bags of white, black, assorted NEON, and other colors.

* Little stuff/choking hazards: screws, plastic & metal washers

* Awning skirt- preferably in one continuous length. I know, you're thinking, where will I buy awning skirt? Because you are so nice, I will gladly share my source with you (though you can have neither my father nor his discount): 1 (800) 575- 2698 (M to F: 8 -4:30, CST).

Anchor Industries is a family-owned business with an exceptionally friendly staff. I'm sure a kind caller with a credit card could attain a nice length of awning skirt by mail. They have a variety of colors (including a very luxury cruiseliner baby blue with navy and white running stripes) though the availability changes frequently.

The end effect of the barrier is slightly nautical (somewhat like our solution for babyproofing bi-fold doors).

The only question we have now is what name to paint on the life ring we're going to hang on the finished railing: Pequod? Edmund Fitzgerald? Love Boat? Ship of Fools? So many choices.

17 comments:

Erin said...

Are your rails further apart than the slats on your baby's crib? I was wondering about our very-similar situation (rails/balcony overlooking livingroom) but found that the builder had to conform to the industry standard (or whatever it is called) and that the distance between the rails are no more than 2 3/8 inches apart - which is the same for cribs.

I suppose your openings could be bigger if the house was built before the instituted standards or something...?

Jim Jones said...

Hi, Erin-

Thanks for reading.

Our house was built in 1979 and the railing's spindles are definitely wide enough to let a child through in some places (where it meets the wall, for instance). Other places a determined toddler might just get his head stuck.

Even if they weren't, one other reason for our babyproofing measure was to limit the amount of dropping access to our delicate porcelain tiles below.

Jim

Mieke said...

Excellent idea, and good write-up.

Jennifer said...

Hi, it's been awhile and it seems Anchor doesn't have the awning skirt on their site anymore. At least I can't find it. Do you have any suggestions? I really like your solution.
Jennifer

adrienne said...

Hi Jennifer-

As far as I know, Anchor's never had the awning skirt available through their web site (the inventory fluctuates too much, I think). You can call their outlet store during normal business hours CDT (closed holidays) and get great customer service.

Anonymous said...

What a great idea! I am going to try this in my house, I have alot of banister length to cover in my second floor (of a contemporary home built in '77). did you have to cut the skirt horizontally (was it tall enough for your banisters)?

adrienne said...

anonymous:
Our house was built in '78, so we may have very similar railings.

The awning skirt comes in a variety of lengths. We chose one that left a 4 inch gap at the bottom. At the time I shopped for it, I could have bought longer skirting and cut it to fit fully. I just liked the look of the bound edge.

The gap now leaves an opportunity for our 3 year to send little cars and other toys careening off the ledge, so consider yourself duly warned.

Anonymous said...

What about the top of the railing? I have a phobia of the kids climbing on something near the railing overlooking the basement and falling right over the top to the basement below. Help!

adrienne said...

anon:

We moved our furniture away from the railing, and we kept Ranger clear of that margin for the most part.

He could retrieve a toy that rolled over there, but he wasn't allowed to play there or lean on it.

This is a standard rail height (at our house), so I decided that we'd do best to teach Ranger about safety rails as soon as he was mobile.

If the opening gives you nightmares, you might call a carpenter and see if they have any ideas, but it will probably cost quite a bit and be a permanent or semi-permanent installation.

ljonas said...

Where can I find the pre-grommeted and presewn weather-resistant fabric? I want to use around the "landing" at the lake's edge at my home.

Jim said...

You can call the phone number for the outlet and they can probably hook you up.

1(800)575-2698
(M to F: 8 - 4:30, CST)

tdkos said...

I think this is an awesome idea, however I am running into some difficulty with ordering. It seems that when I call the number you have provided I usually get routed to a sales rep who will provide me with a local dealer's number. Usually noone knows what an awning skirt is. the closest I have come is something that costs $18/yard. Is there any other info that you could provide that might help me to get closer to what I want? Any info you can provide would be helpful. Thanks

adrienne said...

tdkos:

Ask for the outlet store. They'll be able to get you squared away.

tdkos said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
adrienne said...

tdkos:

It sounds like they're routing you through the main office. The awning skirting you want is a remnant from the outlet store.

The remnants run a lot less per yard (around $3 last time I checked).

Aaron said...

Hey, just an FYI - called the factory outlet of Anchor and they said that they no longer carry these awning skirts.

Oh well.

adrienne said...

Aaron,

Thanks for the heads up. I'll try to go visit and see if they have a comparable replacement.

a