Once every other year or so I’m blessed with a man-cation. That’s right, a man-cation! What is this you might ask? Well a man-cation is a wonderful time when the wife takes all of the children away for at least an overnight trip, leaving the man of the house to do whatever he wants for at least 24 hours. Don’t bother looking it up, I just coined the term. I hope Webster’s picks up on it though. While I have been blessed with a man-cation in the past, this is the first man-cation with two children. I don’t think that the stars will align like this ever again in my lifetime. So what is a man to do? Sleep in? Drink beer and watch football? Eat cereal in your underwear while binge watching Netflix? While they are all viable options, I opted for a man project! Since both kids were gone I decided to surprise both the kids and my wife by building a backyard playground!
So just a little bit of a back story here.. I consider myself handy around the house, being able to fix things and do light repair, but the magic has always been with my friends who come over to assist me with these sort of projects. Give me electronics, electrical cable, and maybe even some computer equipment and I can make something beautiful! Unfortunately landscape timbers and mulch might be another story. While the Mrs. sometimes pokes fun at my man projects, I knew there was no way she would find fault in building a backyard playground for the boys! As it turns out, I think I did a pretty darn good job and the actual construction part was done solo. That’s right, with no help! If I can do it, ANYONE can do it!
So the first step to building a backyard playground is to actually figure out how big you want it to be. I had initially planned on a simple 8 x 16 foot area. I had planned on adding mulch and a few chairs for the wife and I to enjoy watching our little ones play. We already had a nice single swing set, and a used Little Tikes climber that was in pieces in our backyard already. Add in a plastic Little Tikes slide that you can often find for dirt cheap, and you have yourself the makings of a nice little backyard playground!
Building a Backyard Playground – Trip #1 to Home Depot
This trip was kinda fun! I had a list of things that I needed to buy and bits and pieces to complete other projects around the house. To keep from boring you with details, I’ll just focus on the backyard playground stuff. I know I needed:
- Landscape Timbers – They come in various sizes but my local home depot has them in 8 foot sections. (Hence why I planned the 8×16 dimensions!)
- Landscape Fabric – To keep the weeds from growing up into the backyard playground.
- Landscape Fabric Pins – This keeps the fabric from blowing around while you put everything into place.
- Steel Rebar – To fasten the landscape timbers and keep the mulch contained.
- Mulch – Lots of it! But how much? It depends on how thick of a layer you want, but I calculated 22 bags for the 8×16 area. I used http://www.landscapecalculator.com/calculators/mulch which was really easy to calculate. The Mrs. has said on occasion that she loves the playgrounds with lots of mulch so I figures 4 inches would about do it. The calculator did all the work for me. I just needed to know the square footage. (8 x 16 = 128 square feet)
After loading up the trailer with all the goodies, I pulled into the driveway realizing that it would be rough lugging all that mulch and gear into the back yard. I did the most manly think I could think of an uprooted my tiny wire fence to I could pull into the back yard. I could just feel it, this was going to be a great man project! No other kids within miles would have a nice backyard playground!
Not being one for measuring much of anything, I just laid out the landscape timbers to see what I was working with. 8×16 seemed a bit small to me. About a third of the area was taken up by the swing alone. I quickly discovered that this man project was going to be a bit more involved that what I initially anticipated. It turns out I needed to double the size of the backyard playground. I decided to lay out the timbers that I had in a 16×16 configuration and that gave me much more room to speed out our backyard playground gear.
Building a Backyard Playground – Trip #2 to Home Depot
The good news is that the roll of landscape fabric and the huge box of fabric pins was enough, all I needed were a few more timbers, some rebar, and of course more mulch.. Just another 4 timbers wasn’t a big deal, but another 22 bags of mulch really gave me a workout! The backyard playground was literally becoming a pain!
Ok so after unloading my second round of stuff, (thankfully I had now created a drive through in my back yard now that the wire fence was ripped out) I decided that I had a few hours of sunlight left and could reasonably get lots of work done. Remember I had the landscape timbers setup temporarily so I just started rolling out the landscape fabric in 16 foot lengths. A single pair of scissors tore right through it. I decided to do 5 strips that were a bit over 16 feet in length. The roll was 4 foot wide, so I wanted to have enough overlap to keep any of my pathetic excuse of a lawn from poking up through the fabric seams. One after another I rolled the strips of fabric out and overlapped by about a foot or so. This was perfect! I used the fabric pins to anchor the fabric down while I worked my magic rolling and placing the landscape fabric down.
Slowly but surely, I had my 16×16 area, and was ready to lay down the landscape timbers in a more permanent fashion. I just placed them on the edges of the landscape fabric in the first layer and was sure to follow a consistent overlapping pattern for the first layer. The second layer of timbers was just offset a little. I figures the lego concept would hold up. You know, if you stack legos with an offset they are much stronger than just stacking two on top of each other directly. The same holds true for landscape timbers. Now that they were stacked nicely, and there was a big ole’ black fabric section for my backyard playground, I needed to secure the timbers. Lets face it, if it can be moved, or destroyed, odds ar emu kids will figure out how to do it. In order to secure everything down, I started in the corner and drilled a 3/8″ hole through each of the timbers until I hit the sandy soil. I then pounded a piece of 3/8″ steel rebar into the timbers and the rest of the way into the ground. I worked my way around the space until all the sides were secured. Using a alb hammer, my arms felt like jello by the time I was done!
So now I felt like I was in the home stretch of completing my backyard playground. I evenly placed all the bags of mulch around the backyard playground and took a dinner break. Unfortunately by the time I was done with dinner, it was almost completely dark out. No worries, with the quick setup of a spotlight that turned out to be brighter than the sun I was back in action and ready to complete my man project. I carefully cut the ends of each of the bags of mulch, being careful not to tear into the landscape fabric. Bag after bag, I just literally cut into, and just dumped out. I was left with 44 small piles of mulch! That night, under the hot spotlight I attempted to even out the mulch and complete my project. I did the best I could, but it was late, dark and I was tired. After a quick sweep of the backyard cleaning up tools and the empty mulch bags, I was ready for a well deserved rest.
Early the next morning, I work up at the crack of wan to see my handiwork in the morning light. Not too and if I say so myself! The mulch needed to be spread out a bit more, but other than that it was pretty good work! As you can see in the photo I also added some chairs and some LED solar lights to complete my backyard playground, but I think this was a very successful project. Late that day a friend of mine came over to help me over the swing into place and reassemble the Little Tikes climber. Just a word of advice, whatever you do never, ever disassemble a Little Tikes backyard playground set if you don’t have the instructions! Since we bought it used, we had no idea what model it was and took about a half hour of google searching to figure out how to assemble the darn thing. I finally found some instructions, but that were in Italian! Thankfully the pictures transcend the written word!
The other day when my family returned home and my man-cation was over, I opened the blinds to our back window. My wife didn’t notice as she was preoccupied with our tiniest one, but out oldest went running to the window yelling, “Mommy Look A Playgound!” I had no idea he even knew the word playground so this was an awesome Dad moment for me. It turns out the entire family was happy and we look forward do to playing outside much more often now. As an added bonus, it’s also much easier to mow my yard, as I just have a single obstacle to mow around instead of lots of odd-shaped areas.
Overall I would say that building a backyard playground was a fairly easy home improvement project and it didn’t break the bank. The price breakdown is below but the total was only $119.58. The two chairs added an extra $40 and the landscape lighting was another $20. These were all added extras that you wouldn’t necessarily need to have, but thought they would add to the usefulness of the space. Now onto the next project!
- 16 Landscape Timbers – $56.80
- Landscape Fabric – $24.99
- Landscape Fabric Pins – $12.99
- Mulch – $88
- Rebar – $24.80