Playing Around

By Anica Wong

December 31, 2009 4 min read

We all remember burning the backs of our legs as we slid down hot metal slides under the summer sun. Gone are the days when a swing set was only a slide attached to a couple of swings. Now parents can custom design play sets and add enough accessories to keep their children busy for hours. But there's much more to think about than which side to put the slide on.

"Obviously, space is important," says Melanie Trott, the Internet and communications specialist at CedarWorks, a company that makes play sets out of northern white cedar. "Budget is important because that will sort of guide the customers in what size play sets and what kind of accessories they will get."

After taking into consideration budget and space issues (make sure you note trees and other yard accessories that take up room where you will put your swing set), you can start thinking about what you want your play set to be made of. Smaller and cheaper sets are made out of metal and have plastic swings and slides. These usually don't require any yearly maintenance, but they can rust. Bigger sets tend to be made out of wood, often vinyl-covered wood.

"It has become a lot a more popular," says Stephanie Rychlak regarding vinyl-covered wood. "It is completely maintenance-free," the design consultant at HomePlace Structures says. The vinyl protects the wood and makes the play set surfaces free from splinters. Making sure that the wood you choose stays splinter-free and safe for your children is key, which is why CedarWorks uses the northern white cedar; it doesn't splinter and doesn't need to be sealed like other woods.

The size of the set is also a very important part of the decision process. Rychlak says that people are now more money-conscious when they are buying play sets and that this often influences size. "The smaller units are becoming more of a trend with the way the economy is," she says.

Though HomePlace Structures has larger units, which usually consist of three towers with play accessories, the company now sells mainly single-unit sets. Starting out with a smaller set can be a good idea for a growing family. As the family gets bigger and older, the play set can reflect your children's abilities.

"If they were starting out with something small, they could certainly add on to it as the years go on and the child grows, like rock climbing, older kids stuff," Trott says. At CedarWorks, in-house design consultants can help parents pick out the perfect play structures for their families. The company even has design software that lets you plan your own set to make it specific to your family's needs. You can include different accessories (Trott suggests her favorite, a skateboard swing) to spice up the play set.

Whether you decide to build your own set or buy a ready-made one, another important aspect of getting the play area ready is to pick a ground cover that goes underneath the set. Wood chips are an option, but you probably would have to change out the chips every year or so, as they disintegrate with the wear and tear and weather.

Keith Sacks is the vice president of Rubberecycle, a company that recycles old tires, which then can be used to cushion your child's fall. The tires are ground up, and all of the metal is removed from them to make sure they are safe and cushy for when children tumble from the monkey bars. "People see how soft it is," Sacks says. "Unlike some of the other products, they don't have to replenish it year after year."

There are a lot of things to keep in mind when making the big jump to add a swing set to your backyard. Having all of the information before you jump in will help you in the long run.

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