How to Prep Your Yard for a Swing Set
Time Required: Over 1 day
Backyard swing sets or playsets create a spot for kids to stretch their legs and their imaginations, giving rise to hours of outdoor play that become treasured memories as they grow up. This guide will describe how to build a playground area that is safe for children and how to level a yard as you prep for a swing set.
Choose a location and orientation for your swing set; it can be placed parallel, perpendicular or catty-corner to the home. Consider the sight lines from the street when you are deciding on a build site and you may want to install a swing set so that it is easily visible from several windows to be better able to keep an eye on the kids and their backyard play.
- As you prep for a swing set, check the selected site for utility components, including underground elements like sprinklers or gas lines.
- Be sure the site is out of the way of overhead obstacles such as power lines, roof overhangs or tree limbs.
- The location must be large enough to include at least six feet of open space in all directions from the intended footprint of your playground equipment.
- Additionally, this swing set safety zone must allow room for protective surfacing that should be placed in front of and behind the swing to a distance equal to twice the height of the top bar from which the swing is suspended.
- Plan to locate any bare metal platforms and slides out of direct sunlight to reduce the likelihood of serious burns. A slide that faces north will receive the least direct sunlight.
Read on to learn how to level a yard to help ensure a stable base when you install a swing set and the cushioning material beneath it.
Consider features, size and the material it’s made from along with how much space you have as part of your prep for a swing set. Outdoor playground sets are available in wood, metal and vinyl-coated frames and come in a wide variety of footprints and with multiple activity stations.
- Wood swing sets, though durable and attractive, require more maintenance. Redwood is known for its beauty but generally costs more. Preserved pine is also a popular choice due to its ability to withstand harsh weather conditions. Cedar is the least expensive playset wood, but still offers a good level of durability if properly maintained.
- Metal playground sets are significantly easier to maintain, but in warmer climates can be uncomfortable to use in the heat of summer.
- Vinyl-coated playsets are also a low-maintenance choice, but since the protective layer rests over a wood frame, these playsets can be prone to internal rot that is hard to detect.
- Choose a deck height of at least 5 feet to get the most out of a playground before the child outgrows it. If you do not need a playset to accommodate a child past the age of 8, a 4-foot deck height will save yard space and be less expensive.
- Be sure the design you choose incorporates standard safety features: commercial-grade, recessed hardware; rounded or capped corners; and solid swing beams and base posts.
- Purchase a swing set with growth in mind. Many sets are modular and can be expanded over time or allow you to replace sections with different styles of fun play elements.
- Some play stations such as tire swings; rope ladders and nets; and features requiring lots of upper-body strength – trapezes, a fireman’s pole, climbing walls – are not recommended for children under 4 years.
Any backyard playground DIY project should have a level base to provide a safe area for your children to play. Swing set anchors are designed to keep the unit in place but if there is any slope, you must take steps to level the yard to help prevent the playground equipment from tipping over.
Leveling the ground for a swing set is much the same as for a patio. Depending on the size of your playset, you should be able to accomplish this task in a weekend.
Note: Even if the ground is level, soil will need to be removed before you install a swing set to accommodate the protective shock-absorbing material.
- Measure and mark the perimeter of the playground area. Place a wooden stake at each corner and outline the area with twine or string tied between the stakes.
- Use a carpenter’s level to determine the strings are level and adjust as necessary.
- Remove grass and dirt within the outlined area with a shovel, beginning at the highest point.
- Gauge the depth by measuring from the twine to the base of the hole. The depth depends of the type of cushioning material used; see below for more information.
- Place a carpenter's level in several locations within the hole to make sure the base is level.
After you build the structure and install swing set anchors, you will need to place shock-absorbing surfacing underneath and on the surrounding areas to cushion the inevitable tumbles that will happen as kids play. Protective material should be at least 9-inches to 12-inches deep, depending on the playset deck height.
- Use wood mulch/chips, shredded rubber mulch, or engineered wood fiber for equipment up to 8 feet high.
- Use sand, pea gravel, or mulch products listed above for play equipment up to 5 feet high.
- Use surface mats tested to provide impact protection equal to or greater than the height of the play equipment.
- Natural grass, carpeting and thin mats are not adequate as protective surfacing.
Note: To maintain a soft surface, do not compact playground mulch or other surfacing material.
Considering the features of types of protective surfaces is an important step of your prep for a swing set:
Sand or Pea Gravel
- Natural material
- Pets and wild animals may use for waste relief
- Can be scattered or blown away more easily
- Sand can compact when wet
- Not recommended for wheelchairs
Mulch or Chips
- Environmentally friendly; biodegradable
- Less inviting to pets
- Must be replaced every 2 years
- Absorbs moisture; freezes in cold weather
- Wood chips attract roaches in warm, damp climates
- Does not decompose
- Supports recycling
- More costly than other loose-fill solutions
- Must be raked regularly to keep in place
- Needs more volume; recommended level is 12-inches to 20-inches
- Easy to clean
- Highly durable
- Can be purchased in a variety of colors
- More expensive than loose fill solutions
- Thickness depends on playset height; can increase costs
- May need professional installation around swing set
- May clash with natural look of wood playset
- Safest surface option
- Low maintenance
- Most expensive option
- Thickness depends on swing set height
- Professional installation required
The last part of prep for a swing set in your backyard is to consider how to keep the playground equipment in place after it is built.
Wood swing sets purchased as a kit contain metal stakes that are used for keeping the equipment stabile and prevent damage in windy conditions. These swing set anchors are driven or screwed into the ground and bolted to the swing set once assembly is complete but before shock-absorbing protective material is placed around the play equipment. Refer to the anchor manufacturer’s installation guide for specific information about how to anchor a wooden swing set without concrete.