Selecting just the right play set for your family might be tougher than a cruise down the slide. With so many options to mull and factors to consider — children's ages, yard size, safety hazards, materials and cost — getting the right set to fit your family could take a little time. So ask a lot of questions before investing in equipment family and friends will play on for years. We've done a lot of the homework already. McClatchy-Tribune Newspapers
Age- and fun-factor
What's fun and safe for 10-year-olds won't be appropriate for the toddlers, so consider your audience. That said, don't forget that your child will grow. Try to buy a set you can modify by adding or removing features.
18 months to 2 years
• Towers should have slats instead of solid walls so adults can watch from the ground. Ideally, height should be at a maximum 5 feet off the ground. But if you want the play set to still be exciting as the kids grow, a 6-foot tower might be better.
• Consider a back-to-back glider, which kids ride like a horse and can accommodate either one or two kids.
Not for younger than 4
• Tire swings are heavy and could easily knock kids over.
• Trapezes are difficult for the youngest children and could cause shoulder dislocation for the little ones.
• Fireman poles require upper-body strength and are usually hard for kids with short arms to get on them properly.
• Monkey bars also require upper-body strength. It can be dangerous if a young child climbs to the top but can't get down.
• Rope ladders require greater coordination.
If you're buying a wooden swing set, redwood and cedar are generally the hardiest woods, experts say, followed by pine. Some warn against PVC-covered wood because it might not show inside rot.
Most commercial play set manufacturers stopped selling sets made of pressure-treated wood in 2004 after preservatives that were used, chromium, copper and arsenic, were found to be dangerous. Some sets now may be treated with preservatives believed to have low toxicity. If you buy a set made from natural wood with no preservatives, remember that you'll have to clean and stain or paint it periodically.
Be sure to check your set's weight limits. Some lower-priced sets have low weight restrictions on swings and other parts, and use by adults can damage the set. High-priced play sets often have no weight limits.
What they cost
Prices depend on what features you select. Typically the price ranges from about $1,200 and up. At Lowe's, $1,695 will buy a Heartland Play Systems swing set with a fort, vinyl canopy, slide, rock wall and space for three swings. At Costco, $1,700 will buy a Sunray Playset made from redwood and cedar that includes a raised fort, solid roof, picnic table, swings, slide and tic-tac-toe panel.