How's Your Weather?
After determining your budget and the age group you'd like to attract, it's time to think about materials, which will be dependent upon both your climate and the amount of use you expect your playground to see. At this point, you'll want to begin looking through playground equipment catalogs to see what's available.
Generally speaking, playground equipment is made of three different materials:
Wooden playgrounds are less durable than those made of other materials, and are susceptible to heat and water damage. Laminate or pressure-treated wood is more durable than untreated wood, but, even so, will eventually require replacement. Wood is also subject to termite infestation. The nice thing about wood is that fixing a broken section often requires replacement of just a single board or post. Wood is cost-effective choice, suitable for low-impact low-use facilities in cool, dry climates.
Steel playgrounds are highly durable in dry climates, but can be subject to rust in wet climates. In hot, sunny climates, they can also lead to contact burns for your kids. In recent years, polyvinyl coating has become a popular option for steel playgrounds, which helps to protect the structures from rust damage. This coating, however, can be torn through, and in such cases it's often an entire deck which rusts through, leading to expensive replacement costs. Steel playgrounds are suitable for high-impact, high-use facilities in everything from cool-dry to hot-wet climates, depending upon the quality of their polyvinyl coatings.
Fiberglass Reinforced Plastics (FPRs) and Synthetic Wood:
Fiberglass reinforced plastic is a highly durable material which is suitable for many different climates. It is rust-proof, heat-resistant, and insect-proof, though it may crack with long exposure to hot sun or to harsh freeze-thaw cycles. Synthetic wood is made of recycled plastic and wood fibers, and is much more resistant to weather than the natural variety. These choices are generally a bit more expensive than other materials, but have proven to be durable and attractive options for many high-use playgrounds around the world.
Playground Safety Surfacing
Lastly, consider the material you'll use to surface the area around your playground to keep your kids from getting unnecessary bumps and bruises. Woodchips and gravel are great natural choices, and may prove the most cost-effective option for churches. Keep in mind, however, that these materials may periodically need to be replaced or supplemented. Other options include rubberized matting, artificial turf surfaces on top of foam padding (not recommended, as it may contribute to tripping) and "pour-in-place" rubberized surfaces, such as those you might find on a track. Pour-in-place surfaces are durable, resilient, and resistant to the elements, making them attractive choices for churches with room in their budgets.
Regardless of the material you choose, remember that (even in front of fun) the #1 priority of any playground is safety. Now that you're familiar with how to choose the budget and playground equipment that will be right for you, learn how to keep your kids secure with Playground Safety.