The old adage “you get what you pay for” is especially true for cheap playsets and swing sets. While most consumers are on the constant lookout for a deal, it’s best not to pinch pennies when providing backyard fun for your children. There are several concerns in buying a cheap playset or swing set that could interfere with your child’s security and safety.

Many issues may arise with an at-home construction. You can categorize these downsides into four categories: safety, durability and longevity, installation and customer service, and a lack of ability to customize or replace parts. 

Safety Concerns

It goes without saying that we all want our kids to be safe. Playing in the backyard should not pose a safety concern for our children. We should be confident in the fact that our kids can play comfortably on their playsets without the fear of accidents occurring. 

Most of us would like to think that we are handier than we might be, and putting together a playset or swing set is no small feat. Often, cheaper playsets are mass-produced and can lack the individual attention often given in production by smaller companies.

The ASTM publishes safety standards for home playground equipment (ASTM F1148-09), so I would recommend familiarizing yourself with those guidelines.

While we would hope all companies would be honest, sometimes a company can claim to meet these guidelines or standards when, in fact, they have not. In addition, there are specifications that parents may not be aware of when it comes to safety. 

There are some specifications that parents may not be aware of when it comes to safety. For example, there should be no openings between 3 ½ to 9 inches, as children can become entrapped. Also, there should only be two swings per support structure, and slides should never be next to the swings. Unfortunately, these are some of the many standards parents may not be aware of, and improper installation can result in serious injury.

As of 2019, playground related injuries account for 200,000 emergency room visits a year.  And, 15 fatalities occur on account of injuries sustained on playsets or swing sets.  Therefore, installing a cheap playset or swing set could pose a safety hazard. 

Durability and Longevity Concerns

Many inexpensive playsets or swing sets are metal materials, which can rust. Some are constructed of wood, which requires constant upkeep. Consider the climate you live in. Will your playset or swing set last for a number of years of childhood enjoyment? Galvanized or powder coating finishes will prolong the life of metal swing sets.

The primary predictor of a wooden swing set’s longevity is the thickness of its board and the quality of the metal hardware. You’ll want boards to be at least 0.75 inches thick and all hardware to be galvanized or stainless steel. For plastic components, you’ll want to look for plastic thickness or even double-walled rotomolded items.

In fact, you may only get 3 to 4 years out of this sort of playset or swing set. A limited warranty or no warranty at all means that you may be out of luck with replacement or repair. 

As with most cheaper products, you may lose parts, so periodically check for loose bolts or end caps and keep an eye out for rust, cracks, or splintering. While we want such a purchase to last for a long time, a cheaper playset or swing set may not meet those high expectations. 

Installation and Customer Service Concerns

If you are confident in your skills of putting together the playset, you have to be sure that you do this properly for your child’s safety. One of the first considerations is that you need to have a space for installation that’s entirely level to avoid the set from tipping over after installation. Ensure that there are no potential hazards nearby, such as rocks or fences that your child could fall into.

Installation includes looking for protruding bolts, exposed mechanisms, or pinch points. These can pose a severe risk of injury for your child. You may also need to contact customer service to ensure proper anchoring instructions, as the directions on some models are sparse, and this is a crucial factor of installation. 

Another consideration is to install a safety surface for a “fall zone,” which professionals highly recommend as an additional precautionary measurement. Not only will this provide the set with a stable and sturdy surface, but it will ensure that your child is safer in the event of a fall.

Minimal Ability to Customize or Replace Parts

Sometimes finding items on the internet can be like looking for a needle in a haystack. That can be the case when you are looking to find customized or replacement parts for a cheaper set. Without the ease of finding replacement parts, if you continue using a set without them, you could be risking your child’s safety.

Imagine that you need to find that one screw or a swing chain specific to your set. Checking for a customized or replacement part can be tricky. While it might seem that some parts are interchangeable, do you want to take that risk?

You might need to look back at the paperwork; you will need to find the specific manufacturer and model of the playset or swing set you purchased. Trying to locate a part on Amazon or eBay can be a real nightmare and unnecessarily expensive if it’s a rare part.

Final Comments

When you are looking to purchase an inexpensive playset or swing set for your children, safety is a key concern you have to look out for.

When you buy a playset or swing set, the downsides are numerous if you choose to go a cheaper route. Think about how long you want the set to last. Will the model you buy stand the test of time?  If we are honest with ourselves, we may not have what it takes or the time required to put together a playset or swing set correctly. While your heart might be in the right place, do you want to rely on your own devices to build a complicated set at the risk of your child’s safety?

That being said, there are still good inexpensive options, some of which are on our short list of the best outdoor playsets. Be sure to read our related article on if expensive playsets are worth it and our study on average swing set prices as well.

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