Author: Trey Collier

About Trey Collier

Avid Do-It-Yourself-er. Love's being outdoors. Helped push the shade sail market into one of the fastest growing outdoor shade structures product in North America.

Solar Shades – What are the Benefits?

Solar Shades

Coolaroo Roll Up Shade

Reduce Home Energy Costs with Solar Shades

Saving money on home energy bills can be a challenge when hot, sunny days increase our dependence on air conditioning. According to Consumer Reports, “Americans spend more than $22 billion a year…to cool their homes with air conditioning” (July 2008). Reducing our need to turn on the home cooling system is possible with the simple and inexpensive addition of solar window shades, also known as sun shades, to our windows and doors.

Solar shades are quite different from standard window shades and offer a number of benefits that go beyond lowering home cooling costs. Sun shades are constructed using a specially designed, breathable fabric that allows light and air to filter through. Sun shades are not black-out shades, but they do reduce the amount of direct sunlight that streams in through a home’s windows and sliding doors or French doors. Unlike interior window shades, solar shades are installed on the outside of a home’s windows or doors. This prevents up to 75% of sunlight from penetrating the window and significantly lessens the heat transfer. Solar shades can reduce a room’s temperature by up to 25%, making the indoor environment inviting and pleasant, even on the hottest summer days.

Sun shades not only make our homes cooler, thereby saving us money on air conditioning costs, they protect our indoor furnishings from the destructive effects of the sun’s ultra-violet (UV) rays. Over time, UV rays will discolor, fade, and crack the various materials we keep in our homes. Fabrics, furniture, upholstery, carpets, paintings, and more are negatively affected by exposure to sunlight. Damage increases over time, too, so the more sun exposure our home interiors experience, the more our belongings will suffer the consequences. The specialized fabric in solar shades can block up to 90% of the sun’s UV rays and protect our interior spaces.

In addition to being breathable and able to block significant amounts of UV rays, sun shades are easy to maintain; they are weather resistant, mildew resistant, and can be quickly cleaned with warm water and a mild detergent. Sun shades offer the benefit of privacy, as well. The breathable fabric allows us to see out of the windows and doors, but neighbors and passers-by are unable to see into the home.

Saving money on air conditioning costs would be reason enough to install solar window shades on our homes, but the additional benefits described here — protection of interior furnishings from UV rays, easy maintenance, and privacy — make sun shades an even more attractive home improvement option.

Outdoor Curtains – Tab Top, Rod Pocket or Grommets

Tab Top Curtains

The Inexpensive Choice For Backyard Privacy and Comfort

The desire for a private, comfortable, and beautiful backyard living space often leads home owners to make expensive decisions. Adding on a sun room or even a screened-in porch requires contractors, building permits, large and noisy machinery, and a lengthy wait for the finished product. Luckily, a simple and inexpensive solution exists, especially if your home already has the advantage of a covered patio or deck, or if a pergola or gazebo already serve as a focal point in your backyard. The simple solution is to install outdoor curtains or drapes.

Curtains and drapes are an unexpected and often overlooked option that can quickly and easily provide privacy for very little money. Enjoying the pleasant weather and a good book or entertaining a group of friends can be a challenge if you feel that your backyard activities are constantly on display. Homes that sit close to each other, and homes whose backyards overlook roads or commercial areas, can benefit from the privacy that exterior curtains and drapes provide.

In addition to creating privacy, curtains add a soft touch to the hard surfaces of a wooden deck, pergola, or stone patio. The gentle drape of fabric brings a comfortable indoor feel to the outside space and makes the backyard living area so much more inviting. Curtains offer flexibility, too, in their appearance. Whether you prefer fabric that hangs fully or that is tied back with a decorative tassel, you have the freedom to change the look of your backyard room simply by changing the look of the curtains.

When selecting curtains or drapes for a backyard living area, fabric quality is the most important feature to consider. Indoor fabric would not be suitable in an exterior space because indoor fabrics tend to fade and certainly would not stand up to harsh weather conditions. Outdoor fabrics, on the other hand, are made especially to be fade resistant and water resistant. High quality fabrics, such as those made by Sunbrella, block up to 98% of the sun’s harmful UV rays, are breathable, and resist mildew and stains. Like indoor drapes, though, those made for exterior spaces come in a variety of colors and hanging styles, including tab top, grommet, and rod pocket.

For a fraction of what it would cost to construct a new exterior living area, you can hang beautiful, durable outdoor curtains or drapes around your existing covered patio or deck, pergola or gazebo to instantly create a private and comfortable backyard room. Many home owners will find that outdoor curtains are the ideal solution for their backyard living space.

How Safe is Your Home Playground Equipment? Part 3

Safety First

How Safe is Your Home Playground Equipment? Part 3

Inspection and Maintenance Over Time

Backyard playground safety is a significant priority when we plan and construct a backyard playground for our kids and their friends.  Just as crucial, though, is the attention we pay to playground safety over time.  Playground safety should remain a priority for the duration of the playground equipment’s use.  Regular inspection and upkeep of the playground area is essential for keeping children safe through years of active play.  By following the guidelines for inspection and maintenance presented in this article, you can increase the safety of your playground equipment, protective playground surface, and the surrounding area, and lessen the possibility of injuries.

Over time, the safety of  backyard playground equipment can be undermined by harsh weather conditions and active play.  Frequent inspections of the playground equipment and the condition of each part will reduce the likelihood of injuries.  The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission recommends that the following actions be taken to ensure the safety of your backyard playground equipment:


  • Check nuts and bolts twice a month and tighten as needed.
  • Replace hardware that is worn or that has protrusions or projections.
  • Oil moving metal parts as directed by the manufacturer.
  • Check to make sure protective caps and plugs that cover bolt ends and ends of tubing are in place and tight.  Inspect twice a month and replace as needed.
  • Check the condition of the equipment, looking for signs of wear and tear such as broken or missing parts, bent pipes or tubing, and splintering or decaying wooden surfaces.
  • Check swing seats, ropes, chains, and cables monthly for deterioration and replace as needed.
  • Clean, sand, and repaint rusted areas with a non-lead-based paint.

In addition, sandboxes should be checked often for insects, debris, and dangers such as sharp rocks, sticks, or broken glass.  Sandboxes should be covered when not in use to prevent animals from soiling the sand.

The amount of maintenance required for protective playground surfaces will depend on the type of surface you have chosen. Loose-fill surface materials like wood chips, shredded bark mulch, pea gravel, play sand, and recycled rubber mulch require regular raking, and sometimes tilling, to remove rubbish, loosen compacted areas, and level the surface.  Also, to maintain the appropriate protective depth of your playground surface, add more material to your existing surface once or twice each year.

Synthetic protective playground surfaces like rubber tiles, rubber mats, and poured-in-place surfaces usually need less maintenance than loose-fill surface materials, but they should be inspected frequently.  Look for gouges, burns, or loosened areas, and repair them as needed.  Additionally, sand, rocks, leaves, or other loose material should be swept from the protective surface routinely to lower the possibility of slipping hazards.

The area surrounding your backyard playground can become just as dangerous as the equipment and the protective playground surface if not adequately maintained.  Keep the area free of litter and any objects that may cause injuries, such as fallen tree limbs, sharp sticks, large rocks, and yard tools.  Additionally, adequate drainage should be maintained to prevent water from collecting on and around the protective playground surface.  Areas that are often wet can be potential slipping hazards as well as breeding grounds for fungus, mold, and other bacteria.

In summary, take a few minutes each week to inspect your home playground equipment, protective surface, and surrounding area for possible safety issues. Doing so can significantly improve safety conditions for the children who enjoy your backyard playground.  Keeping kids safe is paramount, and no measure is too great to assure their well being during their explorative and developmental play.   Backyard playground safety is too important to permit any avoidable risk to go undetected.


  • U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, Document #323.  “Home Playground Safety Tips.”
  • U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, Document #324.  “Outdoor Home Playground Safety Handbook.”  2005.

How Safe is Your Home Playground Equipment? Part 2

Safety First

Protective Playground Surface Options

The protective playground surface is often the most overlooked part of home playground safety. While about 80% of public playgrounds have some type of shock-absorbing protective surfacing under playground equipment, only 9% of home playgrounds do, according to a 2001 playground injury study conducted by the U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC). The study found that, of the roughly 50,000 injuries annually associated with home playground equipment, 69% of the injuries were a result of falls to a non-protective surface below the equipment.

Most commonly, backyard playgrounds sit on top of grass and dirt, but neither surface provides adequate protection against serious injury due to falls, even falls from 30 inches or less above the ground. Fractures of the arms and hands, and lacerations and contusions of the head and face are the most commonly reported injuries that result from a child falling from playground equipment to a non-protective playground surface such as grass or dirt, as reported by the CPSC.

Luckily, there are a variety of protective playground surface choices for the home playground that meet the need for playground safety. Not surprisingly, playground surfaces range in cost from affordable to expensive, and each choice has its own list of advantages and disadvantages. By comparing and contrasting each type of playground surface material, as presented in this article, you should be able to choose the most suitable playground surface for your home playground.

Critical Height of Home Playground Equipment

The first and most important piece of information to know when considering the available choices for your protective playground surface is critical height. Critical height refers to the “maximum fall height from which a life-threatening head injury would not be expected to occur.” The critical height of your playground equipment equals the height (in feet) of the uppermost part of your playground equipment that is accessible to children. The protective playground surface you select for your home playground should be installed with a depth that is adequate for your equipment’s critical height.

The following table shows the critical height (in feet) for each of the loose-fill surface materials described in this article “when tested in an uncompressed state at depths of 6, 9, and 12 inches. The table also shows the critical height when a 9 inch depth of each material was tested in a compressed state.”

Material Uncompressed
6 Inch Depth
9 Inch Depth
12 Inch Depth
9 Inch Depth
Wood Chips* 7 ft 10 ft 11 ft 10 ft
Shredded Bark Mulch 6 ft 10 ft 11 ft 7 ft
Engineered Wood Fibers** 6 ft 7 ft 12 ft 6 ft
Fine Sand 5 ft 5 ft 9 ft 5 ft
Coarse Sand 5 ft 5 ft 6 ft 4 ft
Fine Gravel 6 ft 7 ft 10 ft 6 ft
Medium Gravel 5 ft 5 ft 6 ft 5 ft
Shredded Tires*** 10-12 ft N/A N/A N/A


*This product was referred to as Wood Mulch in previous versions of the handbook.  The term Wood Chips more accurately describes the product.

**This product was referred to as Uniform Wood Chips in previous versions of the handbook.   In the playground industry, the product is more commonly known as Engineered Wood Fibers.

***This data is from tests conducted by independent testing laboratories on a 6 inch depth of uncompressed shredded tire samples produced by four manufacturers.  The test results reported critical heights which varied from 10 feet to greater than 12 feet.  It is recommended that persons seeking to install shredded tires as a protective surface request test data from the supplier showing the critical heights of the material when it was tested in accordance with ASTM F1292.

As an example, if the critical height of your home playground equipment is 8 feet, then your options, according to the table above, would be 9 inches of compressed or uncompressed wood chips, 9 inches of uncompressed shredded bark mulch, 12 inches of uncompressed play sand, 12 inches of uncompressed pea gravel, or 6 inches of uncompressed recycled rubber mulch. Being aware of some of the advantages and disadvantages of loose-fill surface materials will allow you to narrow the options to meet your particular needs.

Alternatives to loose-fill surface materials are rubber playground tiles, rubber mats, and poured-in-place playground surfaces. These options are offered by a number of manufacturers who may use a variety of shock-absorbing materials. The manufacturers should be able to give you test data that shows the critical height for the protective surfaces they offer.

Loose-Fill Playground Surface Choices

In general, loose-fill playground surface materials like wood chips, shredded bark mulch, pea gravel, play sand, and recycled rubber mulch are most frequently chosen for home playgrounds because they are relatively inexpensive and easy to acquire from a local garden center or home improvement warehouse. Recycled rubber mulch can also be found in a number of colors and sizes through internet suppliers.

Common Features of Loose-Fill Playground Surface Materials


  • A retaining barrier of some kind is necessary for preventing the surface materials from displacement due to active play or weather conditions.
  • Loose-fill materials should never be placed on top of hard surfaces like concrete or asphalt.
  • Adequate drainage beneath the protective surface is important.


  • The initial expense of installing a loose-fill playground surface under your home playground equipment is generally low because the materials are easy to find and are affordable.


  • Over time, loose-fill materials can become compressed, thus reducing their protective abilities.
  • Recommended depths can be compromised when active play or windy conditions displace the loose-fill materials.
  • Rubbish such as broken glass, nails, and other sharp objects which can cause injury can be easily concealed by loose-fill materials.
  • Regular upkeep is required to maintain proper depth and to remove rubbish. Upkeep can include raking, sifting, grading, and leveling.
  • Routine renewal or replacement of loose-fill materials is necessary, which can be time consuming and costly. The exception to this is recycled rubber mulches (see below for more detail).
Wood Chips and Shredded Bark Mulch


  • Wood chips and shredded bark mulch are less abrasive than play sand.
  • Animals are less likely to soil wood chips and shredded bark mulch.
  • Wood chips and shredded bark mulch are aesthetically pleasing.


  • The protective ability of wood chips and shredded bark mulch is decreased in rainy, humid, and freezing weather conditions.
  • Over time, wood chips and shredded bark mulch will become crushed, compacted, and will decompose.
  • Wood chips and shredded bark mulch can develop fungus and mold when wet.
  • Insects are attracted to wood chips and shredded bark mulch.
Pea Gravel


  • Pea gravel will not crush and decompose.
  • Mold and fungus growth are not generally an issue.
  • Animals and insects are less attracted to pea gravel.


  • Pea gravel can be a challenge to walk on.
  • The protective ability of pea gravel is decreased in rainy, humid, and freezing weather conditions.
  • Pea gravel can be a falling danger if displaced from the playground area to a nearby hard surface (sidewalk, decking, or patio, for example).
Play Sand


  • Play sand will not crush and decompose.
  • Mold and fungus growth are not generally an issue.


  • Play sand can be a challenge to walk on.
  • The protective ability of play sand is decreased in rainy and humid weather conditions.
  • Animals are attracted to sand unless it can be covered when not in use.
  • Play sand sticks easily to shoes, clothing, and skin.
  • Play sand can scratch floor surfaces if tracked inside.
Recycled Rubber Mulch


  • Recycled rubber mulch does not generally need to be replaced or renewed each year. Many manufacturers claim that rubber mulch can last about 50 years without needing replacement. Check with recycled rubber mulch suppliers for any guarantees or warrantees that may be available.
  • Rubber mulch tends to be cleaner and less apt than other loose-fill materials to cause dirty clothing, hands, and shoes during active play.
  • Does not cause scrapes, scratches, or splinters from falls.
  • Animals and insects are not attracted to rubber mulch.
  • Mold and fungus growth are not an issue.


  • Recycled rubber mulch may need to be raked routinely to maintain adequate depths in high traffic areas.
  • Colors on recycled rubber mulch may fade over time.

Other Protective Playground Surface Options

Rubber Tiles, Rubber Mats, and Poured-in-Place Surfaces

Rubber tiles, rubber mats, and poured-in-place surfaces are initially more expensive surface options than loose-fill materials, but they generally need very little upkeep over time. To determine whether one of these choices would be more cost effective than a loose-fill material, consider how many children might potentially use your home playground equipment and for how many years. Larger families, for example, may prefer to pay more on the front end for a surface that will be easier and much less expensive to maintain over many years of active use.


  • No containment barriers are usually necessary.
  • Surfaces are accessible to wheelchairs and easy to walk on.
  • Displacement of materials is not an issue, so the protective ability of these surfaces remains consistent even in high traffic areas.
  • Surfaces require very little upkeep over time and are easy to clean.
  • Rubbish such as broken glass and other sharp objects which can cause injury are not easily hidden in these surfaces.
  • Animals and insects are not attracted to the surface materials.
  • Mold and fungus growth are not an issue.


  • The area under the surface usually requires special preparation. Contact the manufacturer or supplier for details.
  • Surfaces may require professional installation.
  • Rubber tiles may curl and cause tripping if not installed correctly.
  • Some surfaces may be damaged by frost.

In summary, no protective playground surface of any type or depth can prevent all injuries. Nonetheless, installing a protective playground surface as the foundation for your home playground equipment is vital for improving playground safety. The most suitable playground surface for your needs is up to you, but whatever option you choose will be a significant step toward protecting children from serious injuries due to falls to the surface.


CPSC Document #323. “Home Playground Safety Tips.”
CPSC Document #324 “Outdoor Home Playground Safety Handbook.” 2005.
CPSC Document #1005. “Playground Surfacing Materials.”
CPSC Report. “Home Playground Equipment-Related Deaths and Injuries.” July 2001.
CPSC Report. “Special Study: Injuries and Deaths Associated with Children’s
Playground Equipment.” April 2001.

How Safe is Your Home Playground Equipment? Part 1

Safety First

Planning and Assembling a Safe Playground

Home playground safety should begin even before the equipment has been purchased and assembled. This article, and the two subsequent articles, will help you as you plan for and create a safe home playground experience for your children and their friends.

Choose the best location for your new playground equipment:

  • Avoid ground that slopes or is uneven. Level ground helps prevent playground equipment from tipping.
  • Select an area that is away from potentially dangerous obstacles such as trees, low branches and wires, stumps, roots, large rocks, fences, bricks, and concrete.
  • Plan for a safety zone of at least 6 feet around all playground equipment; set aside even more space in front of and behind swings.
  • Think about where you plan to position any metal or dark-colored slides or surfaces. Placing these out of direct sunlight can help prevent burns on hot, sunny days.

Select an appropriate type of protective surface for under and around the equipment:

  • Grass and dirt are not adequate protection from injuries due to falls.
  • Pea gravel, sand, wood chips, and shredded or recycled rubber mulch are some recommended protective playground surface options. (More details on the topic of protective playground surfaces is covered in the second article in this series.)

Use appropriate hardware for playground equipment:

  • Use the bolts and screws recommended by the manufacturer of your playground equipment. Lock washers or self-locking nuts are essential to prevent bolts from loosening over time.
  • Cap any exposed bolts. Exposed bolts can cause serious cuts or entangle loose clothing.
  • Close all S hooks so that openings are less than the thickness of a dime.
  • All playground equipment hardware should be resistant to corrosion.

Prevent tripping dangers:

  • Always follow manufacturer instructions for anchoring your playground equipment to the protective playground surface.
  • Watch for exposed anchors, hooks, and bolts, which can cause tripping and other injuries.
  • Bury anchors and all other ground-level hazards under the playground surface, or cover them with protective surfacing.

Additional installation guidelines recommended by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC):

  • All rungs, steps, posts, and railings should be evenly spaced.
  • Openings between rungs, steps, posts, and railings should either b e smaller than 3 inches wide or larger than 9 inches so children cannot become stuck.
  • Guard rails or barriers are needed around any platform over 30 inches above the protective playground surface.
  • The entrance area for the slide should not have any gaps or protrusions that could catch or entangle clothing.
  • V-shaped angles that open upward and are less than 55-degrees should be filled with a solid barrier (gusset) because these angles can trap a child’s head or neck.

Once the playground equipment is ready for use, follow these recommended safety guidelines during children’s play:

  • Bike helmets should not be worn on playground equipment because they cannot pass through some spaces and children can become trapped. Strangulation by the helmet’s chinstrap is a potential danger.
  • Ropes, jump ropes, clotheslines, or pet leashes should never be attached to playground equipment because they can be a strangulation hazard.
  • Children who use home playground equipment should be supervised at all times by a parent or other responsible adult.

Having the most fun possible is a child’s only concern when it comes to home playground equipment. With proper planning and implementation of the playground safety recommendations presented in this article and in the series of articles to follow, you can rest assured that you will have created a play space for your children that is not only fun, but safe.

For more information about backyard playground equipment safety, visit the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission’s Outdoor Home Playground Safety Handbook.