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Toying With a Playground Project – Here’s Some Help

The biggest toy in the garden is the playset. It is the center of the universe when it comes to developing a playground and figuring out just what to buy and where it fits is an important part of the playground project.



You may not be building a city or community playground, but there’s much that can be learned from understanding a 101 course on playground design. It’s not hard to make your backyard or community playground the best on the block by following a few simple rules.

Creation of a neighborhood playground will likely require review and inspection by a Certified Playground Safety Inspection officer {CPSI}. You can locate one here. It is prudent to begin liaison with a CPSI in the earliest stages of a community playground project to avoid costly mistakes and gain some savvy advice, including ideas and options on how to save money on the cost of the equipment and supplies needed.

For the homeowner a CPSI is not necessary, but there is plenty of good press the National Recreations and Parks Association [NRPA} provides that can help engage the parent that is keen to build a functional and importantly safe playground, in their backyard. The 12-Point Playground Safety Checklist published by the NRPA is a must read. It offers parents and caregivers a great resource of pertinent information that can be applied to choosing a safe playground for their children inside and outside of the backyard. It covers topics such as trip hazards, types of surfaces that are acceptable, and common issues as well as more technical aspects such as UV degradation of equipment and surfaces.


Ruling Factors

The budget for your playground project does not need to be set in stone as thankfully it is easy to add equipment to a design piecemeal as needs and finances dictate. However, you do need to identify a starting point, and this will be affected not just by how much money you must put into the project but also how much space you have to play with to accommodate playsets and equipment.

Siting is necessarily an important part of the process. Ideally the site will be level and need minimal preparation by heavy equipment. But where this is not the case aggregate may need to be brought in and other surface material cover for safety underneath the playset will need to be installed on top of a compacted site.

When considering the site think about the dimension of the entire play space as well as the topography and drainage, but don’t overlook the need for access for equipment to modify or prepare the site.

Also consider whether the site will be in the sun all day, as a sunny location may require provision of shade for protection from the harmful sun’s rays and to minimize risks of children becoming dehydrated and/or suffering heat exhaustion.

Bear in mind that every type of playground equipment or structure has a need for safe use zones. This means that all products must be safely spaced from each other and from other objects such as walls and trees.

Security for the children is an essential component of their safety. While we often think about what the ground cover will be under a swing set, we might overlook the need for a playground area to be fenced to keep both the kids in and others out. Figure in the budget to allow for fencing. Site selection that offers safety away from busy roads but within view of other buildings for supervisory purposes is a good idea.


What To Buy

There is a myriad of options from which to choose when it comes to playsets and outdoor equipment. The first consideration should be the age range of the children that will use the playground. Building up and out from one point as a young family grows up is always a good way to minimize the initial spend. Bear in mind there is an active secondhand marketplace for playsets and equipment that has ‘aged out’ of use so consider whether you want certain pieces to be portable rather than permanent.

Structures are generally grouped into age group categories. For example, 0-2 years, 2-5 years, 5-12 years and then there are playsets designed to address multiple ages from 2-12 years.

The main choice you will encounter will be between vinyl or wood products.

wood vs vinyl playset

Eco-friendly wood is a replenishable natural resource and choosing a manufacturer that sources their wood from a sustainable operation is an option. Locating a manufacturer that builds playsets in the U.S.A. from U.S.A. components is also a patriotic way to buy.

The downside is that wood is higher maintenance in general than vinyl, and it can splinter and rot over time, despite being treated with an environmentally friendly nontoxic preservative.

Woods more durable cousin, vinyl on the other hand, can be a super low maintenance option that many homeowners appreciate, as there will be no need for repainting and re-staining. Consider selecting a vinyl playset from a manufacturer that uses recyclable plastics for an eco-friendly option.

Choose a good quality vinyl product that is made with the color manufactured throughout the entire product, not just a superficial coating.

Color is an important part of the aesthetics of design, but so are the aspects of use regarding how a playground will promote a child’s learning and develop fitness and social skills while at play.

kid swinging on playset

Each component of a playset can fulfil more than one benefit. For example, did you know that swinging can offer a calming effect on a child as well as provide a physical activity.

“Swinging is not only a super fun outdoor activity (that can even help develop a child’s sixth sense), but it also allows a child’s body to be in constant motion while ALSO sitting (mostly) still at the same time AND giving his brain a chance to rest and reflect. Win. Win. Win.”  Amanda Webster

Read more here…

The different styles and designs of playsets lend themselves to different imaginative adventures for the kids, but the view of the playset and playground from the house is also something to consider.

Modern or traditional, ensure the playset and all components are properly installed following manufacturer’s instructions. Volunteer help to assemble and build is often available from neighbors and family, friends if needed, but don’t be shy to involve the kids themselves in the project where it is safe to do so.

playset in backyard

Consider the needs of adults in the design process too. It is a good idea to strategically place close by, a shady seating area, picnic space or other conversational spot. This will encourage parents and grandparents, and other family members or friends to interact with each other and with the children while at play.


How To Buy

When looking at price comparisons between manufacturers it is all too easy to not compare ‘apples to apples”. In fact, some manufacturers go out of their way to make such comparisons difficult.

Check the grade and quality of each component, along with how any hardware features are coated or protected from wear. This should include bolts and fixtures that hold the structure together. All points of connection should offer longevity and be safely rounded or capped, to protect the users of the playset. The cheapest option is usually not the best option.

Many manufacturers have a knowledgeable staff on hand that can offer advice on design options as well as means to mitigate expenses.

Be aware that many manufacturers will offer a quantity discount if you purchase more than one type of unit from their line-up. Ask about funding options, warranties and always check references and reviews on the playsets on offer.

Certain manufacturers offer impressive 50-year warranties on their products, but make sure that the company you collaborate with on the purchase has a proven reputation for standing behind their products.

A ‘to the penny’ quote, including any delivery and set up charges should be provided in writing. Don’t part with any money on deposits without written terms and an executed agreement, particularly on a large multiple purchase that might extend over a timeline (that should also be detailed).

Availability and delivery timelines should also be considered in your selection process. A great price is not much help if the product is not readily available.


Expect Some Maintenance

While a backyard playground does not require regular safety inspections the way a community project would do, it is still important to conduct safety checks periodically of the structures and to maintain the equipment.

Ground covering materials may need to be replenished periodically due to environmental break down or displacement. Some examples: wood chips will disintegrate over time; sand has a way of migrating away from the play area either in drying winds or in the shoes of the little persons using the playground.

In conclusion, designing and building your backyard playground should be a fun project and one that can involve the whole family. Following a few simple protocols will help ensure your money is well-spent.

About Horizon Structures

Horizon Structures is now the industry’s leader in quality built horse barns, horse stables and run-in sheds. The high level of craftsmanship in our Amish built barns, horse stables, storage buildings, sheds and garages provide for a long lasting structure that comes with our Written Guarantee.

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