Play Structures

Questions & Responses:
Backyard Play Structure Installation(1 response)
Archived Responses: 


Build or buy tree house and play yard equipment?

June 2008

Any thoughts out there on whether it is more cost effective to build or buy a kids fort w/ attached play equip. i.e. tire swing, slide, or climbing structure? They have full service vendors, and then they have places you can order the equip, but hire your own carpenter or contractor. Has anyone done this recently. I'm not good at these decisions and have no idea of costs. I have a designated space in our yard, a visual idea of what we want for my 5 year old. She'd like to have something like a tree house or fort to make her own, w/ a tire swing and climbing rope. Can you also recommend a carpenter for me to talk to? Anxious to get started!

You may be shocked at what custum labor costs but, you are going to live with this right? So, if her nature is that she wants someplace to bang around and you think you will be getting rid of it soon anyway, go to Toys-R-Us and have her pick a plastic thing that you can pass on later. But if she is aesthetic, a dreamer, and you want something great like a ''folly'' in your garden? Hire someone to build it.

Big Backyard Play Structure?

Nov 2007

Has anyone bought one of the big backyard play structures - the really big ones, that have a couple of swings, a big slide, a raised fort, monkey bars, etc.? Where did you get yours? How did you choose? My mom wants to get one for her house for the kids to play on when they're there, and we're debating between a plastic one (e.g., from Little Tikes or Step 2) and a wooden one. What were they like in terms of assembly, upkeep and sturdiness? Thanks - Lisa

Yes I have! I got mine online at Costco (free delivery!) I bought it during a major backyard renovation and had a contractor install it, because it was VERY complicated. I just got it this past summer, though, so I can't tell you about long term wear and tear, but my kids love it! Jill

hello, we have the playstructure from costco and our kids, as do others love it. it is reasonable and durable and has what any kid would need to have fun. just beware, you or someone handy must be able to build it for you or your mother. our kids love it.

We have the costco play structure, and we've had it for 2 years now, and it has been great. I will say that one of the seats started to crack last year, and we called up the mfr, who replaced it (though they were a little slow). You should be aware of the area you need around the play structure to fit in the swings and climbing, and it is expensive to put the thing together, even if you do it yourself. My husband is very handy, and takes pride in doing these things, but it was challenging for him. A couple of the instructions were wrong, and you need to dig out around the structure and fill it w/ something like wood chips or 6'' of fill and grass to make it safe,and it should be level: a really good example of how NOT to do it is at the Hiller HIghlands country club, where the structure is not level, and the kids sail down the slide to land in a 4x4 foot box, which is not big enough (would be safer to have them just land in the grass). But it's a good structure, and has kept kids in our backyard entertained from about 2 yrs (it's a little big for them but they can still use it) up to about 8-9 yrs old. It did cost a bit to build the whole thing, and it's pretty much semi-permanent, so something to keep in mind. I can't remember exactly, but it seems to me he spent at least another $1000 to build it properly. And if you pay somebody else to do it for you, make sure you hire somebody to do it right. I've seen several of these things with shortcuts, and they don't look all that safe to me. Janet

Should I buy a play structure for our rental house?

May 2006

Hi, I was thinking of buying one of those large wooden play structures for my children to play on. However, we will be living in a rental for another year before buying a home. My question is how difficult would it be to assemble and then disassemble and move one of these structures? Is it worth it to go ahead and get one (which I really want to do) or better to wait until it has a permanent space? Thanks Lisa

Don't do it. My husband spent about 6 months putting one of those wooden structures into our backyard. It's a lot of work, and not inexpensive-you need gravel, concrete, wood chips or other shock-absorbing surfacing, wood to contain the surfacing, etc. You have to dig down about 6-12 inches, in a wide enough area to contain all the shock absorption. Also, the owner of the house might not appreciate or allow it. If, after being really clear about what it involves, you still want to do it, you need to speak to your landlord first. I can also assure you that you won't want to move the thing. You'll want to put a new structure in at your new house, and you'll want to leave this one behind. For now, spend the time that you'd spend on the structure by going to a playground. Save the money too. The expense of BUYING the structure was almost minimal compared to installing it properly. And unless you and your husband are really handy,you won't enjoy the process (or you'll need to hire help). my extremely handy husband discovered a number of errors in the instructions--which included a DVD with about 100 differnt parts.

Where to get a wooden play structure?

April 2006

Can anyone suggest a good place to get a wooden backyard playstructure for kids? There seem to be a lot of options and I'm a little overwhelmed. Also, anyone have a good person to install and build the box that it will go in? Thanks so much! heidi

We got our play structure from Benches, Etc in Marin off the 101. They were very helpful and have a crew to assemble it for you. They may build a box for you as well but we just put ours on the grass. They are also opening a new store in Walnut Creek next month. swing set fan

Try Costco. Good luck

Backyard play structures -- worth it?

April 2004

my daughter is 6 years old and we finally have a backyard to fit a play structure. I was wondering though, how old do kids usually play on them until (tire swing, monkey bar, rings, play house on top of structure, climbing wall etc) it's so expensive and i'd hate to spend all that money for a year or 2. thanks. bb

My children used our backyard play structure (playhouse,sandbox, slide, swings, rope, trapeze) through about age 11. It was like adding an extra room to the house. With more than one child, it made it much easier to organize outdoor play and playmate visits, and keep track of kids of different ages. It was well worth the approximately $2000 investment. I have 2 boys and a girl, and I decided to get the play structure because my daughter (at about 4, the middle child) was constantly climbing on everything in the house and swinging from the bunk bed like it was a trapeze. Love those swings

One thing to consider is whether your kids would use the backyard very often. We had a nice backyard in our old house but my kids preferred going to a playground or playing in the front yard. They are very social -- they wanted to be around other people, neighbors, the neighbors' dogs, the mail carrier, the ice cream truck, etc. I loved the privacy of our back yard, but my kids couldn't care less about privacy, they wanted to be where there was more action. It really depends on the kids' personalities. Melinda

We paid big money 4 years ago for a structure that doesn't get used that much. My 10 year old has now outgrown it and my 5 year old plays on it only when friends come over. I would recommend getting a big trampoline instead! They're safer these days with netting and padding and from what I've heard and seen - kids love them and play on them through their teens. It's great exercise too! - Lisa

I had one as a kid-and I think it was definitly worth it for my parents. I had a older sister, and we played on it from about the time I was two and she was five till I was nine, but she stopped when she was ten or eleven. It created wonderful memories and fun. Laury

I would not spring for a backyard play structure unless you live in a neighborhood with no easily accessible, safe playground. We met many of our current friends through informal playground encounters in which we would end up talking to and ultimately befriending people with interests similar to ours and kids in the same age range. If we had put up a structure in our backyard we would not only have spent a lot of money that could have gone to other important entertainment/educational venues (science museum and zoo memberships, the occasional kid concert or play, sports or arts camps, etc.) -- we would have fewer friends! Of course, our son is an only child, so he also needed to get out to meet other kids, but even with more than one child, I think that our local playgrounds are invaluable. tight-wad mom

Swing Sets

November 2001

We are looking for a put-it-together-yourself swing set. We would like 2 swings and a trapeze plus a wood frame and all the nuts and bolts necessary to secure everything together. Can anyone recommend a place where we could buy this - locally or on the internet? Thank you. David and Vivienne

A while back I was doing some research as to where I could find a good wood framed swing set and I found this one company that offers some really good quality with varying types, guarantees, and wood selections You can email them and request a catalog of pictures which they will email you back. Their email address is Bob Forney or B Good luck in your hunt. Yanneth

Play Structures

Jan 2002

I'm looking for a two swings and a slide play structure. I've seen similar in many Berkeley back yards, but don't know where to get one. The archives mention one place in Martinez, one place in San Mateo and one catalog. Is there any place local? Has anyone bought one lately? (Some of the recommendation are from 1996.) Karen

Toys R Us has a large selection of metal and wooden swing sets and will deliver and assemble for an extra charge. We went to a few of the play structure stores that sell just wooden sets and found that they were incredibly expensive and took weeks and weeks to order and deliver. We got a wooden set with swings and two slides at Toys R Us that our kids love. I think that Toys R Us doesn't sell the set year round; you might have to wait until the Spring. In case you haven't discovered this already, the store in Pinole is a much better shopping experience than the Emeryville store. Theresa

I did a lot of research on backyard playstructures last spring. I needed something wooden and compact to fit the backyard, with swings, slide, sand box, rock -climbing wall, etc. I visited Swings-n-Things in Danville, Rainbow systems in Martinez, ToysRUs (Concord store has a lot more stuctures than Emeryville) and finally liked best The Backyard Factory in Danville. They have an indoor showroom with all of the stuctures built and ready to try (bring the kids!) They will adjust a playset to meet your needs. Ron came out to see our backyard to make sure the playstructure would fit. They delivered and set ours up (extra charge of course). Very nice and professional. All the staff have young kids which was nice. They are not the cheapest (that would be Toys R Us) but not the most expensive either.

We got our playstucture last May and the kids (age 4 and 2) played on it everyday!! Even now they like to play on it while bundled up in coats!! Yes, it's expensive, but if you move, the playsture can move with you. After seeing ours, a girlfriend went and ordered one too. Any questions, e-mail or call me. Kathleen

Costco has a really nice one with a long slide and even a built-in picnic table under one side. I believe it's about $600, mostly wood with some plastic. Jennie

Can anyone recommend a play system/structure and phone number? I am interested in a ChildLife structure but cannot locate phone number. (I tried the ''800'' directory) Any other excellent company complete with phone number would do as well. Thank you.

Note from Myriam: Childlife's website is here: Their phone number is:800/467-9464

I'm not sure if you're looking for those nice wooden ones, but we got ours (metal) at Sears at Hilltop Mall a few years ago. They have a variety (maybe even wooden ones too). The price was reasonable and my kids love it. June

To the folks asking about play structures (and anyone else looking for an alternative to Toys-R-Us), I'd like to recommend that you check out Talbot's Toyland. They are in San Mateo, but well worth the drive! They have the most amazing selection of play structures and toys for all ages -- I spent hours there, on my first trip, just taking it all in! And, for those of you who have kids into trains, they have an entire room devoted to trains. But, for me, the best part was the friendly, helpful, patient, and well-informed staff -- a true blessing, and NOT something that you'll get at TRU. Their number is (650)342-0126. Enjoy!

Leslie (July 1999)

As a reply to the parents interested in building a wooden play structure for their two year old, let me suggest going to the Rainbow Systems Play Structure showroom in Martinez. We actually bought one of their systems 5 years ago when our son was 2, and it is still in use by him and our 4 year old daughter and their friends. It has 2 swings, a slide, a tire swing, monkey bars, a rope ladder, a hanging bar, and a roofed platform that acts as a secret clubhouse all in a compact space. While the cost may be too high (and is was expensive even 5 years ago), you could get some good ideas just looking. (1996)

Play Structure Ground Cover

Nov 2005

Can anyone tell me the name of that cushy rubbery ground cover you see on newer playgounds to soften falls? Does anyone know where it's available? If it turns out to be too expensive, can anyone recommend a good alternative for covering dirt in a backyard (20 ft. x 20 ft. space) with a safe material that's safe for kids to play on? Thanks a bunch! Mom looking for playstructure ground cover

The rubber stuff is either pour rubber and it is very expensive. We have rubber bark. It is recycled rubber tires and comes in many colors. It does NOT get hot in the summer and it is soft to the barefoot. You can get more information about it and you can also purchase it at: Rainbow of The Bay Area - East and North Bay 280 Arthur Rd. Martinez, CA 94553 Phone: (925) 228-6015 rcmjrogers [at] ask for Christina or Ron. They put in our playstructure and our ground cover. We get rave reviews from the kids and from parents too. Adina

March 2004

We could use recommendations on what to use to fill in a play area for our toddlers outdoor play structure. We need to add a cushioning material under the play structure and its slide. We cannot use sand because of the number of wild cats in our area (they would use a sand box as a litter box!). We will likely keep this play area a number of years and replace the toddler structure with larger play gear for older kids as ours grow up. Bark does not appeal to us either because it isn't very soft. Any ideas? Anon Mom with twins

This helpful web page from the ChildLife (play structure manufacturer) website tells all about the various materials you can use to cushion under your play structure: The page is basically copied from ''Playground Surfacing Materials'' Consumer Information pdf from the US Consumer Product Safety Commission, which you can download. - Stacy

April 2003

Anyone have experience with various materials used to cover the ground around a swingset or fort? If you used woodchips, what kind did you use? Did you have a problem with bits of it sticking to kids clothes? thanks in advance for your recommendations, karlyn

There is a great material I've used professionally as a landscape architect called fibar. You can get information at It is a nice surface, similar to woodchips but sturdier and I don't believe splinters as much. I have no idea where you could get it around here but I bet if you called them they could tell you. Otherwise use wood chips or sand. People also sell cut up rubber tires -- but I've heard this can be a chocking hazard. I would make sure whatever you use that you get a good pile of it and maintain it regularly. I imagine you would want at least 4-6 inches of material. Personally, I would do a test fall, I'd rather be the one hurt than my child. anon

April 1999

Wanting to buy some backyard slides and stuff like that, I've been looking for ground covering materials that might make a backyard slide safer. I didn't find anything until we bought a very small slide that just so happened to contain much of the needed information. The information with the slide came from the Consumer Product Safety Commission, and you can find out more about Playground Surfacing Materials at: The CPSC is at:

Possibly more relevant are their safety publications at:

The Playground Surfacing Materials brochure is good reading: they discuss rubber mats, sand, wood mulch, wood chips, bark chips. My take is that double shredded bark mulch is a good choice: relatively inexpensive at Home Depot (I priced something like that (but was it double shredded?) at $2.99 for 2 cubic feet), relatively attractive to look at, relative unattractive for cats and dogs. 9 inches of uncompressed bark protects for a fall up to 10 feet. 9 inches of compressed bark protects for a fall up to 7 feet. Now all that said, my particular problem is still present: I have a concrete backyard, and the CPSC says that this mulch should not be applied over existing hard surfaces (so maybe I'll just add more...?)

From: Wendy (12/98)

To the person wanting to make concrete safe: My son is allegic to dust mites, so we had to get rid of all our rugs. We put down a rug made from rubber 1-ft-by-1-ft squares -- the alphabet squares that you often see in catalogs and kids stores. You might want to check if they are sturdy enough for outdoor use.

Can Old Play Structure Be Saved?

March 2002

The house we moved into a year ago has an old homemade play structure that's in pretty bad shape. The main problem is that the wood is very weathered, split & cracked; the neighbor kids informed us when we moved in that it was all splintery and not good to play on. I don't know what kind of wood it is--certainly not redwood, probably whatever was cheapest 10-15 (20?) years ago. It looks like the whole thing could use a good sanding, which would be a big job. Does anyone have any experience with this kind of thing, or know someone who might be able to either refurbish it for us or look at it and tell us if it's worth trying to save? Our son wants to be climbing it, and I'd like to figure out soon whether to tear it down or try to fix it up. Any suggestions for people or approaches would be great. Thanks.

Saved? Depends.

''There is nothing in medicine more expensive or more futile than attempting to keep a corpse from stinking'' Some Greek dude, long dead himself.

The question reminds me of various techniques used for the temporary resuscitation of dead wooden rowboats. Yes, you can patch it up so it doesn't leak, much, but it's still a dead boat.

The tools are similar, and are commonly found in the Roofing section of Home Depot.

First, is the play structure sound enough to bother with. You, the adult, should stomp, swing, attack it with a pocket knife and otherwise give it a right good rogering to determine if it will collapse under similar ministrations by Junior. This is called Proof Testing, and is common in engineering practice. Rot is your enemy - checking, twisting, and splintering can be ignored for the time being.

If it survives the Parent Proof Test, and you do too, then it's time to preserve what you've got left. Hit the whole structure with some sort of primer - I like Firzite, you're looking for a thin, runny sort of stuff WITHOUT silicone in it. Next, give the whole thing 2 coats of aluminized roof paint. This will seal out the water and rot spores, and smooth out the rough bits.

Advanced repairs may involve wood butchery to replace rotted sections with new, and using roofing tar, roofing nails and flashing to seal any gaps, cracks, and plywood end grain that are notorious rot pockets. You, the Carpenter in Charge, need to constantly evaluate whether this structure is worthy of your attentions, given your wallet, the remaining years your kids will use the structure, your time, your level of risk tolerance, etc.

You could always cart the whole thing down to Adventure Playground....

''Been There, Done That, Still Standing''