Congratulations, you’re getting a swing set and making an amazing investment in your child’s physical, social, and emotional development! The one thing you want to make sure of when you are installing your super playset is that it is safe for the kids to play with. Accidents happen so often on swing sets, but with a little forethought and planning, you can create the ultimate playground fun zone that’s safe for everyone!
Flat or Sloped
One of the first things to discuss when installing a swing set is the location. Many homes are situated on a hill or have a sloped backyard that provides loads of room to play. While the long, wide expanse of ground may be inviting, sloped areas are not recommended for playground equipment. The uneven earth makes it difficult for anchors to provide the optimal support for the swings.
Flat surfaces are a much safer option, and making an area flat is easier than you think. If the area is only slightly sloped, you can level it yourself using just a simple yard shovel. But if you have a significant sloping yard, you can discuss leveling out the area with a contractor or the professional you hire to install your wooden swing set.
The next consideration is how far from the house you should be installing your jungle gym. On the one hand, you need to provide enough space all around the swings and slides for kids to swing, slide, play, and run safely without colliding into something. On the other hand, you also want to be close enough to your older children that don’t require constant supervision that you’ll be able to come to their assistance at a moment’s notice.
The recommended location for an outdoor playhouse is within view from a common interior window or door. The side or back of the house is not a good place since people aren’t usually standing in these rooms (though that certainly depends on the layout of the rooms in your home) and won’t be able to monitor the play. Exactly how much room a swing set needs we’ll discuss in the next section.
Now that you have a better idea of where to set up your backyard safety zone, it’s time to understand the internal dimensions that are required to keep playtime safe. In general, you want to leave a minimum of six feet around the outdoor swing equipment. This includes all sides, front, back, left, and right. That distance should be increased around the swings themselves. Make sure there is at least eight inches between each of the swings and from the swing to the ground as well.
Ladder rungs, safety bars, and other gaps must be smaller than three inches apart or wider than nine inches to prevent children from getting their feet, hands, arms, legs, or heads stuck in between.
Preparing the Surface
Once you’ve chosen the perfect spot that is logical, safe, and smart, it’s time to prepare your yard for the installation. You’ll need to clear away all debris including branches, leaves, and garbage that might be scattered about. Next search out any shrubs, rocks, or impediments and clear those away as well. Finally, remove any roots, overhanging branches from nearby trees, or old piping that might be stuck in the ground and could interfere with the installation of your playset. You want a completely smooth and unobstructed area to work with.
Lastly, but certainly not least, parents should lay down a thick layer of surface material. Of the 50,000+ playground equipment injuries that are treated in the emergency room annually, the vast majority of them occur from falls. By laying down the right surface material, we can prevent many of these hospital visits and minimize the damage done when our children do fall.
The right materials for covering your playground equipment grounds might not be what you think. While grass seems like it would be a nice soft option, this frail plant does not provide the shock absorbency that we are looking for in a surface material. Instead, try mulch, wood fiber, wood chips, shredded tires, or rubber mats. These will help soften the fall and prevent major accidents. Spread a layer approximately 12 inches thick around and under the entire playset and refill as needed.
Don’t stop here. Read The Complete Guide to Swing Set Safety for an even more in-depth look at how to keep playtime safe.
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