If you’ve ever put up a swing set in your backyard, you know that it’s not easy. As much as we’d like to be able to put it together and set it in the grass outside, this is the worst possible thing you can do. Improper installation can put your child at risk for injury. On the other hand, professional installation can get extremely pricey. Let’s take a look at how you can do it yourself.
Preparing your yard for a swing set requires multiple steps:
- Choose an appropriate location with at least six feet to each side of the swing set.
- Level your yard so that the swing set can be installed safely.
- Choosing a safe material for the ground around your swing set.
- Anchoring the set to the ground.
There is a lot more to setting up a swing set than just putting it together. Here, we’ll take a look at how you can choose the perfect space in your backyard, determine what type of swing set will fit, and examine safety guidelines associated with swing set installation.
Additionally, we’ll guide you through the process of leveling out your yard and choosing the correct safety material for your kids’ play area.
Measure Your Backyard
The first step to preparing your yard for a swing set is to make sure that you have space for one. When you start by measuring the bounds of your backyard, you have an opportunity to choose a swing set that will fit perfectly.
You could potentially purchase a swing set first and then consider where you’re going to put it. However, this can lead to quite a few problems later on. The last thing you want is to spend hundreds of dollars on a swing set, only to find that it won’t fit when you begin leveling your yard.
Here are some of the guidelines that you need to keep in mind as you’re considering a swing set.
- You have to have enough space around the swingset. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, you must have at least six (6) feet clear on either side of a playground structure – including swing sets.
- This area might need to be bigger depending on your swings. The area directly in front of and behind the swing should be twice as long as the swings’ height. The height referenced here is the height from the ground to the beam that holds the swings. Double that and calculate how large a play area you’re going to need for your swing set.
- Keep obstacles in mind. We’ll talk more about this when we examine how you can choose the right location for your swing set, but for now, consider this. You don’t want your swing set to be too close to any other structures in your backyard, including sheds, decks, fences, and the house itself.
Even if the play area will fit in the backyard, having a swing or a slide too close to a fence may cause injuries or cause children to become trapped when they play around it. We’ll also talk about avoiding trees, power lines, and buried utility lines when we discuss choosing the proper location for your swing set.
Once you have determined how much space you’re working with, you can choose your swing set. Whichever material or activity options you choose, keep the dimensions (and the dimensions of the play area you’ll need to install) in mind when you move on to choosing where to put it.
Choosing a Location for a Swing Set
There’s much more to choosing a location for your swing set than choosing a large enough space. While having enough space for the swing set and the play area around it is of the utmost importance, there are other things to consider.
You need to make sure that the area above your swing set is completely clear of anything that could prove hazardous. Don’t put the swing set directly below a roof or porch overhang. Avoid putting it directly under a tree to avoid potential injury from branches and limbs.
Power lines should be well away from the safety area around the swing set, and other backyard decorations (such as garden lights) should be removed from the area directly above and around the swing set.
Sprinklers and Utility Lines
Because you’ll be leveling the play area and anchoring the playset into the ground, you need to watch out for important utility lines. Gas lines, internet lines, and other buried wires and pipes may get in the way and prevent you from properly installing the swing set.
Your utility service providers can come to survey your backyard, and they will usually be able to mark out the location of important lines so that you don’t make the mistake of building over them.
You’ll also want to avoid putting the playground or play area directly over sprinklers, well casings and caps, and other components.
Swing Set Layout
You’ll also want to consider the best place for the activities that the swing set includes. As we mentioned above, swings need additional room to be installed safely. Make sure that you consider this when determining how you’re going to configure the space you have.
It’s also worth mentioning that swing sets with metal slides and surfaces are going to become warm in the sunlight. Since you can’t put the swing set under a shade in normal circumstances, you’ll want to consider how best to shade these surfaces.
Some suggest orienting your swing set so that metal slides face north, as this will give them the least amount of time in the sun. This means they won’t be as warm and will be safer overall for your children to play on.
Play Area Space
We’ve mentioned that the play area must be a certain size to accommodate the swing set, but there is more to it than the size of its footprint. You’ll also want to consider what material you’re placing down in the play area. We’ll look at the types of safety material you should use based on the height of your swing set later on.
When you’re choosing a location for your swing set, consider that you may need to make space for mulch, sand, or even surface mats. Keep that in mind when you’re choosing a location.
The rest of these considerations are important, but we’d say that making sure there is adequate space for the play area, additional length for the swings themselves, and enough depth for the safety materials are the most important. Choosing the perfect spot away from all other obstacles is challenging enough, but it’s important to get this right as well.
You won’t always be able to be in the backyard with your kids while they’re playing on the swingset. If possible, choose a location that is visible from inside the house. Choose a highly visible spot that can be viewed through multiple windows in the house if possible. Choosing a location that can be seen from the rooms you use most often is integral.
Keeping an eye on your kids while they play is an integral part of swing set safety, so place the equipment in a location that makes it easier to watch out for them while you’re doing other things.
Leveling an Area for Your Swing Set
Of course, you want to install your swing set safely since your kids will be playing on it for years to come. Part of this process is making sure that you use a level surface to install your swing set.
Most backyards are not perfectly level, so you’re going to have to clear out space and do some leveling work yourself if you want the safest installation with proper anchor points. If you don’t level the play area, the swing set could tip over as your children play, regardless of how you anchor it.
Here are some tools you’ll need to level the play area for your swing set:
- Wooden stakes
- Twine or other sturdy string
- A carpenter’s level
- A shovel
Leveling is not an overly complicated process, and you may be able to do the bulk of the work fairly quickly depending on the area you’re leveling. Also, note that you should avoid leveling an area on a weekend where it might rain. If you expect the process to take you more than a couple of days, you may need to get a tarp or other protective covering for the area. Otherwise, you’ll be waiting for the ground to completely dry out again before you resume with the leveling process.
Here are the steps you should take to level your backyard yourself.
Measure the Area
When you know exactly where you’re going to set up your swing set, you can mark the area out with stakes and twine. However, keep in mind that you aren’t just leveling out the area for the swing set itself. You’ll be marking out the dimensions of the play area (based on the requirements listed above).
You will also need to measure the depth of the play area. As we’ll discuss in the next section, each type of safety material has certain depth requirements. These are also based on the size of your swing set. Expect to dig out at least 9 to 12 inches below the surface of the play area.
You can mark the corners of the play area with wooden stakes and string them together with twine. The twine needs to be as close to the ground as possible and should be stretched taut between the stakes to get the correct measurement.
Check Your Levels
Once the twine or other string is stretched between the stakes, use a carpenter’s level on each string. A carpenter’s level is a standard tool that uses a bubble suspended in a liquid (often green) to show you if a surface is uneven.
When using a carpenter’s level, you should make sure that the tool is held flat against the string or twine. The bubble will move along the top edge of the liquid capsule. If the bubble is securely in the middle of the capsule, hovering over the middle mark, then the string is level.
If this isn’t the case, you’ll need to adjust your twine until it is level. Make sure that the string is on the ground at the highest point of the yard so that you can determine how much depth you’ll need to dig out.
Adjust the twine attached to the stakes until all of them are level. This is a tricky process. Don’t be discouraged if it takes you several micro-adjustments to get the level perfect. It is essential to the safety of your children and the installation of the swing set that this step is performed properly.
Once you are sure that the twine stretching between your stakes is level, it’s time to move on to removing the dirt and grass.
Start at the highest point of the play area. Using your shovel, begin slowly digging out the dirt and grass in the outlined area. If you haven’t measured correctly or if you didn’t check for buried obstacles, this is the step where you’ll suffer for your mistake.
You don’t want to move several feet of dirt and grass out of the area, only to find that you’ll need to put it all back because there is a utility line buried in the area, or a well cap hiding in the grass.
It’s a good idea to double-check the area before you break ground.
When you are sure that it is safe to do so, begin removing dirt and grass with the shovel. Starting at the highest point allows more room for error when you’re removing material and can help ensure that you aren’t removing too much.
Methodically remove the dirt and grass within the play area, getting as close to the twine (which now marks the ‘sides’ of the play area) as possible. It’s a good practice to only remove an inch or so of material at the time, as digging straight down can lead to some complications later in the process.
Keep Track of Depth
By now, you should know what type of safety material you’re going to use for your playground. Similarly, you’ll know how tall your swing set is. Using this information, you’ll need to determine how deep the hole needs to be. To get the playground safety material and the swing set itself to the proper heights and safety depths, you’ll need to do a little (or a lot) of troubleshooting.
For example, say you’re installing a swing set that is 8 feet high. You will need to have a deeper play area, because the height of the equipment may make for worse falls. So you decide to go with a 12-inch depth for the play area to give your kids the maximum amount of fall protection.
While you’re clearing away the dirt, soil, and grass, make sure that you know where to stop. To get an accurate measurement of how much material you have already removed, measure from the twine you set up in the first few steps to the bottom of the hole you’ve created. Once it’s reached your desired depth (12 inches, in this case), it’s time to stop.
You may want to stop a little before the depth you want since we’ll be adjusting and leveling the bottom of the hole in the next step. This is a delicate process, and removing too much material can throw off the level of the entire area. Leaving some material at the bottom in case you make a mistake is generally a good idea.
Level the Bottom of the Hole
Once you have the area cleared of most excess material, it’s time to make sure that the inside of this area is leveled correctly.
You’ll need to use your carpenter’s level at various spots within the area, making sure that it’s level all the way around. This is why it can be helpful to avoid removing all of the material at once. Leaving a few centimeters of depth at the bottom of the hole can make it easier to perfect the leveling in this step.
Make sure that you observe levels from all over the hole, in each area, and especially in areas that start off higher (where more grass and dirt needed to be removed). This step can be tedious, as you’re again making minor adjustments to get as close to perfect leveling as possible.
Note that keeping it perfectly level across the bottom of the hole is nearly impossible. There will be some areas that are slightly off one way or another, and that’s okay. As long as the entire bottom is close to being even, the installation will go fine.
Again, it’s important to get it as close as possible, but getting it completely level is nearly impossible. Just do the best you can and make sure it is as close as possible.
That’s it! With those steps out of the way, you’re ready to begin assembling your swing set in the space provided. The hole may look daunting, but soon after you install your swing set, you’ll be placing safety material to prevent injury if your kids fall.
Each swing set has its unique installation methods, and you must follow the instructions included with the swing set. Safety should be your top priority, and most swing set manufacturers feel the same way.
No matter the size of your swing set, what material it’s made out of, or what other features are included with the equipment, one thing is true. They all need to be anchored into the ground before you place down safety mats or other materials.
You can use concrete to anchor the swing set to the ground if you expect the anchors included with the swing set won’t be sufficient to withstand the wind and your kids’ playing. Separate instructions are usually included for concrete installation. If you are only going to be staking the anchors into the ground, you’ll only need a hand tool to bolt the anchors to the swing set frame.
Swing set anchors are usually driven directly into the ground, drilled or screwed in, and then bolted directly to the frame of the swing set. You’ll need to make sure that the anchors are secure and tightly fixed onto the swing set before moving on.
Once you’ve followed the specific instructions laid out by the swing set manufacturer, it’s time to move on to safety materials. These go in after the swing set is assembled and anchored in place to make those steps easier.
Installing Safety Materials
One of the most important parts of prepping your yard for your swing set is understanding what type of safety material you’re going to put down around the play area. If you’ve ever taken your kid to a playground, you know that multiple different methods for doing this exist, and some are vastly more expensive than others.
But why use safety material at all? You may think that your backyard swing set won’t be used as much as a playground, so it’s unlikely to need as much protection. Consider this: you want your child to have the softest landing possible if they fall out of the swing, right? Choosing an appropriate safety material is an investment, but one that may even prevent broken bones down the line.
Plus, putting a safety material down and framing the play area with wooden beams or some other separation can make it easier to move your backyard in the long run. You’ll be able to mow around the area without trying to get under and between the pieces of the swing set. Plus, your kids won’t be tracking mud into the house when they play outside after a rainy day.
There are several different types of safety materials that you can use to fill in the hole around your swing set. Each has its requirements, advantages, and costs. We’ll go over the different types of materials briefly below.
- Sand. Sand is a natural material that is fairly inexpensive to use for playground equipment. It can be used for swing sets that are 5 feet high or less, though there are several disadvantages: neighborhood cats may find it inviting, and it gets everywhere – including all over your children.
- Pea gravel. Pea gravel is another inexpensive material that is environmentally friendly and used for small swing sets. The only problem here (other than the fact that it will spread all over the place) is that it can create a harder landing surface if your child happens to fall.
- Wood Products. Mulch or wood chips are other viable options that you can use in your swing set play area. These wood products are biodegradable and environmentally friendly, and they come with the bonus of being less expensive than rubber materials. However, they do need to be replaced every two years and may attract certain pests.
- Shredded Rubber. Shredded rubber is usually recycled material. While it’s a bit more expensive than the natural options above, it can create a soft, shock-absorbing landing if your child falls. Keep in mind that it requires a bit more maintenance. If you choose to use shredded rubber as your safety material, you will need a deeper play area (between 12-20 inches on average).
- Rubber Mats. A rubber mat is a safe, durable option that can make your swing set colorful. However, it may need professional installation. Depending on the size of the playset, these rubber options may not work. That’s because they need to be thicker, which can lead to astronomical costs for installation.
- Pour Rubber. Again, pour rubber requires professional installation. Between that and the material itself, it is the most expensive option. However, it is also the safest and absorbs the most impact from a fall.
Whichever safety material you choose to use with your swing set, now is the time to install it. Once the swing set is assembled and anchored into your leveled space, you can add your chosen safety material. Most will have a recommended installation method (such as rubber mats and pour rubber’s professional installation requirements), so keep that in mind before you begin.
Preparing your yard for a swing set can be an involved process, but it is worth it to know that your kids will be playing safely in your backyard. As long as you follow correct leveling procedures, install proper safety materials, and leave enough space around the swing set to account for a safe play area, both you and your child can enjoy the swing set experience.