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Backyard Playsets

The number one concern when selecting a backyard playset is safety, second is durability, third is fun and finally appearance. Wooden playsets, made of cedar, redwood, cypress or pressure-treated pine, are the most popular option because they are affordable and easy to assemble. However, some parents prefer vinyl playground equipment, which get their strength from steel or wood inserts, because they are low-maintenance. Others opt for metal playsets, made of powder coated steel, for their strength and durability.

Wooden Playsets

Pros Cons
Affordable Will require maintenance
Easy installation May cause splinters
Attractive Wood treated with potentially harmful chemicals

Vinyl Playsets

Pros Cons
Not hot to the touch May become discolored in sun
No splinters Has a plastic look
Low-maintenance May crack or warp

Metal Playsets

Pros Cons
Very strong May rust
Low-maintenance Becomes hot in the sun
No splinters Slippery when wet

No matter the material, swing sets will need annual upkeep. Wooden playsets need sanding, especially in areas where kids will come into contact with the wood and could get splinters, while metal playsets need tightening so that they will remain sturdy and safe.

Playset Feature Options Depending on the age of your children, how much space you have available and your allotted budget you can get a simple swing set or a fully loaded playset complete with a spiral slide, lookout tower with telescope, rock climbing wall, monkey bars and more. Many manufacturers offer a variety of playset combinations or even customization options.

Most basic playsets include the following:

  • Two swings
  • A slide
  • A ladder
  • A covered platform or clubhouse

Other playset options: A rock climbing wall, a rope ladder, monkey bars, a fireman's pole, a tire swing, or a trapeze bar. Check with playset manufacturers for more features.

Ground Cover Options for a Playset The ground around a playset must be covered with a material that will provide safe landings. Check with a landscaping professional on how deep the material needs to be for safe impact. Be sure that the ground cover extends at least 3-5 feet past the end of slides.

Factors to consider when selecting flooring for your home playground include how it will feel on bare feet, the cost of the material, its appearance and colors, its environmental impact, if it can be tracked around the yard and into your home, if it will absorb heat and finally, how durable it will be under running and jumping feet.

Surface options for playsets:

  • Play sand
  • Rubberized mulch
  • Grass
  • No-splinter mulch/bark
  • Pea gravel

Garden artisan and designer Scott Cohen prefers non-grass surfaces for under a play structure, such as a no-splinter mulch or play sand. "A playset on grass will get wet from the sprinklers needed to keep the lawn alive, which could cause wood rot or rusting metal," he says.

Warning: Some types of sand may contain substances that could be harmful for your children, while some types of mulch (especially cocoa mulch) can be very toxic for dogs. Check labels and contact manufacturers before installing your play area ground cover.

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