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By Jim Sulski

Summary: Choosing the right swing set is important for your child's safety.

In recent years, backyard swing sets have come a long way from a couple of swings on a metal tube frame.
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Today, parents can drive to their local discount store, toy store or home improvement store and find elaborate play sets made not only of metal but of treated wood and plastic.

As a result, play sets can range in price from under a hundred dollars for a simple swing set to well more than $1,000, not including labor, for a more complicated treated lumber set with features such as sky forts and spiraling tube slides.

The range of backyard playground equipment and materials, however, has created somewhat of a dilemma for do-it-yourselfers as far as what to buy and what is the best deal for the money. In addition, safety is a major concern with any purchase as some 50,000 injuries are reported each year around backyard play sets.

With that in mind, what follows is a do-it-yourselfer's primer to choosing a backyard play set.

The most important consideration in is space and location.

Every play set has a minimum required space recommendation (check the box or sales brochure for this information) which should keep moving swings clear of driveways, sidewalks, fences and trees. This is called a fall height, the space a child could fall if they climbed to the top of the play set.

The rule of thumb is that the fall height should be twice the length of the height of the frame of the play set. For example, if the bar overhead is seven feet tall, ground clearance is required 14 feet in both directions.

Also, look for a location in your yard that has good visibility, with a view of the play set possibly from a kitchen window or deck.

Good drainage is also important in that it makes the play set more usable and also prevents slippery falls.

In addition, don't place a play set where a slide or climbing platform will face south or southwest and heat up during the summer months. Finally, keep in mind other hazards.

Keep swing sets out from below power lines, so the lines are not accessible if kids climb to the top of the set.

The construction of the set also plays into safety. Gaps between wood rails or ladder steps should be less than three and one-half inches or wider than nine inches. This will prevent children from falling through railings, as well as head entrapment.

Any open platforms, meanwhile, should be enclosed with chest-high railings that conform to the spacing above.

In addition, study the spacing between swings or rides. Public playgrounds require a gap of at least two feet but backyard sets require only a gap of eight inches. Swings that are too close to each other are safety hazards.

Construction is something else to consider. Some of the sets are ready to be assembled, having been pre-cut and pre-drilled. They require few tools. Others need cutting, requiring a circular saw, and lots of drilling and hammering.

There are also advantages and disadvantages to the different types of materials.

For example, while all of the sets require construction, plastic sets are literally a snap to assemble. The lightweight frames are then filled with 200 to 300 pounds of sand for stability.

Plastic is also usually easier to clean that wood or metal. The downside is that plastic breaks easier than wood or metal and tends to fade in direct sunlight.

Tubular metal is much more durable than plastic and can also outlive wood play sets. Metal is also less expensive than wood and usually easier to assemble as they don't weigh as much.

The disadvantage is that metal sets can dent and are prone to rust. The colors can also fade like plastic.

Treated wood or cedar sets are often the most durable type of play set, tend to be sturdier and accept heavier weight limits than tubular metal sets. They also come in a wide range of sizes and styles. You can buy component kits, which come with hardware and a list of treated lumber needed.

The kits can also be customized or upgraded to a certain degree.

On the down side, wood sets can deteriorate if they are not sealed, similar to a deck, with a water sealer every few years. Ask for a good non-toxic sealer at the paint store.

Splintering can also be a real problem that can only be prevented with maintenance.

© by Jim Sulski. All rights reserved. April 1, 2005.

NOTE: This column is distributed by Real Estate Matters Syndicate, PO Box 366, Glencoe, Illinois, 60022. This column may not be resold, reprinted, resyndicated or redistributed without written permission from the publisher. 

2005 by Ilyce R. Glink. Distributed by Real Estate Matters Syndicate.




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