The Derecho Ruined our Playset: What We Learned In Our Search For a New One

Replacing Our Backyard Playset – A Learning Experience After Derecho

2020 has been one dumpster fire of a year.

We thought COVID-19 was bad, and then the Derecho grabbed the playset in our backyard and rolled it several times, destroying it along with our fence and other parts of our home and property.

That playset was the last resort for our kids to play on this year for when the parks were closed, when they couldn’t have friends over when they were bored or had too much energy, and when they just wanted to swing so high they thought they could flip over the top beam if they just pushed hard enough. It was also full of years of memories.

In one destructive hour of the storm, that all went away and the kids were devastated.

To them, this was a bigger deal than the gaping hole on our porch, broken garage door, and collapsing tree, (among other things).

I quickly got to work researching playset replacements to see what would be best for our family. The kids and I built out a wish list. As parents, we had three primary questions:

  1. What things would we like to see on the playset?
  2. How big would we like it to be?
  3. What is our budget?

We knew that if the playset didn’t have at least a fast slide, monkey bars, and some kind of saucer swing that it would be a deal-breaker. With five kids and four of them are in elementary school, these were not surprising requests.

Where Do We Shop?

When we looked at the sizes of residential playsets, there were so many to choose from and so many different designs. Here were some notable things that jumped out at us:

  • You can purchase playsets for your home online from various sellers and big box stores OR you can go to playset vendors who typically have a brick and mortar location where you can test out their sets and speak directly with a salesperson. By working with playset specialists, they can also design a playset that works best for your budget and space while also offering home delivery and installation along with warranties for their products.
  • Online purchases or store purchases can also provide delivery and sometimes installation along with limited warranties. It did seem, however, that many online purchase options meant assembling the playset on your own.

What “Wood” We Need?

We learned that not all playsets are alike. They come in different shapes, sizes, and even different materials. Some playsets or swings sets are made from metal or plastic. We found that those had weight limits and wouldn’t be the right fit for our family; however, they do work well for younger, smaller children and can be extremely budget-friendly.

One tip we came across was that any metal swing set should be made from galvanized steel with a rust-resistant paint.

Typically, playsets are made from wood but even that differs.

Types of Wood

We found most playsets are made of either Cedar, Pine or Redwood.

Cedar seems to provide the most value and quality while working within a versatile budget. It is visually-appealing and can maintain its structure and durability with proper maintenance.

Pine is priced between Cedar and Redwood and with proper sealants, it can provide similar rot resistance to the other choices; however, there is some evidence that it splinters more easily.

Redwood may cost more but it also provides additional durability and typically comes with a lifetime warranty. Aesthetically it also is attractive with its robust color. Also to note, Redwood is usually 100% farmed in America as it only grows in California and Oregon.

We were advised that whichever wood we chose, it should be stained and sealed every year or two so as to keep it structurally sound. Redwood and Cedar naturally repel water and insects as well.

Replacing Our Backyard Playset – A Learning Experience After Derecho

Size Matters

Deck height varies with playsets and is important to the overall design. The deck is the platform of the playset and the height is measured from the ground to the main deck. Commonly, deck heights are between four and six feet high. There are options for seven and even eight feet decks and some sets even have multiple decks.

The set we lost in the storm had a five-foot deck and we knew that our four school-age kids had likely outgrown that height, once we really thought about it. With that said, deck heights have age and size ranges of children that seem to match up best:

  • 4-foot deck height – these are compact and the least expensive, best for small children such as toddlers. It also works with limited backyard space. It may last 2-3 years before they grow out of it, however.
  • 5-foot deck height – these also can work with some limited back yard spaces but also can accommodate children’s growth for several years. It provides enough space for a wider age range of children.
  • 6-foot deck heights – this kind of set has a larger footprint and might be a one-time purchase rather than something kids grow out of quickly. It can allow for more swings, more slides, and extra space underneath the main deck.
  • 7 and 8-foot deck heights – these typically have two or more decks involved and take up a lot more room which also includes a larger budget involved. The kids who play on these sets are unlikely to be disappointed with the size of the set! It would need to be the right fit for the space available and the budget in mind.

Remember, the higher the deck, the larger the deck. That also includes more support for a larger and faster slide, more opportunities for swings, and other structures such as a climbing wall, monkey bars, and even playhouses within the structure.

The Safety Factor

The US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) recommends the following safety guidelines for residential swing sets:

  • Check for spaces that could trap children, such as openings in guardrails or between ladder rungs; these should be less than 3.5 inches or more than 9 inches. To prevent trapping a child’s head or neck, fill in all V-shaped angles that open upwards.
  • Make sure platforms and ramps raised 30+ inches have guardrails to prevent falls.
  • Remove/cover sharp points or edges in equipment or any type of protruding hardware.
  • Remove tripping hazards like exposed concrete footings, tree stumps, and rocks.
  • Make sure there are no gaps or things sticking out at the top or bottom of the slide where clothing can get caught and trap a child.

Replacing Our Backyard Playset – A Learning Experience After Derecho

Great Expectations

The biggest takeaway we had from this experience was that we needed to look not just at today but at our future when making the investment in a playset. It was important to know how many kids will be playing on the set and how long we anticipate it being used. If we take care of our new set and treat it well, maybe our grandkids will enjoy it someday…..far, far down the road, of course.

Once we made our choice, it was clear that we would have to wait. Materials for playsets have been affected by 2020, similar to the situation for home repair or remodeling, and there is a delay in delivery. However, we’ve been spending that time staying positive with the kids, utilizing the local parks, and playing in the extra space in the backyard until the new set arrives.

Still, I learned a lot through this process and hope that what I learned can help you as you purchase a playset too!


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Christa lives in Fairfax but spent her formative years in Seattle, WA and Dubuque, IA. She is living out her dream of motherhood in a house full of 5 amazing girls (ages ranging from toddler to 5th grader) that she shares with her wonderful husband as well as several rescue pets. Christa is also a proud working mom who juggles the family's needs while also maintaining a full-time career. Her favorite activities are cooking, coaching, writing, recreational sports, and finding creative ways to build memories with her family.