Without a proverbial crystal ball, this is a really tough question to answer honestly. Playground equipment is designed for use by an intended age group indicated by the design. With appropriate use, certainly longer than a product that is misused or abused. Our commercial playground equipment carries several different warranties. This will help with a partial answer.
Galvanized steel posts, stainless steel hardware, aluminum fittings and aluminum post caps typically have a LIFETIME warranty. With proper care and maintenance, this is certainly a reasonable and reachable expectation. More about care in a moment. Punched decks, those coated, steel decks the children are standing on inside the play structure usually boast a 15 year warranty. Rails, rungs, loops, rotationally molded plastics and plastic sheet components have a typical 10 year warranty.
Does this mean when the warranty ends, it breaks?
NO!!! Warranty terms are usually determined by manufacturers by average and expected use. An elementary school with hundreds of children per hour is going to deliver much more rugged use than a private facility that may only be open one or two days a week. A child care center may experience constant and continuous play on the playground, but always under adult supervision. A community park may experience fewer children at play, but neighborhood hoodlums (not from your neighborhood, of course) may be a little too old to be horsing around on the equipment. Use, and the appropriate use at that- is one of the most important factors in the life of your equipment. Vandalism and misuse place a strong toll on your life expectancy and value. Imagine the disappointment of a city manager to learn his $3000 slide was cracked by the local skateboard enthusiasts experiencing the thrill of the huge skate ramp they found.
What can I do to improve the life expectancy?
Take your vitamins and exercise regularly. Well, that may help your life, but not necessarily that of your playground equipment. It starts with the planning and design. Ensure that you design is appropriate for the intended use, both capacity and age group. We have a line of equipment that is designed with larger diameter, steel posts, larger decks and larger tubes. This is appropriate for heavy use, large numbers, and offers a bold and impressive appearance. If you expect a lot of older children, such as at an elementary school, choose appropriate design features for older children. Two foot high slides for a ten year old are not much fun as a play event. They may also be more fun as a climbing ramp than a slide. Spring Rockers are fun for a five year old, but older children are going to cause greater wear and tear than intended.
Installation is another key factor at the beginning of the life of your equipment. Professional installation requires strict adherence to manufacturer guidelines, measurements and methods. Improper installation may result in wear and tear in areas not expected by the design. Even with professional installation, the owner operator should be familiar with the components and the intended appearance and function. Regular inspection is also another important step in your playground management.
So, I Need to be a Playground Mechanic?
Familiar and observant would be more appropriate terms. If it needs repair, consult a professional. If damage is noticed to a post, it should be addressed. That simple crack or dent from the young'ens using the post as a batting tee doesn't seem like a serious problem at first. After seasons of heat, cold, dry and rain, rust may set in under the layers of powder coating, zinc and galvanization. A simple surface touch up may prevent much more serious consequence later on. Years ago we pulled into a service station and a mechanic cheerfully approached us, thereafter filled our tank, checked the oil and filled any needed fluids. Cost cutting, self service is the norm now. Nobody bounces out, service with a smile, and checks the oil. Perhaps this is why our cars don't last as long as years ago? Years ago a mentor taught me the phrase: "You don't get what you EXPECT, you get what you INSPECT." For a long time I thought he was a silly crank. Now, as a parent and playground professional, I realize that the INSPECTION of the playground is MY duty, responsibility and privilege. If MY child is going to be playing on this equipment, I'll give it a once over before Junior plays. Regular and scheduled inspections and maintenance of your equipment will extend the value and timeline. (Yes, this is the second time to state this.)
One community association installed cameras on the side of the nearby facility building with an aim over the playground. They didn't connect to anything, but did indeed serve as a good supervisor. One community association put the playground at the front of the community, where lots of people pass by and watch. (No, I'm not advocating placement on the thoroughfare, that is another topic). Another community association put the entire playground inside a compound, with gated entrance and ample PRIVATE signage. Another community association placed a sign that suggested children only play with adult supervision. They then sent letters to all community members instructing of the same. Guess which playgrounds are not only going to last longer, but likely be MUCH safer for the children at play? Other than your child's pediatrician, there isn't likely going to be a better supervisor than Mom or Dad. Encourage your adults to be part of the playground program. Install benches for parents. One community encourages family participation in the park by installing a gazebo, shade covered benches, picnic tables and a sand volleyball court. Something tells me one city manager would have been a lot happier if he had spent $3000 on site amenities and had a host of adults in the park, than having to appropriate an emergency replacement cost.
Work with your playground professional to plan a WHOLE picture. Buying the "cheapest" piece of equipment may bite you in the back half. When our children's safety is involved, make sure YOU are involved and your playground will last longer, and be safe longer. Call or write us for more information, guidance or suggestions!
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