Category Archives: Backyard Fun

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.

Childhood Obesity Prevention

Entice Outdoor Play With a Vinyl Playhouse

Are you surprised to know that one out of three kids are now considered overweight or obese in the United States? In today’s society obesity is mainly cause from what we eat, from fat-laden fast food to microwave and prepackaged meals. It seems that with this generation, everybody’s daily schedules are so busy that there is a very limited amount of time to make healthier meals or to squeeze in some exercise. Portion sizes, in the home and out, are becoming dramatically larger in size. Plus, more than ever, life is sedentary and kids spend more time playing with electronic devices, from computers to handheld video game systems, than actively playing outside.

Watching too much television is one of the most obvious reasons for of lack of exercise. Kids younger than 6 spend an average of 2 hours a day in front of a television screen. Older kids and teens spend almost 4 hours a day watching TV or videos. When computer use and video games are included, time spent in front of a screen increases to over 5 hours a day! Kids who watch more than 4 hours a day have a larger tendency to be overweight, compared with kids who watch 2 hours or less.

Sadly, during their youth, overweight children and adolescents are more likely to have risk factors associated with cardiovascular disease (such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and Type 2 diabetes) than are other children and adolescents. Overweight children and adolescents are more likely to become obese as adults. For example, one study found that approximately 80% of children who were overweight at age 10-15 were obese adults at age 25. Another study found that 25% of obese adults were overweight as children. The latter study also found that if overweight begins before 8 years of age, obesity in adulthood has a higher tendency to be very severe and morbid.

Tips for parents to encourage healthy lifestyles in their children:

  • Set a positive example by being active yourself, and make physical activity part of your family’s daily routine. For Example, designate time for family walks or playing active games together.
  • Provide opportunities for children to be active by playing with them. Give them active toys and equipment, and take them to places where they can be active.
  • Offer positive reinforcement for the physical activities in which your child participates, and always encourage them to expand their interests with new activities.
  • Make physical activity fun. Fun activities can be anything the child enjoys, either structured or non-structured. They may range from team sports, individual sports, and/or recreational activities such as walking, running, skating, bicycling, swimming, playground activities, and free-time play.
  • Ensure that the activity is age appropriate and, to ensure safety, provide protective equipment such as helmets, wrist pads, and knee pads.
  • Find a convenient place to be active regularly.
  • Reduce the amount of time your kids are allowed to watch television or play video games to no more than two hours per day.

Encouraging your children to play outside in your own backyard becomes easier by installing items such as swing sets, play gyms, and outdoor playhouses. Outdoor play equipment, toys, and games encourage both exercise and the use of your children’s imagination. Outdoor playhouses provide hours of fun for kids while promoting exercise and healthy habits all at the same time. Realistically, you do not have to spend a fortune on a new tree house or fancy club house when many existing backyard playsets can be easily converted to include a vinyl playhouse by simply having a vinyl enclosure custom made. Even on a rainy day, a custom outdoor vinyl playhouse can become a secret fort, a dollhouse, or a ship at sea.


Do-It-Yourself Wooden Swing Sets

Settler Freestanding Wooden Swing Set Kit

Weighing the Options

If your kids have talked you into obtaining one of those backyard wooden swing sets, but you dread the thought of visiting a showroom and being talked into dropping thousands of dollars on mediocre equipment (and even more on the installation of that mediocre equipment), then consider the following three words: do it yourself. The good news is that even a novice do-it-yourself enthusiast can find superior quality, very affordable wooden swing set kits on the internet and put one together successfully once it arrives at the door. Even better news is that do-it-yourself wooden swing set kits are available for purchase without wood included or with wood included. The best choice depends only on how involved you wish the do-it-yourself aspect of the construction to be.

Do-it-yourself kits, whether they come with wood or without, should always offer free shipping and include complete step-by-step instructions for construction; all necessary hardware; basic accessories, such as swings, monkey bars, canopy top, etc. Additional accessories are usually available at extra cost, but any wooden swing set kit that requires separate purchase of necessary hardware should be avoided. Every nut, bolt, bracket, and spring clip needed to complete the project should always be included with the kit.

How does a do-it-yourself enthusiast make the choice between wooden swing sets that come without the wood versus swing sets that come with the wood? Consider the following. Kits that do not come with wood allow you the luxury of hand selecting the type of wood, and even each specific piece of wood, that will be used in the construction. More time and tools are needed for these kits, though, because each piece must be searched for, transported to the home, cut to exactly the right size, and sanded, and then holes must be drilled for each piece of hardware. Do-it-yourself enthusiasts who are truly enthusiastic about home construction projects may prefer this approach.

On the other hand, wooden swing set kits that come with the wood may be a better option for the do-it-yourself enthusiast who does not have enough time to devote to selecting and preparing the wood. The wood that comes with these kits is usually high quality and intended to last for many years with proper care. The biggest advantage to kits that include the wood is that all the wood is pre-cut, pre-sanded, and pre-drilled. With these major steps already completed, you can construct the wooden swing set in a fraction of the time.

Whether you choose a wooden swing set kit that includes wood or not, you can save hundreds, even thousands, of dollars simply by shopping wisely and constructing the equipment yourself. Either choice provides your kids with a fun and durable place to play and provides you with a feeling of pride and accomplishment. So, go ahead and do it yourself!