With a few keystrokes, you can fulfill a child’s dream of bringing a playground home. But a swing set is not a minor purchase; you want to make sure that what you bring home is truly what you want, and that you are getting your money’s worth. Most importantly, you want to ensure the structure is safe for your little ones.
The questions below will help you investigate the issues that matter, facilitate your online purchase, and provide you with peace of mind, as you enhance the capacity for outdoor play at your home.
1. How much assembly will be required? Will any of the parts come “pre-assembled” or will the manufacturer make you assemble everything to the last detail?
Most swing set manufacturers make the customer assemble every single piece required for the playset. (Even smaller non-essential items like the tic-tac-toe board on the fort does not even come pre-assembled!) If you are considering a particular playset, consider asking the salesperson how many pieces need to be assembled. For example, as a test, we purchased a $2600 playset from a well-known national swingset company. According to the installation manual, there were more than 2000 pieces (including bolts and screws) to deal with. This assembly will take on average 2-3 days. So understanding what you’re going to be assembling is important. A good manufacturer will pre-assemble many of the parts for you, saving you both time and effort.
In addition to considering the quantity of parts for the assembly, there are some basic things to look for to determine whether this will be an easy or hard installation. One way to make the entire assembly process go a lot smoother is to opt for a swing set that comes with pre-drilled holes. The good manufacturers actually cut the wood and drill the holes for the bolts so this step of the process is already done when you open your playset package. There are quite a few benefits to having pre-drilled holes in your playground equipment. For one thing, it will minimize the amount of work you have to do. There are hundreds of bolts and screws that need to be installed when you put together a wooden swing set. That’s a lot of holes that need to be drilled, so you can imagine the amount of time and effort you're saving by letting the manufacturers do it for you!
Additionally, drilling holes into wooden playground equipment is a precarious task that can easily end badly. Too much pressure, and you end up splitting the wood. Go at it from the wrong angle, and the beam can crack completely. Even if the wood does manage to stay together, there are splinters of wood everywhere, and many remain on the surface of the swing set. You’ll have to remove these by rigorously sanding down the wood, one more task added to the job.
Pre-drilled holes save you time, effort, and worry and provide a clean and secure finished job, so go for this option whenever possible.
Here’s the tricky thing: solid wood is very, very heavy. Shipping a real-wood swing set is pretty much impossible. Swing sets that claim to be made of redwood or cedar – but arrive to your house ready for assembly in one box – are likely compressed board. Instead, keep an eye out for pressure-treated pine (preferably grade #1, but at least #2). Pressure treated wood is unusually resilient against rotting, decay, and bug infestations due to the treatment process. During this process, a chemical compound is injected directly into the center of the wooden beams, giving the wood a super strong resistance to these common wooden swing set ailments.
In case you’ve heard the bad rep that pressure-treated wood once received, you can rest assured that the rumors are unfounded. Around 70 years ago, the treatment method of choice for curing wood was CCA (chromated copper arsenate). The trouble with this combination was that it contained a poisonous chemical (arsenic) which could be fatal if absorbed in high enough concentrations.
Today, manufacturers are aware of the dangers of arsenic poisoning and do not use this compound to treat the wood for public use anymore. Instead, they’ll use a safer alternative such as copper azole to provide strength and durability without the harmful side effects.
While these wooden swing sets won’t last as long as their arsenic-laced counterparts, they are still the most reliable wood alternative out there and are a whole lot safer!
3. How long-term are you thinking when you make this purchase?
If you consider your swing set an investment for the fun and play not only of the coming season, but for your children’s entire childhood, and even for that of your grandchildren, you will find yourself owner of a good, solid, lasting swing set. When you consider your swing set an investment, you are far less likely to end up with a cheap, rickety structure that risks falling apart within the year.
4. Are you locked into your purchase?
If you choose well, you should end up with a good, sturdy swing set that will last your family for at least another generation. But what if your family expands, and you want a larger swing set? Or you move, and cannot bring the swing set with you? A reliable merchant will let you either sell it back to them down the road, or trade up, as needed.
5. Will the company you aim to buy from customize your swing set?
Considering the size and expense of a swing set, you want one that suits your family’s needs and preferences. For example, look to be able to select your own configuration (what elements of the outdoor playground are available for your selection), choose color, set height requirements, and so on.
6. Can you talk to a real live person at the website you are purchasing from when you want to?
Similarly, is there a physical address for the website you are using? Basically, the idea is that those who back a swing set should be accessible to those who purchase from them, and not being able to reach a merchant may be a red flag in terms of their ability to stand behind the product down the road.
7. What are the terms of the warranty?
Ideally, you are looking for a company that offers 10-15 years of top to bottom warranty. Investigate whether the company you are looking to buy from supports their warranty. Often, the most reliable sellers of swing sets are not dealers or distributors, but those who actually manufacture the playset.
8. What do the reviews say?
Online reviews are an excellent resource. You will hear the strengths and weaknesses of the product you are considering by those who are most in the know: the parents who have already decided to purchase it. Maximize on their experience, and use their feedback to inform your decision. Also, try to reach the reviewers (comments are a common feature) to find out whether their impression of the swing set has changed since the time that they wrote the reviews.
9. Have you used your online resources in investigating both product and seller?
The same way that you can make your purchase with a few keystrokes, you can also find out a great deal about your product and those who would sell it to you. Check out Facebook pages, online trade newsletter reviews, and any other information you can find online about the company. You want to find a reliable merchant – not someone who is going for the fast sale or who puts you at risk of hidden fees or unreliable merchandise.
A little care in your pre-purchase research will provide for hours and hours of happiness in your yard. If you want a more comprehensive look at purchasing, selecting, installing, and maintaining your playsets in a safe and healthy way, check outThe Ultimate Swing Set Guide for Parents. It’s got all the information you need to keep your kids happy and safe while playing on an outdoor swing set.