July 23, 2014 at 1:00 am

Choosing a kids play system can mean research for adults

Your children's safety may rest on what should be a well thought out decision

Most children will use their swing set from age 2 to 10. (Gorilla Playsets)

Swing sets are the epitome of casual summertime fun — but buying one can feel overwhelming.

They can range in price from $200 to $30,000, and most people have never spent much time researching them before they’re ready to make a purchase.

“It’s a funny thing,” said Barrett Brown, president and owner of CedarWorks, a Maine-based company that makes standard and custom-configured indoor and outdoor play systems. “There aren’t that many things that you shop for that you’re going to spend $1,000-plus, that you’ve probably never thought about before.”

But this is one area that you should give some consideration to before purchasing, because if you don’t, you could possibly endanger your children, Brown said.

While you may think that you have enough room in your backyard to fit a swing set or play set, you actually need more room than you think.

In addition to the play-set space, you’ll need six additional feet in all directions if you have swings, in case your child jumps off.

Think your child is too timid to jump? Think again, said Lex Anne Taylor of Kansas-based Backyard Discovery, which sells wooden play sets and swing sets.

“I don’t know of a child who won’t build up the momentum at some point and won’t want to jump from the swing,” Taylor said.

Not every backyard has that much room, but although many people assume that the biggest aspect of a swing set is the swings, that’s simply not true anymore, Brown said.

He explained that most children will use their swing set from age 2-10. But over the course of those eight years, they are going to move on from the swings — and other parts of that set will become much more important.

“Not having swings is not a reason not to get one,” he said. “The fort part of the structure and other aspects are a lot of fun, too. Just re-conceive what you’re trying to do.”

While parents are considering their ideal play set, they also need to think about their budget. The difference between a $400 set and a $30,000 play set is vast, Taylor said. “Any time you’re below $1,000, it’s as-is,” she said.

That means that you’re buying whatever is in the box, and you can’t pick and choose depending on your child’s interests. “Above, you’re given options,” Taylor said.

Brown said customization is important if your family will be moving to a bigger home or expanding — or if you want a play set that is age-appropriate now but will grow with your child.

“If you can buy a product that can be modified or that you can add onto over time, it might be a better investment,” Brown said.

The least expensive material is metal, and the most expensive is wood.

Some swing set brands might charge more initially, but may offer a better warranty or even a lifetime warranty for the product, Taylor said, adding that these warranties are usually void if the set is transferred to another owner.

One swing set alternative is a bouncy house, which can be used outside during warm months and then used inside a basement when the weather gets cooler.

Bouncy houses cost around $200 to $500, and need to be inflated first then deflated after use.

Although there are many types of bouncy houses, Lee Knowlton, CEO of Pump It Up, which has more than 140 inflatable play-space locations in the United States, said that visitors to Pump It Up appear to love the options — so it might be best to choose a bouncy house that has a slide and possibly a basketball hoop and other features attached.