A playset can convert a back yard into a playground, where youngsters of all ages can enjoy healthy outdoor fun for many years. But a playset is more than just swings. Today’s systems incorporate exciting components that offer a variety of activities. But choosing the right playset poses the challenge of finding one that has all the features you want with the safety you need.
Your first decision is a choice between wood, plastic, and metal. Plastic can be colorful and inviting, but simply can’t provide long-lasting quality. Metal may seem to be a sturdier option, but unless it’s anchored to or cemented in the ground, it doesn’t offer the stability you need for your child’s safe enjoyment. In addition, metal doesn’t withstand the elements as long as wood. Metal can rust, crack, and weaken, exposing sharp edges or breaking. If you’re considering metal, also remember that it can become very hot or cold to the touch, a hazard for young hands!
Your best option is a wooden playset. Wood is not only the most eco-friendly choice, but it is also more durable than both plastic and metal. The Consumer Product Safety Commission recommends wooden play systems because the material is naturally strong, which means it can stand up to both the great outdoors and the rough and tumble world of youthful vigor.
When evaluating your choices for a wooden playset, here are a few factors to consider:
- Choose wood that complies with ASTM guidelines. Wood is the best choice for a playset, but not just any wood will do. Look for building materials that are American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) certified for quality and safety. Woods like redwood, cedar, and cypress are known for their long-lasting durability. Plus, their natural resistance to insects, rot, and decay means these woods will last outdoors for years without being treated with potentially toxic chemicals. Be sure to ask if the wood has been treated in any way and avoid any that has been!
- Remember that bigger is better. Bigger beams resist warping and cracking. So, while wood is the smart choice, you make it even better by opting for more durable, 4-by-4 beams.
- Examine the hardware. Choose a system with hardware that is recessed to protect children from injury or catching their clothing on exposed hardware. Do not use plastic caps to cover the hardware because they can be tempting to young children and have been identified by the ASTM as a choking hazard. Also be sure that the builder has used commercial grade hardware, which is heavy-duty and either galvanized or coated to prevent corrosion that compromises its strength.
- Check the joints. The activity on your child’s wooden playset can loosen joints that are not sturdy enough to withstand wiggling motions. Look for triple joint construction because it provides the most secure structural support.
- Be sure the ladder is safe. A majority of playground accidents occur from falls. You can reduce the risk by ensuring that the ladder your kids are climbing is strong, secure, and skid-free. Check the surface and angle of the rungs to make sure it is safe for little feet.
- Feel the edges. Sharp or rough edges pose hazards to children. Rub your hand along the edges to ensure they are smooth enough to be safe for your child.
- Consider adaptability. As your children grow, can your wooden playset keep up with them? From the size of the swing to the variety of activities, your children will get more fun from a playset that can be adapted. Choose a system that allows you to add accessories later so you can extend the play life of your wooden playset, like slides, various swings, climbing wall, trapeze, and buoy balls.
- Choose the right ropes. Countless hours of children swinging on ropes can stretch and weaken the material. To avoid stretching, choose a double-braided rope because the tighter weave holds up to the pulling and retains it size and strength. Rope with a one-inch diameter or larger provides a more secure grip—an important consideration whether scaling a wall, clinging to a rope and disc swing like a little Tarzan! Also look for ropes that are protected against UV rays, which can damage the fibers.
- Check the guardrails. All platforms should have guardrails to prevent your child from falling. Look for a smooth, sturdy railing that is splinter-free.
- Look for hazardous spaces. Small openings can be tempting to youngsters so be sure that there are no gaps where their feet, hands, heads, or bodies can become trapped, such as ladder rungs and guardrails.
- Ask about the warranty. The best way to determine the quality of the wooden playset you’re considering is by looking at the warranty offered by the manufacturer. Check to be sure the warranty covers the structural integrity of the playset, which includes the wood, components, accessories, and workmanship.
Take the time to carefully examine every playset you’re considering. Think about the activities your child enjoys and the ways in which you can provide for the safest play environment. Making the choice for the best wooden playset isn’t exactly child’s play but doesn’t have to be rocket science either!