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Adding a Backyard Playground: Choosing a Material

By Margaret Mierke

Photo courtesy of Northland Recreation Supply

Playground equipment is typically made of one of three primary materials—plastic, wood or metal—each with their own advantages and drawbacks. Deciding which option is best for you will likely be a matter of how much money and space you have to work with.


Plastic play sets are a great match for small children and small backyards. They are safe and can be easily set up or moved around. The downside is plastic tends to breakdown easier than wood or metal, fades in direct sunlight and is only suitable for very young children.


Metal swing sets usually comprise swings and a slide and are suitable for preschool-aged children. If you decide on metal equipment, make sure it is galvanized or painted to prevent rust. Also check to ensure the metal used is thick gauge steel; for example, the top bar should be at least 50 mm (2 in.).

Tubular metal is much more durable than plastic and less expensive and easier to assemble than wood, which tends to weigh much more. However, metal sets can also dent and, as previously mentioned, are prone to rust. Like plastic, the colours can also fade and you will have access to a limited number of available activities.


Wood play sets tend to be sturdier, and are more esthetically pleasing than their plastic and metal counterparts, while also offering a wider variety of configurations. Treated wood or cedar sets are often the most durable and are able to accept heavier weight limits than tubular metal sets. They also come in a wide range of sizes and styles. Many of the higher end play sets can also be added onto as your children grow and their needs and abilities change.

On the down side, wood sets can deteriorate if they are not sealed with a water sealer every few years (similar to a wooden deck). Ask for a good non-toxic sealer at the paint store. Splintering can also be a real problem; this can only be prevented with regular maintenance.

Many manufacturers offer all-inclusive boxed kits, typically made from Asian cedar, which is naturally resistant to rot and decay, however, does not generally have the lifespan of domestically sourced lumber. Higher quality sets use southern yellow pine or California redwood and typically carry a lifetime warranty on the lumber. Cedar, redwood and pressure-treated wood equipment will withstand moisture and resist decay.


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