When it comes to selecting a new playset for the family, one of the most important first questions to consider is the type of material you are selecting. From wooden swing sets to those made of vinyl or metal, there are plenty of options, each with pros and cons that are worth contemplating before making a purchase.
If you are leaning toward one of the many types of wooden swing sets, you have several choices: cedar, pressure-treated pine or redwood.
Redwood, which grows on the coast of California, is the most expensive. Like cedar, it is naturally resistant to decay and rot, as well as to damage from insects. Experts consider this wood very durable, and easy to work with. It offers minimal shrinking and swelling when compared to other wood, according to the United States Department of Agriculture. As its name suggests, this wood is naturally red. This is a look many people feel adds tremendously to the aesthetics of their backyard playground.
Still, redwood is not maintenance free. Sealing and staining a redwood swing set is a smart move, as it will lengthen its lifespan.
Cedar wooden swing sets are typically a bit more affordable than redwood swing sets. They, too, are naturally resistant to rot, decay and insect damage — plus, they have a beautiful aroma. They are also less prone to twisting and warping when compared to pressured-treated swing sets. Most cedar swing sets today are made from either Western red cedar, Northern white cedar or China-Fir.
- Northern white cedar is the lightest of all commercial wood in the country, according to the US Forest Service Department of Agriculture. It glues and holds paint well and offers little dimensional change, the department states. But this wood is rather soft, so it does not hold fasteners as well as other materials. On the plus side, Northern white cedar is naturally resistant to splintering.
- Western red cedar, which comes from the Pacific Northwest, is also known for its durability and lightness. This material has been used for decades on fencing, outdoor furniture and playgrounds.
- China-Fir (Cunninghamia lanceolata) is very resistant to decay, pest infestations and fungus. It has been used abroad for centuries because it is a terrific all-around, versatile material. This wood is typically a warm yellow or light white color, with hints of red.
Pressure-treated swing sets contain preservatives, which are applied in an effort to make the material last. And last it does! This material can hold up for years and years, although the quality (swing sets are not all created equally) can affect tendency to warp and twist. The process for pressure-treating wood allows the preservatives to be forced deep in the wood so that the material becomes resistant (which it is not naturally) to decay, insects and rot.
Before 2003–when the Environmental Protection Agency stepped in–this type of lumber often contained a composite that used arsenic. Today’s pressure-treated wood has safer preservatives, but it is wise to look into the specific type of preservative your swing set contains before making a purchase. Pressure-treated swing sets are usually the least expensive when it comes to wooden playsets.
Another option is metal. These are the swing sets most adults remember having as a kid. They use thin gauge steel pipes that are painted or powder-coated, and anchored in concrete. Maintenance may include applying an oil or grease to fight off corrosion, depending on the type of metal. These swing sets are strong and affordable, but definitely give a backyard a different feel than that of a wooden swing set. Again, the quality of the swing set can make a big difference, so look at plenty of reviews and be prepared with questions.
Vinyl swing sets use pressure-treated pine wrapped in polyvinyl chloride (PVC) for the structural components. They use composite decking (wood-alternatives made of recycled materials, such as plastics and lumber) for the walls and decks of the playset. There is no need to stain or seal these swing sets, but they should be cleaned annually. There is also no risk of splinters (which should be nearly non-existent with a quality wood playset that is sanded and has properly rounded edges). These swing sets are typically on the expensive side. One thing to keep in mind is that the moisture trapped in the pressured-treated pine has no place to go when it is encapsulated. That means rot is likely inevitable at some point in the life of a vinyl swing set. When that occurs, and to what degree, varies.
One more important factor in your decision of a swing set material is the construction of the support posts and beams. Some wooden play sets use solid pieces of woods, such as 4-by-4s, which can sometimes lead to increased cracking because of the constant swelling from rain and shrinking from the heat. Other jungle gyms use a two-piece construction–where the wood is bolted together without glue. This reduces the frequency of checking and cracking. Another possibility is laminated wood, meaning multiple pieces of wood are glued together. Although often hard to detect, this type of post is prone to de-lamination and failure. Painting or sealing would only slow down the process.
No matter the swing set style and design you are leaning toward, it is important to be educated and do your research when making this purchase. After all, this is an item your family will enjoy for years to come! We would love to hear about your experience with wooden swing sets, metal swing sets and vinyl swing sets.