This is Why It’s Important To Replace Aging Playground Equipment

Playgrounds are a fantastic way for kids to run out their energy, however, they can be dangerous too. Simply taking some time each week to check up on the playground to make sure it is functioning well and not breaking down can help reduce injuries caused by faulty equipment

Playing on a playground is such a fun time for kids. Whether its at-home equipment or a city-owned place, it gives kids a place to climb, swing, and play like they can’t regularly in a house or an empty backyard. Unfortunately, playgrounds are also common places for injuries to occur, even if you manage to keep them up to date with the highest safety standards.

Replacing aging playground equipment is crucial to making your park safe and fun. Without new equipment, you will have broken down things that will not be fun, or safe for children to play on. You will also lose the ability of your playground to be all-inclusive for everyone. Fixing and replacing equipment should be the number one priority of keeping a playground safe and available.

However, this means it is very important to replace aging playground equipment because it can cause even more chances for injuries. In some cases, if your playground equipment is really broken down in a city-owned situation, it can also get shut down to reduce the chance of any future issues.

How Long Does Playground Equipment last?

Playground equipment can have a wide range as to how long it will last depends on a few factors.

  • Quality
  • The material it is made from
  • Upkeep
  • Environment it is exposed to
  • How often it is used

All of these things can individually change how long a playground is going to last and whether it breaks a lot or breaks down easily.

Quality

How well a piece of playground equipment is made can be the sole reason a playground will last as long as it does. When buying the equipment for your playground, you want to make sure it comes with some type of warranty, and while having it out together, it is always a good idea to look over the material and equipment for quality. If there is any damage to the equipment before it is even used, have it replaced before allowing someone to play on it.  This will give you a longer life from your equipment.

A outdoor playground.
The quality of a playground is the main factor influencing its lifespan.

Material

A swing set or playground can usually last anywhere from 3-years to a lifetime depending heavily on the material it is made from and how well it is taken care of. If the material is suitable for the environment it will be exposed to, you stand a better chance of it lasting a long time.

A wooden playset.
The material of playground equipment pieces can impact the durability and lifespan.

At-home

While an at-home playground is likely to have fewer hazards and damage, you need to still routinely check on it and do your research before you buy anything.

Wood

This is going to be the material that lasts you the longest number of years without breaking down or being damaged easily. Wood is easy to maintain because it is usually resistant to rotting and capable of resisting weather damage. Wood is treated to repel moisture and pests that could compromise the integrity of its durability and is very easy to maintain. Other than washing it regularly and applying a sealant to it every couple of years, you can leave the wood alone and it will maintain itself.

Wood is a good choice when you are looking at environmental impacts because it is a naturally occurring material. As long as it is not in contact with toxic chemicals, you really don’t have to worry about it being dangerous for kids, or the environment. Even if you had to breakdown the playground for some reason, wood can be repurposed for other things and won’t add extra waste in a landfill.

Metal

Metal will last for a maximum of 15 years if it is well taken care of. The biggest issue with metal is that it will begin to rust and become easily pliable if not taken care of well. The weight limit that metal can handle is far less than wat wood can hold which usually results in metal play-areas breaking down quicker.

A colorful metal swing.
The biggest issue with metal is that it will begin to rust and become easily pliable if not taken care of well.

Metal also tends to get very hot in the sun which can be uncomfortable to play on and kids are at risk for dangerous burns.

Vinyl

Playground equipment made of vinyl can last about 20 years if they are well-maintained, but very rarely end up lasting that long. Usually vinyl is covering wood which contributes to its ability to last a long time, but this can cause problems with the integrity of the wood. Since you cannot see the wood, you don’t know what shape it is in and can’t fix decaying or rotting wood before it is too late.

Any rough weather can lead to holes in the vinyl which can trap in moisture. Due to the wood not being treated for direct contact with elements, the wood is much more susceptible to rotting and wearing down to a level where it is no longer useable. Ultimately, you won’t be aware of a problem until it leads to an injury, or a break that is not easily fixable.

Plastic

Playsets made of plastic are most commonly used for smaller children since it is smooth and does not splinter or burn like wood and metal. The issue with plastic though is that it only lasts about 5 years and cannot sustain the weight of older or larger children.  Plastic playground equipment shouldn’t be bought for a long-term fix and won’t work for playgrounds that are used frequently due to it breaking down so quickly.

Plastic usually does not hold up well against the elements and most sun or rain exposure only weakens the integrity of the material. Plastic also regularly has holes and cracks which allow moisture to get in, which is a breeding ground for mold and other fungus or bacteria to grow, which creates a whole new set of problems within itself.

City-owned

Most city-owned playground equipment will be made with metal or wood, except for slides. Slides are routinely made with plastic to keep kids from being burned, and it’s often the smoothest material so it’s easier to slide on. The more important parts of the structure are going to be made with metal or wood to keep from having to replace them too often.

A playground.
The more important parts of the structure are going to be made with metal or wood.

Wood and metal are also the stronger the materials so they can withstand a large number of kids or weight at one time, to compensate for the number of kids that may play on one piece of equipment at once. 

Upkeep

No matter what material your equipment is made from, it will require some work to keep it in good shape. With wood, you need to wash it and add a sealant every couple of years, but with other materials, you want to wash it and inspect it regularly for damage or wear and tear. Regularly making sure your equipment is clean will allow you to see any damage or possible areas that may need to be fixed. This will also allow you to notice things before they can cause harm or injuries.

Paints and polisher.
To make the playground equipment last longer, you will need to maintain the pieces by properly cleaning and sealing.

Environment

Certain materials hold up against the elements much better than others, and it plays a large part in how long they last. If you live in an area where temperatures get abnormally high, you will want to go with a wood playground. Plastic can melt, metal will get far too hot, and vinyl will warp in the heat. Picking the right playground material for your environment will help reduce injuries, costs, and upkeep.

How Often is it used?

Some wear-and-tear will happen with a playground, even if it is never used, simply from being exposed to the elements. Rain, snow, winds, debris, and heat all play a factor in how well the equipment will hold up over a longer period of time.

If your equipment is used often, as in all day, every day, then you may need to replace or update it a few years earlier than what you planned. When playgrounds are used often, things break because kids are rough, they also break because things get worn out after being used hundreds of times. It’s always best to keep regular checks on the equipment when it’s being used heavily to make sure you reduce the chance for injuries.

When Should Playground Equipment Be Replaced?

Any playground equipment should be replaced if the following things happen:

  • If anything is broken
  • If any part of the playground equipment is recalled
  • If anything starts to rot or rust
  • If anything poses a danger to those who may play on it

How Much Does It Cost to Repair or Replace a Playground?

If one small part of a playground is broken, you can often repair it instead of redoing the entire thing. However, sometimes playgrounds are damaged past a point of repair and this will cause you to replace the entire piece of equipment.

Replace

Replacing equipment on a playground is often going to costs about the same amount of money as it did when you first bought it. Sometimes, depending on what company you go with, they may have it covered under a warranty that will allow you to get it to replace for a reduced cost, or in some cases, free. Usually, commercial equipment that is city-owned will be covered is something breaks, with very little, if any at all, exceptions.

Repair

Repairing a playground can be costly, but not quite as bad as having to replace the entire piece of equipment. You can find a playground repair contractor to professionally do the work to make sure it is safe for children. The cost ranges anywhere from $50-$75 an hour. Most playground repairs in total can cost anywhere from $200-$2,500 depending on what you need to be fixed and how long it takes.

A man repairing something.
Keep in mind that repairing a playground is cheaper than replacing it with a new one.

Having a playground repaired is not something you want to try to cut costs on. Making sure you have a professional, who is licensed and insured, will give you peace of mind that it is safe for children to play on. This will save you from hospital bills and injured kids. Even though the upfront costs may seem large, you will save money making sure it is safe and done well.

Keeping Playgrounds Safe

According to the CDC, emergency rooms treat more than 200,000 children each year for playground-related injuries. While the equipment for the children to play on might be in good condition, usually the material that covers the base of the playground is not suitable for children to run across or fall on. You have a few options for the surface you choose to fill your playground with.

A boy having fun on the round swing,
To make the kids happy and safe, it is important to choose the right surface material.

It is important to update and keep tabs on the surface of your playground to make sure it is suitable and continues to be the best option for kids to run and fall on. If you don’t update it regularly, you risk kids hitting the ground underneath, or injuring themselves due to holes or gaps. The material needs to be shock-absorbent so that if kids fall from a climbing toy, the ground will absorb them instead of their body needed to absorb the impact.

Playground Hazards

When someone is checking their playground equipment for possible hazards and things that could contribute to injuries, it is common that they don’t know exactly what to look for. When these things are missed, or overlooked, they can cause life-threatening injuries. These simple tips and guidelines can help make your playground into a much safer area for kids to play without their parents having to worry about injuries.

Posted Rules

Playgrounds that are city-owned, or used commercially, need to have rules for the playground that are posted for everyone to see. This allows people to understand age-ranges for equipment and removes the option of people getting hurt because they “didn’t know” they couldn’t do something. Simply by posting some rules and guidelines, you allow a safer place for everyone to play and have fun.

Age-appropriate Equipment

If you have playground equipment and you are marketing it or expecting kids of all ages to play on it, then you need to make sure the equipment is appropriate for all ages. Toddlers can’t climb too high because they don’t know they can’t just let go and fall. Bigger kids can’t be too rough on smaller equipment because it will break and possibly injure someone.

Simply having equipment that everyone can play on will reduce the risk of injuries. Even if you have one area for smaller children and one area for large children, this way everyone has their own space and no one has to risk safety for fun.

A child having fun.
Having age-appropriate equipment on the playground is a key to reducing risks of severe injuries.

Equipment Hazards

When installing and getting your equipment ready for kids, it is important to know the rules and guidelines put in place by the National Safety Council (NSC). This non-profit organization has outlined some safety practices that allow playgrounds to be less of a place for injuries and hazards, and more of a safe place for kids to run around on. They have specific guidelines relating to equipment and what is recommended for measurements on equipment.

  • Surfaces should have a minimum of 12 inches of the material above the ground and should not expose the concreate or bare flooring.
  • Areas under and around the equipment should be a minimum of 6ft in all directions, except the swings, which should be twice the height of the suspension bar.
  • Platforms higher than 30 inches should have guardrails or barriers to keep kids from falling off.
  • Openings between bars should be less than 3 ½ inches or greater than 9 inches to keep children from getting their head stuck.
  • Playground equipment should be free from sharp jagged edges, broken pieces, and exposed s-hooks to keep kids from being cut or hung.

Wear and Tear

Even if equipment may not be broken, it may just not be functioning as it should. Fixing parts of the playground that are not functioning well can save you from having to fix a bigger part of the equipment, or it could even save a kid from becoming hurt. A well-functioning playground is the safest place for kids to play.

A happy girl hanging on the playset.
To ensure the kids are happy and safe on the playground, you should keep the area fully functional.

If you notice wood rot or rusting metal, even if it is not affecting the integrity or functionality of the equipment yet, it is best to get it replaced before it gets worse. Unfortunately, wear and tear can be a slow process, but once it reaches its breaking point, it can seriously hurt someone. By being proactive instead of reactive, you can save someone some possible pain and a lot of time and money.

Wrap-up

Playgrounds are a fantastic way for kids to run out their energy and get their bodies moving, however, they can be dangerous places if they are not taken care of or if the upkeep is not done well. Simply taking some time each week to check up on the playground to make sure it is functioning well and not breaking down can help reduce injuries caused by faulty equipment.

If repairs or replacements are needed, while it can be costly, spending that money on the front end will be a greater saving grace than you may realize. Spending a few hundred dollars to fix something that is wearing down can save you thousands in the long run since you won’t have to pay for doctor visits due to an injury.

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