Having a backyard swing set is one of the joys of childhood. From simple chain link swings to elaborate play sets with jungle gyms, ropes and wave slides these entertaining play sets provide kids with hours of outdoor fun. But not all swing sets are alike and many cut corners on construction and material quality to mass produce cheap sets that don’t measure up to the more well-crafted sets. When shopping for a swing set, or if you plan to design your own, keep several factors in mind to ensure your kids are playing on the safest and most durable swing set possible.
First off, decide whether you plan to use wood, metal or plastic for the frame of your swing set. Wood is your best bet for a backyard swing but not all wood is created equal. When choosing lumber for a swing set consider Con-heart Redwood or Northern White Cedar for strength, a natural resistance to decay and insects and the fact neither requires extra staining to protect the wood from the elements. Metal swing sets are sturdy but very few allow for add-on features and most are permanently cemented into the ground so when your kids grow up you have a unique eyesore in the backyard gathering rust. Plastic swing sets are basic, last only a few years and have very limited warranties.
Next carefully measure the backyard so you know for sure how big the set will be and that it will fit within the parameters of your yard. It is recommended that you provide a 6′ foot buffer zone around any swing set and if you don’t measure properly you could have a set that is in violation of a home owner association guidelines or one that encroaches on a neighbors or town property. Also make sure you trim tree branches and bushes well in advance of installation so no hanging limbs or prickly stems get in the way during construction or when kids are playing on the set.
Unless money is no object you’re best bet for starting a swing set is to purchase a basic wood frame that will allow for additions later on. Metal and plastic sets rarely have upgrade options that let you add ropes, tire swings and wave slides but most wood sets are designed for the addition of extra features as you go along. Another reason to progress in this manner is it allows you to surprise your kids on birthdays and holidays with slides and rock climbing walls. This is also a good strategy for customizing your swing set as your kids grow older. Buying a set that is primarily for toddlers will be outgrown quickly but with a wooden set that allows for upgrades and additions you can attach older kid accessories when they are ready.
Safety should be a top priority for buying any swing set and there are a number of areas to focus on when considering hardware, accessories and attachments. Always look for swing sets that have rounded edges. Hard, flat edges will scrape and splinter over time and can easily cause harm to young children. Recessed hardware should be mandatory. Bolts that protrude from the set are an accident waiting to happen as these pieces can easily snag clothing and will corrode over time when exposed to the elements making your set a liability. Though metal brackets and attachments are sturdy at first they will also corrode over time and no amount of paint can cover up a weakening bracket. Look for durable wood to wood attachments that won’t rust over time and provide a secure fit. Stains and finishes can make a set look nice but the chemicals in these products can be potentially hazardous to children and if possible it is better to avoid using any. Stains and finishes are often used on lower grade wood to cover up the inferiority of the product so carefully inspect any lumber being used for your set to ensure the highest quality.
Lastly, always look for and ask for testimonials from manufacturers. If a swing set builder can’t provide you with a positive review of their set it’s a good indication they don’t have any which should raise a warning flag right away. Do your own research on any manufacturer you are considering by browsing their web site for feedback and also consider doing consumer report searches on your own to find out all you can about a particular brand, accessory or manufacturer. Another recommended search is for any kind of mass product recalls either by the manufacturer or the government. Recalls are often the result of a manufacturer cutting corners and using inferior swing clips, bolts and hangers and if they did it once chances are they will try it again. Aside from technical research you should also consider asking trusted friends and family who own swing sets to get their feedback on particular brands and models.
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