Homeowners are mostly aware of the damage that winter weather can cause to their outdoor equipment. Water seeping into wood freezes, cracking it, and quickly weathering decks, swing sets, sheds, and other wooden structures. When it thaws, the wood is damaged, and becomes an easy target for mold and insects. While summertime won’t wear your equipment nearly as dramatically, it’s not safe to think that it’s okay to put off maintenance until Fall. Summer weather, particularly the hot sun, can also have a devastating effect on your equipment, and can transform existing annoyances from Springtime into serious safety hazards.
The most important concern in regard to your kids’ play equipment is, of course, safety. Over the course of the winter, the paint typically coating metal components such as exposed nuts, bolts, screws, or supporting frames can begin to peel, exposing bare metal underneath. For many parents, this doesn’t feel like a serious problem so long as there is no evidence of rust, but that ignores an important point. Exposed metal will heat to very high temperatures in the sun, often enough to cause significant burns on contact.
This can make it painful, and potentially dangerous, to sit on an improperly maintained swing, to grasp a metal monkey bar, or just to hold on to a safety rail. Make sure that these components are kept covered by a light-colored paint, to prevent excessive solar heat absorption.
Late spring and early summer is often a very wet time of year in the US. Exposed and badly maintained wood will constantly soak up water when it rains, and then quickly dry when the weather turns suddenly hot. Wood will naturally swell when it gets wet, and contract again when it dries out. Over time, this process will cause the wood to begin to warp and crack, weakening it and making it more vulnerable to natural decay. A good way to prevent this is to apply a sealant once or twice per year to hold out moisture.
An agent of weathering that isn’t often discussed is the sun itself. Sunlight will directly bleach and damage wood and plastic components over time. While wood can be largely protected through the regular application of a stain, plastic components are vulnerable. Some types of plastics are much more resistant than others, so it’s a good idea to find out exactly what your swing set is made of before you buy.
Polyethylene, in particular, will degrade fairly quickly, with plastic ropes often disintegrating and fraying within just a few years. Any plastic structural elements in your swing set need to be monitored and replaced if they show significant signs of sun damage. Sun damaged plastic will appear slightly bleached, and start to crumble into granules.