Swing sets are most commonly purchased in the spring as the weather gets nice and parents know it's time for the kids to play outside in the backyard. What better way to encourage your children to spend time outside in healthy, physical activity.
Yet today's swing sets are more like a playground with ladders, slides, forts, climbing walls and so much more. With this array of choices, parents don't always know what the most important considerations are in picking a swing set. This article provides an outline of the key factors to consider when making your decision.
How Will You Use the Swing Set?
When you first start to think about buying a swing set you probably have a toddler. It's a good idea to think through the following questions to get a better idea of how big a swing set you might need, along with how many features make sense.
- How many children do you anticipate having?
- How many years will a parent stay/work at home versus the children spending time at daycare?
- How frequently will you host play dates at your home?
- How often will you entertain friends and their children?
Now pick 2 numbers. The higher number should represent the greatest number of children you anticipate playing on the swing set (and frequency?). The second number is the average number of children playing on the swing set, i.e. you plan to have 2 children with frequent play dates for both, a group of 4 children is your average. While you expect to have 2 or 3 large parties each year, you really only need a swing set for 4 children and can accommodate larger groups with some play toys.
Choice of Materials and Design
All swing sets are not equal, so it pays to do some research before you buy one. Metal swing sets are simpler but make sure the metal is galvanized and coated with a lead-free, rust resistant paint. There are many wood choices and you want to evaluate how much maintenance each requires. CedarWorks.com uses long lasting northern white cedar which is safer as the wood is splinter free and requires minimal maintenance.
Given how popular swing sets have become, there are numerous manufacturers to choose from along with the box stores. Some of the items to consider in choosing a swing set for your family include:
- Flexibility in size and shape to fit your location. Options should allow designing your own configuration from mix and match parts plus the ability to add sections as your family grows.
- With so many features available, you want the ability to swap out a supportive child seat once they're 4 years old. Don't clutter the play area with too many features, but rather create an environment where your children can use their imagination, coupled with great physical activity.
The US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) recommends the following safety guidelines for residential swing sets:
- Check for spaces that could trap children, such as openings in guardrails or between ladder rungs; these should be less than 3.5 inches or more than 9 inches. To prevent trapping a child's head or neck, fill in all V-shaped angles that open upwards.
- Make sure platforms and ramps raised 30+ inches have guardrails to prevent falls.
- Remove/cover sharp points or edges in equipment or any type of protruding hardware.
- Remove tripping hazards like exposed concrete footings, tree stumps and rocks.
- Make sure there are no gaps or things sticking out at the top or bottom of the slide where clothing can get caught and trap a child.
Manufacturer and Installation
My handyman business has handled many different swing set installations. Most don't go smoothly and customers are unhappy when the installation costs just as much as the swing set. We're not responsible for the missing parts and inevitably, the installation takes longer than the manufacturer projections … because they're selling you the product.
We ask our customers to inventory the parts before we arrive to save money and warn them it will take several hours. When parents find too many parts are missing, they have to decide to find new parts of simply return the swing set.
Last fall we assembled Leisure Time's Cambridge kit purchased online from Sam's Club. The original manufacturer estimate for installation was 16 to 24 hours for 2 people, but they later admitted the installs were taking 48 hrs. We're good at what we do but there's no magic in reading difficult “written in China” directions, finding just the right pieces of wood and required hardware. It takes time and even my husband and I couldn't work faster than my technicians but we tried!
Other companies specializing in swing set installations and they reported similar problems. The real proof came the following year — the company and product aren't visible anywhere on the web (maybe a new name?)
- Boxes were dropped at the end of the driveway while it was raining and all the stickers came off the wood pieces.
- 2,316 pieces of hardware – 32 different types, shipped in 18 plastic bags (multiple sizes in each bag).
- 472 pieces of wood in 124 different shapes and fortunately only 2 pieces were missing.
- 68 pages of instructions.
Think Twice Before Buying a Complicated Swing Set
For related information, you can also read:
- Fun is More Than a Swing Set
- Playground safety tips from the National Program for Playground Safety (NPPS)
- Swingsets.Net, a buyers guide (links to manufacturers) and information portal
- Swing Sets: Research Before You Buy >> this article
- Tips for Installing a Swing Set.