Buying and setting up a playset in your backyard is a huge endeavor, but if done correctly, it will be a cornerstone for your kid’s fun memories. The key is to change it from a painful process for you into just another enjoyable DIY project.
Even if you’ve already built a playset and know the process forward and back, you still may be concerned with certain safety features or maybe want to make some additions. No worries, we’ve compiled all the information, resources, and considerations you need no matter where you are in the process.
What we’ll cover:
- Where to research playsets
- Where to buy playsets
- Shipping and receiving
- Stability and safety
- Play elements
Let’s get started! Also be sure to check out our short list of the best backyard playsets.
Where to Research Playsets
You can find the specifications and dimensions on most any site selling the product.
You’re already visiting Backyartisan, so you’ve found the right place to begin your research of playsets. At Backyartisan, we are trying to fill in the gaps and give a peak behind the curtain at what you’re really purchasing. We have put together the most comprehensive rating system out there.
We are always taking a look at the playsets in the market and giving the most relevant feedback for parents and grandparents on the hunt for the right set for their backyard. If we don’t have a full-blown review available for a particular playset, please feel free to contact us and we will try to look into it.
E-Commerce and Manufacturer Website Reviews
For playsets that are not reviewed on our site, the distant second best place to get product feedback would be on the sites of the e-commerce websites selling the products. Unfortunately, these reviews are sporadic and can be heavily edited and manipulated by the website — after all, they are trying to get you to purchase from their site.
When looking at these reviews, be on the lookout for concerns from the customer. You’ll want to note customer service issues from that company, but you should be most concerned about things that mention the product. You can decide on the site to purchase from later.
In product reviews, look out for comments about the difficulty of assembly, details in instructions, issues with cracked or missing parts. Take note of these issues because they might indicate product issues you could see.
Word of Mouth
The next best place to find reviews would be the parents in your life: family, friends, neighbors, and anyone you just feel comfortable asking. Obviously their feedback is anecdotal and limited to the one product they bought.
Okay, so now you understand why Backyartisan exists — it is hard to get detailed and meaningful reviews for playsets!
Where to Purchase Playsets
Although most playsets are generally delivered by truck and assembled on-site, there are generally sold by four different types of retailers. It can be very difficult to find playsets on display or in showrooms. Due to the size and complexity of installation, retailers don’t like to have a wide variety of models on display.
Big Box Stores
You can find playsets sold at Lowe’s, Home Depot, Sam’s Club, Costco, and similar stores like those. You may be able to see a couple of models on display, but buying from a big box store will look a lot like buying a playset online, delivered via curbside truck load.
Big box stores may offer you a list of local installers who can help you put your playset together. These installers work on a contract basis and are not employees of the store, but they generally work exclusively for that store and on the same handful of items.
Also, big box stores will often have “exclusive” models which are essentially made by large brands and can sometimes be the exact same product as another model, but just renamed and with an “exclusive” tag. If you run across one of these models, try to determine the underlying brand so you can make proper comparisons to reviews.
E-Commerce and Online Stores
Buying large playsets online is becoming more and more common. Without the cost of retail real estate, e-commerce businesses may offer the most competitive prices. If the company is small enough and located in another state, you may actually be able to save money on sales taxes, which can be significant in a playset purchase, but those laws vary by state and are constantly changing.
You should note that these sites are generally “drop-shipping” the playset, which means the product is shipped directly from the manufacturer. The largest example of a drop-shipper site in the playset industry is Wayfair.com, but even the big box stores employ this model on their websites.
Because manufacturers work with websites to drop-ship, they may be juggling orders between these websites, the contracts that they have in place with big box stores, and their own online sales. If your timeline is short, it would be smart to determine if the website you’re looking at is drop-shipping or has the product in stock.
Local Stores and Franchises
If you would like to see a playset before you purchase it, you will need to find a local store that carries that brand. There are a few brands that deal exclusively with local stores and franchises, like the Rainbow brand, for example.
These local stores likely only sell 1 or 2 brands, but they can facilitate the delivery and installation of any model within that brand. Local stores generally offer the “white-glove” service of the industry, they can offer customization, and some actually have a showroom that you can rent for birthday parties.
For all that they offer, local stores definitely charge a premium for their service. Keep in mind that the more work you do yourself, the more you save in overall cost.
The last common way you could purchase a playset is through a local installer. With a local installer, you can get a custom playset that is built to your specifications out of generic building materials.
With installers who are more established with brands, they can also purchase the playset (typically through a company that may offer him a discount) and will show up at your home and assemble it for you.
Going with a local installer will offer a lot of the same options as a local store at a reduced rate, but this route is very much buyer beware. Plan to take your responsibility seriously in seeing a project through. There are many fly-by-night installers out there who may not be able to do what they present and/or walk off a job. Reputations for established stores are worth something.
Also, be aware that you probably will not receive any warranty on the product or work, and any customizations of branded items will void the manufacturer’s warranty.
Shipping and Receiving of the Playset
Unless you have a rig big enough to haul a playset home safely, you’ll have to get the playset shipped and delivered to your home. Moving the playset can easily be one of the more stressful steps in the process, but there are ways to make everything more streamlined.
For more information, check out our article on what to expect when receiving a playset shipment.
Making Trucking Company Appointments
Since you can’t just toss the playset in the back of your car, you’ll need to schedule a time for a truck to make the delivery. Try to pick a time that your street will be relatively clear of traffic so that you don’t inconvenience your neighbors.
You’ll also want to make sure the truck has enough room to maneuver itself. Ensure the street is clear of parked cars at a minimum, and make sure that your driveway is also clear so that they can back in for easy unloading.
Always seek out the instruction manual as quickly as you can. Make a note of where each piece is detailed in the manual to ensure that you have everything you need. We also recommend checking to see if there’s any visible damage to the pieces so you can be quickly reimbursed. You will likely be required to note the damage or lost product at the time of delivery.
Dealing with Pallets
Your playset will likely come on a large pallet or series of pallets, and the delivery driver isn’t going to stick around to take them back from you. You should be able to find someone who can come grab the pallets for recycling.
If you decide not to recycle or can’t do to where you live, you can always reuse the pallets yourself. Chopping them up for mulch or using them as firewood are both solid options, but there are plenty of creative uses for pallets if you want to tackle another DIY project.
Make sure you know exactly which pieces you have and which box they’re coming out of. Larger sections can just go in the space you plan on building the playset, while smaller bits like the screws and connectors should either be inside or on a tarp where they won’t be easily lost.
Installation of the Playset
A lot of the factors you’ll have to deal with depending on which type of playset you decided to buy. Keep this information in mind while looking for the right playset and determine which factors matter the most to you.
Ease of Installation
Some playsets don’t require a lot of work to put together, but the ones that require more effort are also much higher quality. Keep in mind that the more attachments you have, like swings and slides, the more work you’ll have to do on installation.
Quality of Directions
You’ll receive a set of directions or a manual no matter which company you buy your playset from. Some may give you the barebones instructions you need, while others will go in-depth with pictures or online versions if you lose the hard copy.
We recommend checking company websites before you purchase to see if they offer the manuals online. Taking this step can prevent a potential headache down the road.
Total Installation Time
Unless you have some nice yard lights pointed at the area you’ve set aside for the playset, you may want to only construct it during daylight hours. Some manuals for smaller playsets have an estimated installation time for two people of 5-6 hours, while some of the largest playsets could take up to 4 full workdays.
This time will obviously increase if you plan on tackling this project solo. It’s best to finish the whole job in one day so that you can avoid the worry of bad weather during the night. Try to set your delivery for the morning so that you can have the playset ready to go by sunset.
Space Needed for Installation
You’re going to need far more space for a playset than you may think. You should put a series of stakes and twine to map out the area that the playset itself will take up so that you can visualize exactly how you want it positioned.
The major thing to keep in mind is that you’re going to need an additional 6-7 feet of space around the mapped out area. This extra space is going to need to be filled with a protective covering like mulch, sand, or rubber to protect your children from any potential falls.
For more, read our guide on playset yard requirements.
Stability and Safety of the Playset
Fun is actually the second most important thing a playset should provide. The first should always be safety.
This will also vary depending on which playset you purchase, but there are a couple of common factors across the board that you can count on.
You should never have to worry about solid fixtures like platforms. Even at their weakest, they can handle several adults jumping around on them, so your children aren’t in any danger. Most swing set beams can take quite a bit of weight as well.
Individual fixtures are where the weight limit becomes important. You may want to play on the set with your child, but some adults are too much for children’s equipment. Expect roughly 150 pounds of leeway for most fixtures and a bit more for swings.
Moving parts give a playset life, but those moving parts are also the most likely to cause harm. We advise that you pay the most attention to these joints both during installation and in the years that follow.
Crappy bolts or joints run the risk of rusting and corrosion. Try to keep an eye out for poorly coated metal pieces or just simple bad quality. These can lead to a critical failure on a moving part of the playset, and you definitely don’t want your kid to be on it when that happens.
Crossbeams should be one of the strongest pieces of the playset. Many of the potential fixtures that can be added to your playset will be hanging from a crossbeam, so you want to make sure it can hold a lot of weight and isn’t likely to decay over time.
Metallic crossbeams are much more sturdy than their wooden counterparts, so just be sure to check the connections so that it never comes loose. Wooden crossbeams are still great at holding weight but need to be thoroughly examined to ensure no rot or insect damage.
ASTM, or American Society for Testing and Materials, is a good cross-reference for the materials your playset is made of. If a product meets the ASTM requirements, then you can rest assured your children will safely use it.
Enough of the boring and technical stuff! This is the part your kids are going to care about, so choose wisely what your playset will include. There are a couple of basics, but there’s always room for additions.
Slides are a staple of playsets, so having one or two will never disappoint the kids. Metal slides are still an option and offer children the fastest sliding speed, but a bit too much sun turns them into a painful heat source. Plastic is usually the best way to go.
Covered slides vs. regular really only affects you as the parent and now maintenance worker of the playset. Covered and tube slides are easier to keep clean, especially after a storm. However, it’s also more work to put together. Either option will be enjoyable for play, so in this case, you can be selfish with your choice.
The amount of swing seats you have depends entirely on the size of your overall playset and the crossbeam, but the real struggle is deciding which seats your kid will most enjoy. We recommend having at least one traditional swing seat but feel free to mix it up after that.
You can add a bucket swing if you plan on having younger children over and don’t want them to feel left out. There are also more advanced options such as discs to sit on or even a small tire swing if you think your children will get bored with the regular swing.
There’s no need to limit yourself to the basics. If you want to go all out on this playset, there’s plenty of components and add-ons that can improve your kid’s experience.
It would be easy for younger children to add extra distractions like a steering wheel, telescope, or even a tic-tac-toe board. Older children may enjoy different modifications like converting the free space below the platform into a fort or even a sandbox.
Components aren’t just used as additions to the playset itself. You’re going to have a ton of open space around the playset where you can set up standalone pieces like seesaws or rocking horses.
Don’t be afraid to replace existing components as well as your children’s tastes and maturity begin to change. A regular climbing ladder can be converted into a miniature rock wall, or the crossbeam for the swings can be modified into monkey bars. The only real limit is how much work you want to put into this project.
Any additions you think about adding are also going to require accessories to connect it all together. The most common is likely going to be chains either as a moveable railing or as a way to hang something up.
Your local hardware store should have everything you need to make this happen. We recommend that you avoid ‘window shopping’ for these accessories and instead go into the store with a plan in mind and preferably some measurements at the ready.
Paying attention to what materials the playset is made of early on will save time down the road if you decide a section needs either fixing or replacing.
While it’s the most well-known size of wood plank, the 2×4 shouldn’t make up any significant part of your playset. Some playsets try to get away with two 2x4s glued together as the crossbeam, but this only increases the risk of injury and reduces the playset’s longevity.
The thicker the wood, the sturdier it’s going to be. Any piece of wood that will be bearing significant weight should be 4×4 at minimum. The chances of the playset breaking are drastically reduced, and your kids will be much safer for it.
Broken plastic can cut and slice as easily as a knife, so ensure that all of the plastic that your children can come into contact with are nice and thick. It’s not as important if the plastic is part of a decoration or an accessory that has a low risk of being broken.
Slides and high-contact areas should always be reasonably thick if made of plastic. We also suggest checking plastic areas that are being held together with screws or bolts like on the slide. The thinner the plastic here, the more likely the pieces keeping it together will break.
Any hardware that comes with the playset should be in prime condition. Settling for anything less is just asking for rust to set in or for pieces to fall off during play. Most high-end playset companies offer free replacements if you notice poor quality hardware during installation.
Paying attention to the quality of the roof is going to benefit you in two ways. The first is that the higher the quality, the better it’s going to look. The second is that better roofs will protect core parts of the playset from weather and potential falling debris if there are nearby trees.
Some playsets come with something resembling a tarp, which will get the job done while you figure out how to add a better roof. We actually recommend building a shingle roof for the playset similar to what you may have on your home. If it works for the house, it will work for the playset.
We know that our children deserve the world, but being able to afford the world is a different story. Playsets can be expensive, so it’s good to have an idea of what you should be paying.
The overall price is going to fluctuate wildly depending on the materials you pick, and how customized the playset is going to be. A small, pre-made playset made of cheap materials may only cost around $200, but the price can shoot up to around $10,000 otherwise.
Don’t be too concerned about the high pricing as the average is usually around $2,500. You have to get pretty extreme with the scope and quality of your playset to go much higher than that. You can also score deals at different times of the year, so make sure to read our guide on the best time to buy a playset as well.
Cost per Element
The most expensive elements are going to be the plastic sections, such as the slide. A slide can be $100, or it can go well over $1000. Purchased playsets almost always come with slides, but if you want to add another, it can cost a pretty penny.
Other additions like sandboxes or swing sets will also cost quite a bit. Expect to pay at least $100 each, and even more if you decide to spring for nicer pieces. Sandboxes will also require sand to fill, which is roughly $6 a bag.
You’ll also need to keep in mind that the ground covering you choose to keep your kids safe will be a bit expensive for each bag of material. Mulch is the least expensive but is also the least fun for your kids to fall on. Sand or artificial turf is a good middle ground between expenses and safety.
For the most part, you may not think you have to worry about shipping costs. Many playset companies offer free shipping on orders that are $100 or more, and it’s almost impossible to order something for less than that anyway.
It is important to keep in mind that “free shipping” just means that the retailer baked the pricing into the product cost. The retailer will actually spend $200-800 in shipping costs, depending up on the playset weight and your zip code. It is a big deal to understand that cost if you want to return a playset — generally shipping policies do not allow a cheap or free return shipment.
If you do have the equipment and ability to pick up a playset yourself, the retailers with free shipping should be able to offer significant dollar discounts.
Interesting tidbit: most people understand that “free shipping” means the cost of shipping is baked in, but did you know that sales taxes are not typically assessed on freight shipping services? By adding the freight cost into the product price and offering free shipping, customers actually pay a higher sales tax amount than they would if freight was charged. How’s that for “free”?
Most of this assumes that you’re making this playset a DIY project, but what if you want to call in the professionals to do it for you?
Again, there are several variables to consider. The size and complexity of your playset greatly affect how much you’re charged. Typically it will only take one professional for installation, but two may be required the bigger and the more complex the playset is.
You can expect to pay $200 minimum to have a professional take care of the installation. The maximum will vary greatly based on size, complexity, and if a second person is required, but the price only exceeds $2000 with the largest sets.
Overall, there are a lot of factors that go into finding the best place to buy a playset and actually purchasing and installing it. If you plan appropriately, you’ll know what to expect and have a great backyard playset in no time.