What to Look For and What to Avoid in Kids Outdoor Playsets

by Ben SanfordJune 28, 2016

A Return to the Great Outdoors (In Your Own Backyard!)

In a today’s technology-saturated world, it’s easy to lose sight of simple pleasures, such as a shared meal, hand-written notes, or outdoor play. Eager to share fond memories and recreate those experiences with your own children? Start by encouraging outdoor exploration and delight with a new addition to your backyard: a play-set.

Before you splurge on one of these structures, however, make sure to do some careful research. Read on for helpful hints to guide you in what to look for and what to avoid in your quest for the perfect outdoor playset.

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Minding Safety in Kids’ Playsets

The most important factor that should govern your search is, of course, your child’s safety. While play structures come in a variety of styles with new and old play variations, be sure to go through this safety checklist of potential red flags and cautionary elements to avoid.

  1. Avoid exposed hardware with rough edges. “S” shaped hooks or jarring bolts could cause scrapes and unsuspecting injuries.
  2. Look out for uncovered swing chains. Not only will exposed metal be hot to the touch on warm summer days, but a lack of hand grips or coverings could also lead to pinched fingers.
  3. Be mindful of insufficient spacing between play structure elements. Look out for openings between railings or ladder rungs that might be too large, inviting falls (greater than 9 inches), or too small (less than 3.5 inches), which can create injury.

While you have may have taken every precaution in your search for the playset structure, don’t forget the surrounding area where you plan to install and maintain the system. Before you make the investment in a playset, look for an area in your yard that provides ample space. Research recommends that you provide a 6-foot radius from each edge of the playset to any other object (walls, fences, trees, a garage, etc.). By creating a generous distance between the playset and any surrounding objects in your back or front yard, you will keep your child safe from collisions.

Similarly, don’t forget to look down! Have you thought about a ground covering for underneath the structure? Before you secure your playset, look for protective surface options that will keep your child safe, cushioning inevitable falls. Search for shock-absorbing materials, such as wood or rubber mulch. While a 6-inch threshold should be required for basic protection, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission recommends a 9-inch ground protection layer if your structure exceeds a height of 7 feet.

Materials for Your New Playset

If you’ve decided on a wood playset, be sure to look for high-quality wood and gravitate towards strong, durable materials. Both cedar and redwood are excellent contenders, as the planks will resist rot and show evidence of decay slower when compared to other cheaper, treated wood materials.
As your playset endures hours of wear and tear and the effects of seasonal weather, inspect the play set regularly to make sure there aren’t signs of rotting or damage.

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Be wary of wood that’s been treated with hazardous materials. Pine and spruce may be aesthetically pleasing choices, but they are often pressure-treated and imbued with chemicals to compensate for having less durability (in comparison to cedar and redwood).

Longevity: Making Sure It’s Built to Last

According to the Good Housekeeping Research Institute, the average lifespan of a properly maintained and cared-for playset is 7-10 years. In terms of cost value, this is good news. But keep in mind your child will grow and change – their size, abilities, and interests – over the course of this timeframe.

Because of this, when searching for a playset, also prioritize adaptability. Look for a playset that you can alter over time; platforms and guardrails are must-haves for young children, but if you can remove these safeguards once your child gets older, that will help maximize the playset’s longevity and make it more appealing.

Avoid fixed-height and non-customizable play structures. Instead, search for something more flexible. Start with a classic structure that includes favorites such as swings, gliders, and a slide, and then think ahead. As your child develops new interests and curiosities, you’ll want a playset that transforms — shifting a chalkboard wall, for example, into a rock climbing wall.

With safety, material, and longevity concerns in mind, you’re sure to find a playset that your child can enjoy for years to come. Happy hunting!


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About The Author
Ben Sanford
Ben, a real estate agent and freelance writer, lives on the East Coast with his wife and kids. In his free time, he loves to be outside with his family or working on projects around his house. He deeply appreciates a good cup of coffee and loves strapping into his snowboard after the first snow of the year.

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