Are you a parent looking for something to keep the kids busy while everyone is at home avoiding groups and gatherings? It is unprecedented times as the country addressees the coronavirus pandemic. Restaurants, bars, business, schools, daycare, malls, theaters, and even public parks and playgrounds are closed until further notice to minimize the potential to spread the illness. The upcoming days, weeks and months of families being asked to shelter-in-place means parents need ways to keep children entertained and active. For years, backyard wooden playsets and structures have been a great option! Buying the right playset for your family is important.
But which one? What do you need to know before installing a playset yourself or hiring a professional?
For over 20 years, my husband and I have been installing residential and commercial playsets in the Midwest and Arizona. During this time, I have learned a lot about playset quality, price points, and structural durability.
There are many but a few of the most common wooden residential playset brands are Gorilla (our preferred brand), Cedar Summit by KidKraft, and Backyard Discovery. Lifetime has some great playsets as well but are typically constructed of metal and plastic materials. All of the brands offer sets along the spectrum of price and quality but there are a few items to consider before buying a playset for your backyard.
Here are a few things you need to think about before buying the playset:
More modestly priced playsets use slightly smaller sized corner posts and swing beams. The pieces that make up the sides, tower, and the rest of the playset comes in many smaller, need to assemble peaces. The manufacturer is passing the value savings of the playset down to the assembly through greater deconstruction for shipping. We noticed the wood has a greater likelihood of splitting during assembly. Investing in a quality playset will ensure you get your money’s worth! The swing beam is always the biggest give-a-way on quality and durability. It is a great day when the box is open and 4×6 swing beam is there! It also means sturdy 4×4 corner posts. Almost all Gorilla playsets use these sizes as standard. The retail price is slightly higher but it is worth every single penny. Many more affordable options use a 2×6 for the swing bean, 2×4 corner posts and twice as many pieces to put together. Some actually have you install a board to make it look like a 4×4! Typically, cheaper playsets cost more to install as it takes twice the work. If you have a few older children or want to swing with your kids it is important to have a sturdy swing beam. It just isn’t strong enough. Invest in a good product and check the construction!
Playsets typically have two primary roof styles: vinyl or wood. For the most part the roof style is preferential based on look and price point. Vinyl roofs may be more likely to be lost in a strong wind or heavy rain storm but are also easily replaceable. If you do loose one often the local hardware store will have a generic replacement vinyl roof. Wood roofs offer great coverage and will help to protect the deck even longer against sun and weather damage but will require more stain during maintenance. Many modes have add-on features such as a play chimney, working shutters, and window cutouts!
I cannot tell you how many jobs we have had to tell parents we could not do until the yard was better prepared. If the playset’s physical footprint is 16′ by 20′ you actually need 22′ by 26′ of space to meet the recommended 6′ play safety zone standard. We will not install your playset if there happens to be a large rock under the swings or put the playset 2 feet away from a the cinder-block wall. Decorative trim pavers are also often an issue for safety and need to be removed or replaced with rubber ones. We understand not every yard will have exactly 6′ on all sides but we can help you find the safest place with a reasonable amount of safety zone. If you have a small space there are still many options for you to pick from. Consider the Five Star II Space Saver or possibly a tower playset without swing beam.
A level play area is important for building your playset. A difference of even an inch is significant and can delay the installation of your playset. For most playsets, the current method of manufacturing assumes installation on a level ground. The playsets cannot be adjusted or modified from the manufacturer’s guidelines nor would you want to make modifications. However, in many cases, the playset can be trenched in the ground but that increases the likelihood of wood rot and will need greater care and attention. Most often we ask you to work with your landscaper to prepare the area to avoid damage to sprinkler lines. Every part of the country has different issues to consider. Spend time preparing the area properly for the safest play zone for your kids!
If you buy a quality set, you can double if not triple the life of the playset with regular maintenance and stain. Hot summers, storms and heavy winds are rough for wooden playsets. Weather sealant every two years will do wonders to protect the life and longevity and look of a playset. If you miss a few years, a solid stain such as Behr’s DeckOver fills in cracks and reduces splinters. It is also important to regularly check the bolts and hardware for the swings and other activities. These can loosen over time with normal wear and tear. We are also noticing significant damage to the base of many playsets due to lawnmowers and weed eaters. These will wear down the structural frame of your playset and cause it to need major repairs or just tossed in the trash.
It is always recommended to add a protective layer or surface for your playset. Rubber playground (6″ depth) mulch is a great option and highly recommended. Pine playground mulch (9″ depth) is also another great surface option for the play area. This helps protect children in case of a fall and minimize the risk of injury. There are a number of options available from a mulch like product to a cushioned play pad. A concrete pad or landscape gravel are never a suitable option as a play surface. Minimizing the risk of head injury is so important and your play surface is a big part of creating a safe place for kids to play.
The wood typically does not get hot to the touch but the hardware, plastic slides, swings and monkey bars can in direct sunlight. Look for areas of shade if possible. If needed, a solar shade is a nice addition to increase the hours of play. If you plan to install the playset on artificial grass with hours of direct sunlight…it gets HOT to the touch! Installing playsets on artificial grass means I will spend the day burning myself every time I have to build something on the ground. We bring shade tent just to keep the temperature of the hardware and materials down so we can hold them to install.
Leisure Installation Service is a residential playset, basketball goal, trampoline and structure installer serving the the Phoenix metropolitan area since 2014. Providing installation services for most models of Do-It-Yourself playsets and other outdoor residential recreation equipment. Please visit our online shop to explore the models of Gorilla Playsets we offer. We thank you for your business and support. We look forward to building you a playset for hours of fun!
James and Sasha Lewis are a husband and wife team living in the Valley. Sasha is an Arizona native and James grew up on a farm in Missouri. The tire swing in our logo represents the hours of fun we spent with our children when they were little in our Midwest backyard. Our children are now grown but we have many great memories of our backyard playset, jumping on the trampoline and shooting hoops. Thank you for allowing us to help your family create lasting memories too.
Written by Sasha Lewis, Owner, Leisure Installation Services.