Properly preparing your yard for a swing set or playset can usually be done in a weekend. It only requires limited tools and know-how. So, even if you don’t consider yourself a “DIY” kind of person, you shouldn’t have any trouble getting your yard ready for the hours of fun your kids will be having when you’re done.
We’ll go over all you need to know, step by step, when preparing your yard for a playset. Everything from the ideal location and leveling the ground to the safety perimeter and surface materials. We’ll also go over size requirements and what to do if you have a sloped yard. Soon your kids will be enjoying the sunshine and playing their hearts out!
Step 1: Decide On A Playset or Swing Set
You may already have one in mind, or maybe you’re still deciding. Either way, here are a few things to consider when purchasing a backyard playset or swing set.
Purchase For Growth
A playset is an investment in your family and your child’s well-being and growth. They’re great for teaching kids to love exercise and to help them develop muscle and coordination. Plus, it gets them out of the house once in a while, which is great for your mental health and wellbeing ????.
That being said, it’s a good idea to think long-term when deciding on a playset or swing set. You don’t want something that will only be used for a couple of years before it’s too small for your growing child to play on.
A playset that will be used until your child heads off to college is ideal. Of course, you’ll still want to ensure that the recommended age range for your set is appropriate for your child or children.
Luckily, many modern playsets are modular, so you can switch out different features as your child grows.
Decide on Material
Wood and metal are the most popular and cost-effective materials when it comes to backyard sets. Metal tends to be cheaper, but can get hot in the sun and tends to be an eyesore. Wood sets, especially those made out of cedar, not only look good, but they’re naturally insect, water, and rot repellant. Plus they don’t get overly hot in the sun.
For a more in-depth look at the difference between wood and metal sets, check out our article: Wood vs Metal Swing Sets: Which One Is Right For You?
Step 2: Choose A Spot For Your Swing Set or Playset
When choosing where to put your playset, there are several things you should consider that are fairly easy to overlook.
In order to properly plan, you should know the dimensions of the swing set or playset you’re going to install. Most manufacturers provide this information on their websites. Once you know the dimensions, you can find a suitable area in your yard using these guidelines:
Maintain A 6-Foot Clearance On All Sides
To keep your kids safe, a 6-foot clearance is recommended. And not just all around the sides, but overhead, too. This means no tree branches, sheds, utility poles, or anything else that could possibly injure a child playing on the set.
Plan For A Swing Set Safety Zone
If you’re installing a swing set or a playset with a swing set included, it’s important to make sure it has an adequate safety zone both in front and behind. After all, kids like to make a game of jumping off of swings. The safety zone will help ensure that they don’t get hurt in the process.
To determine this, simply measure the height of the top bar of the swing set, and set the ground safety zone to double that height. For example, if the swing set’s bar is 6 ½’ off the ground, you’ll want to set the safety zone in front of and behind the swing set at 13’ minimum.
Find An Area That You Can Watch Easily
Another important factor to consider is supervision. Even if you plan on having an adult outside at all times when the kids are playing, it’s best to install the playset where you can see it from the house. You never know when you’ll have to head inside for one reason or another, so it’s best if you can glance out the window to make sure everyone’s okay.
Consider the Sun
Some metal equipment and slides can get very hot in direct sunlight. If you can place the playset under a shade tree or an awning, while still maintaining the proper safety zones, then you don’t have to worry about this as much. If the playset will be in direct sunlight, however, it’s best to face slides and other features that get hot to the north. This way they will receive less sunlight.
Avoid Sprinklers and Underground Utility Lines
When you find your ideal spot, make sure it is not on top of sprinkler heads or utility lines. Chances are— unless you have a flat yard— you’ll have to do a little digging to level the area for proper swing set installation. Which brings us to step three!
A Note for Backyards With a Steep Slope: For safety reasons, I don’t recommend installing a playset or swing set on a steep slope. Many times this will void the manufacturer warranty, as you will probably have to make changes to the structure of the set. Leveling a portion of the slope to be even within 3-inches is recommended but can be expensive and require professional help.
Step 3: Prepare the Ground For Your Playset or Swing Set
Now that you have your ideal spot chosen, it’s time to prepare the ground for installation. The main idea here is to make sure the area is level within 3 inches. If you’re not sure how to determine that, we’ve got you covered.
You’ll need a few basic supplies for this all of which are available on Amazon:
- Tape Measure
- Carpenter’s Level
- Twine Or String (100+ Feet)
- Ground Stakes (4 or More)
Level The Ground
First, measure the footprint of the play area using the guidelines listed above. Place stakes in the corners and run twine or string between those stakes. Use a carpenter’s level to make sure the lengths of twine between the stakes are level.
Begin removing the dirt or grass, starting at the highest point first. Determining how deep your protective surface material is going to be will tell you how deep you should dig. The required depth for most material is 12”. How deep you dig also depends on whether you’re going to install some kind of border around the playset area. Read the section below on surface materials to find out more.
Once you determine how deep to dig, you can measure the depth from the twine down to the bottom of the hole. This should be the same on all sides (or within 3”). You can also use the carpenter’s level on several spots inside the hole to make sure it is even throughout.
Anchor Your Set
Once you have the ground level and at the correct depth, it’s time to build and anchor your swing set or playset. Most wooden playsets come with anchors that are screwed into the ground and attached to the set to keep it from tipping or becoming damaged in high winds.
Other sets do not require anchors at all, but you can purchase some if you want to go that extra mile. Yet other sets require that you anchor them with cement in the ground. There are different instructions to follow for the different kinds of sets.
No matter what kind of anchoring it calls for, you’ll want to get the set built and properly anchored before filling in the surrounding area with a safety material.
If you’d like to purchase a set of high quality anchors, check out these on Amazon. The screw deep into the ground and attach to your swing set via chain. They work great for wood and metal swing sets as well as trampolines or any other play equipment that needs to be secured to the ground.
Weed Barrier and Drainage
Depending on the setup and the type of yard you’re in, you may want to lay down a geotextile weed barrier. This has a couple of benefits. Not only does it keep weeds from growing and the soil underneath your playground from eroding, but it also helps to prevent your playground safety material from becoming contaminated with dirt and mud.
As for drainage, the quickest and most cost-effective way to ensure that your playground doesn’t flood is to install strip drains. Most of the time these should be installed under the geotextile fabric, but some claim to work over the fabric, as well.
Step 4: Choose And Install Surface Material
Once you have your set built and your geotextile fabric and drainage strips in place, you’ll want to fill in the recommended safety footprint with a shock-absorbing material. There are many materials to choose from. Below is a quick rundown of the different options.
- Bare Earth
- Pea Gravel
- Mulch or Wood Chips
- Engineered Wood Fiber (EWF)
- Rubber Mulch
- Poured Rubber & Rubber Tiles
- Artificial Grass or Turf
Grass and bare earth aren’t recommended because they do little to cushion the inevitable falls that kids will take on the playground. Sand and pea gravel are the most cost-effective options, but sand can make an attractive litter box and pea gravel can present a choking hazard for children under 5.
Every surface option has its pros and cons. For an in-depth look at playground surface material, check out our article: Best Surface Materials For Outdoor Playgrounds.
Step 5: Enjoy!
Once you have your surface material in place, it’s time to let the kids play! There’s little better than watching your kids play on a playset or swing set that you built in your own backyard. It’s a worthy investment that will pay off for years to come!
I hope this article has been helpful and that you now have all the knowledge you need to help make your playground installation a success! Thanks for reading!