The playground decision: Why materials matter

Of all the factors you must consider when planning a playground, one of the most important is what materials are used in the playground’s structural components. There are only three basic options to consider for commercial playgrounds: steel, wood, and plastic.

Even with regular (and costly!) maintenance, steel playground components will rust and need replacement within 10 to 15 years. Owners of wooden playgrounds face even more problems—especially mold, rot, and frequent sealing or staining, not to mention the hazards splinters pose for children. Plastic components can be either the solution or another set of problems, depending on the type of plastics and processes used in manufacturing. Here’s what you need to know:

Recycled HDPE Plastic Playground Equipment 

  • The preferred plastic material for playground components is recycled HDPE (high-density polyethylene), made mostly from milk jugs.
  • HDPE is sustainable, rugged, durable, and adaptable for a variety of commercial applications. It also can be melted and reformed to recycle it again.
  • Many companies claim to make plastic lumber from recycled HDPE. Unless properly formulated, even HDPE can crack and split. (EcoPlay field reps see this often with playgrounds we are replacing.)
  • HDPE plastic lumber can itself be recycled as part of a “closed loop” of sustainability.

EcoPlay Structures’ plastic lumber is based on a proprietary formula and is molded piece by piece. Unlike other HDPE, fiber-reinforced composite, and composite plastics used to make playground equipment, our plastic lumber combines two attributes that result in extraordinary strength and durability:

  • Made from 95% HDPE and a naturally occurring mineral, it has outstanding chemical, moisture, and environmental stress crack resistance. We don’t comingle HDPE with non-HDPE plastics, fiberglass, or fillers that will degrade tensile and compressive strengths.
  • Our plastic lumber provides extraordinary structural properties and won’t rot, split, crack, chip, or fade, even after long exposure to harsh weather conditions.

Thanks to our proprietary material and processes, EcoPlay Structures stands behind the commercial playground structures we manufacture with a 50-year warranty on the EcoPlay® lumber. Interested in learning more? Please contact us today! 

Hint: It’s not the purchase price

A neighborhood playground’s cost is more than what you pay the supplier. That’s the acquisition cost, which isn’t the best gauge for evaluating playground costs when reviewing proposals from competing bidders.

When you evaluate commercial playground vendor proposals, you’ll want to calculate the cost of ownership over the long term, perhaps 30 years. Let’s say you are evaluating two proposals: a steel playground and one built from EcoPlay Structures’ plastic lumber. 

How to calculate the cost of a new playground for your neighborhood

Here’s our simplified, four-step approach for comparing the cost of ownership of playgrounds. To focus just on equipment costs, we’re not including landscaping, fencing, or the cost of ground cover materials, such as pea gravel or rubber mulch. 

  1. For each proposal, calculate your initial investment in the playground equipment. Don’t forget to add transportation and installation costs.
  2. For the steel playground, use a 15-year lifespan to calculate replacement costs in today’s dollars. This means replacing it twice in 30 years.
  3. For EcoPlay Structures playgrounds, factor in the cost to refresh the structure by replacing some lighter components, such as slides and shades. Assume your refreshment cost is about 10% of the Step 1 cost after 15 years and another 10% after 30 years.
  4. For a steel playground, add steps 1 and 2; for an EcoPlay Structures playground, add steps 1 and 3.  Compare the totals, and you should find that the long-term cost of ownership for a steel playground is about double that of an EcoPlay Structures playground.

Check out this real-world example where the initial investment in the EcoPlay Structures equipment was higher than steel. After 30 years, however, EcoPlay generated savings of 47% over the steel playground!

So, when it’s time to build a playground, talk to one of our playground specialists. We’ll help you design an age-appropriate playground to suit your space and your budget. 

A beautiful custom-designed playground helps create a fun atmosphere for the whole family. Swings, slides and overheads can bring laughter, joy, and amusement to generations of children – not to mention the social and health benefits of play. Plus, a custom playground can be made to perfectly suit the location and needs of the families who will enjoy them. These qualities all sound amazing, but let’s dig a little deeper to talk about the cost-effectiveness, longevity, superior materials and earth-friendliness of EcoPlay playgrounds.

How Important is Play for a Child’s Development?

Play is essential to developing a healthy brain; it’s how children learn to use their creativity and imagination to discover the world around them. It’s often how they meet kids outside their family, and begin socializing and interacting with others. It’s also a vital part of learning and development. As the American Academy of Pediatrics points out, play “contributes to cognitive, physical, social and emotional well-being of children.” Play is so important that it has been recognized by the UN High Commission on Human rights as a right of every child.

Why is Playground Play important?

The playground is a wonderful place for children and their families to gather and interact with friends, classmates, and neighbors. Many scholars and authors have written about how playgrounds enhance child development. Outdoor play lets kids develop physical strength and skill as well as self-confidence. Play is also where kids learn some of their most important life lessons about sharing and communicating as they explore and discover. So, it’s only fitting that kids get to play on the best equipment available.

The Best Custom Playground Equipment

EcoPlay custom commercial playgrounds are made from earth-conscious HDPE, a rugged, durable, and 100% recyclable material. In fact, our playgrounds were once milk jugs that have been recycled into eco-friendly play equipment. EcoPlay playgrounds have outstanding chemical, moisture, and environmental stress crack resistance meaning they can be warranted for 50 years. And, all EcoPlay playgrounds are also made in the USA.

EcoPlay is fiberglass free and we do not add filler such as LDPE, Styrene or wood particles that can degrade its strength – something essential when it comes to making sure the equipment will stand the test of time and toddlers. Instead, our proprietary formula creates an ultra-dense structure. This means EcoPlay HDPE plastic lumber provides extraordinary structural properties and won’t rot, split, crack, chip, or fade, even after prolonged exposure to harsh weather conditions.

EcoPlay Playgrounds vs. Steel Playgrounds

EcoPlay plastic lumber is very competitive with the strength and cost of steel—yet EcoPlay plastic lumber is much more durable: it will never rust, it thrives under sunny and rainy skies, it requires little or no maintenance, and it will look great for decades. On the other hand, steel playgrounds typically need to be completely replaced every 15 years meaning their cost competitiveness falls about 35 years short.

EcoPlay Playgrounds environmentally-friendly materials are designed for commercial use. They are also visually appealing structures that help create a fun, family atmosphere. All EcoPlay Playgrounds play structures meet or exceed industry standards set by the Consumer Product Safety Commission, ASTM, and ADA.

For more than 25 years, EcoPlay Playgrounds has been custom-designing, manufacturing and installing eco-friendly commercial playground equipment and site amenities. We provide low-maintenance, custom-designed structures for churches, schools, daycare centers, homeowner associations, and military bases. Please contact us today to learn more about how you can get outside and EcoPlay.


Each year, more than 200,000 children ages 14 and younger are treated for playground-related injuries, according to a U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission report. And, according to the Office of Technology Assessment, those injuries cost an estimated $1.2 billion.

Not all injuries can be prevented. But, the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA) is dedicated to promoting children’s right-to-play in a safe environment through the Certified Playground Safety Inspector (CPSI) certification course and exam.

The CPSI Course Manual states, “The purpose of the CPSI course is to educate participants on national playground safety standards and guidelines for children aged 2-12 years old and to enable those who successfully complete the course to:
            – Identify hazards on public playground equipment and the playground;
            – Rank the hazards according to injury potential; and
            – Apply the knowledge to remove the hazards and establish a system of inspections.”

But the value of the CPSI course goes beyond inspecting playgrounds for hazards.

At EcoPlay Structures, we have CPSIs in every department of the company.

Sales – Every in-house salesperson at EcoPlay Structures is a registered CPSI. This provides customers with a knowledgeable partner who can guide them through the design/decision process – helping them to create the exciting playground they want while making sure it meets all safety guidelines.

Engineering – Our engineers are CPSIs so that they design with safety in-mind – whether the item being engineered is a standard play equipment piece, or a custom-designed, one-of-a-kind play component.

Manufacturing – The supervisors in our manufacturing facility are also CPSIs. Every playground component we manufacture is built by experts in children’s safety.

Installation – Improper installation can lead to safety issues. That is why every EcoPlay Structures installation is supervised by a CPSI.

Marketing – The CPSI in our marketing department makes sure that the safety message in all communications is expressed clearly and authoritatively.

Minor injuries are going to happen in any free-spirited play that children are involved in. But, when safety is a priority at every step of the process, hopefully the chances of serious injuries happening on the playground can be minimized. To learn more, ask an EcoPlay Structures Commercial Playground Consultant about our safety processes.

As time passes, everything begins to show signs of age – there’s no avoiding it. And, while there is a certain appeal to things “antique,” the last message a playground wants to send is that it is looking “old” or “worn.”

There are many factors that can account for a playground looking worn, such as:

1)     Environment – having to do with exposure to sun, wind, rain, heat, cold, salt;

2)     Usage – normal wear-and-tear happens with each user, the more users the more wear;

3)     Product Quality – poor materials and/or poor construction can cause items to fall apart or break easily, presenting more than just a wear problem, but also creating a potential safety hazard to guests;

4)     Trends – styles change and something that is “cutting-edge” today may quickly become “dated.”

The aging process is slow and may not even be all that noticeable to someone who sees playground equipment everyday – until something actually breaks and the worn condition becomes obvious.

The trick to avoiding this is to look at the playground area with a critical eye. And, if the area seems to be less-than-ideal, it is time to consider one of four options to change that situation.

OPTION 1: Ignore the situation and hope nobody will notice. (Not a good choice, but one often justified with, “We’ll fix it when we can afford it.”)

OPTION 2: Remove the equipment. This may be your only option, but then there is one less piece of playground equipment for children to play on.

OPTION 3: Replace the equipment. This may be the only sensible option when dealing with poor quality or once-trendy equipment. This can be an expensive option and should be considered carefully before proceeding.

OPTION 4: Repair/Renovate the existing equipment. This can be an economically wise decision, and is the best choice if the equipment is structurally sound. This option is definitely less expensive than Option 3, and can cost less than Options 1 and 2 also.

Recently a heavily-used, 11-year old play structure was faced with the above options – and they went with Option 4.

All the playground equipment needed was to be “refreshed” – weathered roofs were removed completely and their support posts shortened and capped; slides were removed and replaced with new ones in a different color scheme; several play panels were replaced; and where poured-in-place surfacing had been worn (at the end of slides, for example), it was cut-out in the shape of “water splashes”, removed, and replaced in a contrasting color to the original.

The entire “refresh” process cost about 20% of what an entirely new playground would have cost.

To learn more about how to add a fresh, new look to your playground at a fraction of the cost, contact us!


It’s Spring… time to play! Unfortunately, while the playground was sitting there under Fall leaves and Winter snow it may have suffered a little bit and might not be entirely safe to play on. Before letting children on the playground, it is a good idea to give it a close inspection first. (more…)

Basic playground design information – types of equipment available, age-appropriate elements, use zones, safety surfacing options, shade structures, etc. – is easy to find online and it is relatively easy to understand. The Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) offers a free, downloadable Public Playground Safety Handbook. Members of a playground planning committee should definitely download this Handbook and review it while researching playground options.

If the planned playground area is part of a larger construction project, consult with the project architect and/or landscape architect – who may be able to provide playground design services/advice. If not, perhaps they will assist with reviewing equipment manufacturers and make suggestions during the design phase of the play area. If there isn’t an existing designer, most play equipment manufacturers offer design service at no additional charge.

The CPSC Handbook is a great reference, but final playground design decisions rest with the playground committee, which should be very familiar with the planned playground requirements. Only the committee members know the topic well enough to review options and understand how those options meet budgetary, operational and aesthetic requirements.

When working with a playground designer, it is important for the committee to clearly communicate all requirements and expectations relating to the playground project right from the beginning. Honest, open communication eliminates wasted effort – such as designing a $100,000 playground when the committee has a $20,000 budget. Finally, review every decision before signing-off on it. Often, it’s little things that cause big headaches later on.