Let’s face it; kids love roughhousing. Whether it’s on the swing set or a giant slide, there’s an endless amount of fun for them to have on your backyard playset.
As parents, our primary concern with a backyard playset is safety. So, in this guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about how to keep your backyard playset as safe as possible. Specifically, we’ll cover:
Ready? Let’s dive in.
Use Zones and Spacing
Playground use zones are there to help prevent kids from colliding while playing. These zones also protect kids from getting hurt when getting from one part of the playground equipment to another. As a rule of thumb, you want to keep at least six feet of spacing between each structure. You should fill up all ground space with a soft material or padding in case someone does fall off.
Any large structures or swing sets should have more spacing than smaller ones since kids tend to jump or fall off them more often. Minor structures like tables don’t necessarily need use zones, but it’s best to keep them away from the play area.
Measuring Your Spacing for Each Play Structure
The starting point for use zoning is six feet. However, above, we mention that specific structures require more space.
So, how do you measure your use zones for each play structure? It’s relatively easy to determine, especially when you know the differences between each structure type.
Most of the fun of using the swings is jumping off. Kids especially seek the thrill of trying to get higher than their friends or siblings, so you must pay close attention to where you place your swing set.
Playground experts recommend that you should have at least two times the swing set’s height of space between the structure and its border. So a 6-foot swing set should be around 12 feet away from its bordering structure. When you go to your local public playground, you’ll notice the swings are almost always way off to the side.
With plenty of room between the swings and other structures, if your children do have jump-off competitions, you’ll know that they’ll still be safe when they land.
You’ll also want to make sure that the swing chains and swing seats are easily detachable in case your children get caught in them.
Slides also need an extra couple of feet of space since they generally have the most traffic out of all the play structures. You should set around 8 to 10 feet of space from the bottom of the slide to the following structure to prevent kids from crowding up the slide’s exit.
Slides are also at high risk of collision because kids tend to go down them all at once. Even though they seem harmless, always be sure you have a parent or other adult present when little ones are outside playing together.
Ladders, Jungle Gyms and Monkey Bars
Like other play structures, your climbing equipment should have at least six feet of zone space. However, if you’re dealing with a tall piece of equipment, you may need a few additional feet.
Age Range and Weight Limits of the Playset
One significant aspect of a playset you need to consider is age-appropriateness. It would help if you didn’t expose toddlers to the same equipment as older kids without heavy supervision. If a smaller child gets mixed in with a group of bigger kids, you increase the chance of an injury or playtime accident.
There are also certain weight limits that will vary by playset that you need to consider. Playsets that are meant for smaller children simply don’t have the structural integrity to support your older children and their friends.
We also do not recommend modifying your swing set to increase the max weight limit, which can also void the warranty on it.
For more tips on age levels and weight limits, read our full guide on playset weight limits.
The key to keeping a playset safe is to have the appropriate fill material. When you think about public playgrounds, you can usually picture materials like concrete, mulch, and wood.
However, those aren’t necessarily the safest and comfortable options. While mulch and grass are still suitable, there are far better choices today than there were a few decades ago.
Sand makes for a fantastic filler for several reasons. For starters, it’s incredibly cheap. You can practically find sand anywhere, and sometimes it’s free (thanks, Mother Nature). Sand also makes your playset look more natural and can even create a beach vibe.
The only downside to choosing sand as your filler is you have to continually replace it. As a result, it can become quite high-maintenance. In terms of safety, sand doesn’t provide the absorption that other materials can, so you’ll need a lot of it.
Everyone loves an excellent classic wood mulch playground. Not only is it suitable for the kids, but it’s sure to bring back some fond childhood memories at the local playground. You can get your hands on wood mulch almost anywhere, and it’s not too expensive. However, mulch tends to camouflage harmful objects, so you’ll need to clean your playset constantly.
Cleaning the mulch is easy and only requires a rake. You’ll need to get fresh mulch at least once a year to ensure it maintains its performance. That said, few things in life are better than the smell of brand new wood mulch.
Most modern playgrounds use rubber tiles for their hard surfaces. One of the primary reasons rubber is so popular is because it’s incredibly shock absorbent. As a result, it can help protect kids who fall from high structures. Rubber’s also easy to clean, and it doesn’t hide harmful materials the same way sand and mulch do.
However, at $5-10 per square foot, rubber tiles can have a high upfront cost. That said, it’s incredibly durable and should last years without any significant wear and tear. You will need to clean your tiles with soapy water from time to time, but nothing too time-consuming. The rubber tiles will also give your playset a more contemporary look if that’s what you’re going for.
Hence the name, pea gravel consists of several small pea-sized stones that vary in shape and color. They’re a popular choice for DIY playsets because they don’t have any sharp edges. As a result, they’re an exceptionally safe choice for your playset.
Plus, pea gravel doesn’t absorb as much heat from the sun since it’s typically light-colored. That means there is less of a chance of your little ones getting burned in summer.
Pea gravel also can last up to 50 years with minimal maintenance. All you need to do is run a rake through it periodically. From a distance, it looks a lot like dirt but is quite lovely looking up close.
The level of safety for your backyard playset all starts with the installation process. How you execute setting it up will determine how long it lasts, its safety, and more. With that in mind, you need to take the installation process seriously and pay close attention to detail.
The best way to ensure you install everything correctly is to hire a team of professionals, but where’s the fun in that? With the right tools and instructions, installing a backyard playset is surprisingly simple.
Don’t Leave Behind Any Bolt Caps
Bolt caps can leave behind some painful cuts and bruises if left in the play area. Unfortunately, they’re scattered throughout the playset. After installing your playset, check to find where the bolt caps are and cover them with some padding. You can also find plastic caps that will prevent the bolts from injuring your kids or catching onto their clothes.
Check To See if Everything Is Screwed on Tight
No matter how durable your playset is, over time, it’s going to tilt and shift slightly. If your children enjoy rough play, you can expect this to happen more frequently. As a result, you should check up on your set to ensure all of the bolts are screwed on nice and tight.
Clean Out the Area When After You Finish
When you’re done installing your set, check to see you don’t leave any tools, pieces, or debris lying behind. A loose bolt or screw can cause severe injuries if someone happens to step or fall on them.
Quality of Materials
Choosing high-quality materials will save you a lot of time and money further down the line since you won’t need to perform that many repairs. Fortunately, you can find a few companies that provide strong playsets that can last for decades. However, there are still a few cheaply crafted playsets that you should avoid. You’ll want to be sure to check our Backyartisan reviews to get the comprehensive picture.
Wood can be an excellent material to use since it looks natural and lasts a long time. However, make sure that the wood you’re using is thick enough. Some manufacturers provide a few 2×4’s that are quickly glued together, creating a serious safety hazard.
Thick wood is going to last longer and reduce the risk of injuries. We recommend starting with at least 4×4-inch beams for swings and planks that are up to 2 inches thick. Be sure to note the difference between “nominal” and actual thickness of the wood. Nominal is what the manufacturer says it is, while actual is what the tape measurer will tell you. For instance, a classic 2×4 will likely be 1.5”x3.5”, since that is the minimum a manufacturer can make it and legally still call it a 2×4.
While plastic is an extremely affordable and lightweight material to use for your playset, cheap broken plastic can lead to a handful of problems. If you’re going to choose plastic for the primary platform and materials, the same principles apply: the thicker, the better. Plastic slides are still typical of most wooden swing sets and should be exceptionally thick to prevent them from collapsing. You will want to keep an eye out for cuts or slices in your plastic slides.
What About the Hardware?
Since the hardware is responsible for keeping the playset together, you want to pay extra attention to its quality. Cheap hardware is only going to rust faster and increase the likelihood of someone getting hurt. Most reputable playset companies always provide high-quality hardware pieces to ensure your set stays standing strong for decades.
Ongoing Maintenance Tips
Naturally, you’re going to want your playset to look as good as possible all year round. Therefore, you’re going to need to perform ongoing maintenance to ensure it retains its beauty and safety.
Perform Regular Inspections. It’s always better to catch a problem early on than before it’s too late. Every few weeks, you should take a close look at all your playset components and see if anything needs repairs. It would help if you also retightened all of the bolts. Bolts tend to loosen up during the winter in colder climates, so make sure everything’s nice and tight before summer.
Remove Anything You Don’t Need. If you live in a place where it snows, consider covering your playset in a tarp for periods of heavy snowfall. However, we would not recommend covering your playset for the entirety of winter since the tarp would trap moisture potentially cause mold or rot. To make this easier, remove any unnecessary components and store them in the garage. Some of the parts you can remove are the swings, roofs, ladders, and gliders.
Clean It Regularly. If you have a wooden playset, routine cleaning will help prevent any stains or wood rot. Metal and plastic playsets also need regular cleaning to retain their aesthetics.
Add Sealant. Sealant mainly only applies to wooden playsets. You can pick up a waterproof sealant at any hardware store, and it will drastically protect your playset from UV damage, rain, and other harsh weather conditions that might jeopardize its integrity. Like we talk about in our playground maintenance article, we really like Thompson’s WaterSeal for most seal jobs.
There’s no doubt that keeping your backyard playset safe is hard work. It requires a lot of attention and patience to get everything right. However, when it comes to your kids, you want to make sure they’re not going to get hurt while spending time doing what they love.
You’ll also reap the rewards when you see your kids having the time of their lives on their new backyard playset.
Whether you already own a playset or thinking about installing one, we hope these swing set safety tips will be helpful.