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Ask A Carpenter: Tips For Building A Kids' Play Area In Pittsburgh

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Video games may be fun but when it comes to keeping kids happy and healthy, nothing beats time outside using the imagination. There's no better way to encourage outdoor play and creativity than a tree house or play structure, but many families may not know where to start such a project. Local contractor, Tom Pieza, has a few tips to make creating the playhouse easier so you can start playing sooner.

Tom Pieza General Contracting
248 Reed St.
Lower Burrell, PA 15068
(724) 337-3858

Pieza has a wealth of contracting experience and built his first tree house at the age of 16. Pieza's work has been well respected around the Alle-Kiski Valley in all aspects of general contracting for over 45 years. His main forte is in house building and all the additions that families would need, including amenities for children's activities. His main concern is to be safety conscious and that inspection codes are met in a professional and legal manner.

Create With Care

Before any task, take the time to focus on safety concerns. Adhere to all safety codes. Use proper tools used to cut the wood and an area that is free and away from obstacles for safety. Make sure you have the knowledge to use any tools safely. If you don't know how to do something, find someone who does and ask! Your time is better spent seeking help than dealing with an accident.

Pay Attention To Design

A play structure is an investment in your kids' happiness and your home's value. Pay attention to both. Ask the children for ideas or go to a showroom and try out a set. Design a play set that looks good in your yard and that will stand the test of time. Use the space in a creative way! Once you have an idea what you want, a great blue- print and design plan will be a valuable tool to make the building process an easier task. If ordering a swing set, playhouse, rock wall, slide or any other additions; it may be advisable to start with a basic set-up, and then add extra components and swing set accessories later, depending on the age of the children.

Choose The Right Materials

Knowledge of building materials and availability of what types of sustainable products from supply stores that provide safety and longevity will be valuable assets for swing sets, tree houses, play houses or play areas. When selecting the type of materials for a swing set, tree house or play area, it is prudent to choose wood that will be sustainable, strong and safe. Pine is too soft, so the preference is toward cedar or the strength of redwood, which will last longer and is stable and environmentally accepted. Be aware that the wood should be treated and the wood products should be free of formaldehyde, a chemical that is used in building materials. Another option for play areas is composite decking, which is splinter free and easy to clean due to the smoother surfaces. Pressure-treated lumber should be the wood of choice and use support poles for stability. Using the proper length of boards make for a sturdy structure and a stable footer with cement for strength is important along with strong rails, joists, beams and composite floor decking. Finish the wood with a protective sealant. Beyond wood, be aware that plastic or metal swing sets won't last long and may have a problem with stability.

Design A Safe Structure

Whatever your structure looks like, make sure to keep your kids safe. Hot-tipped galvanized decking screws and lags should be treated to hamper rust. There should be no protrusions from screws or use plastic tips that are recessed into the wood. Be aware of uneven and hard surfaces and place extra protection on the ground using rubber or wood mulch, sand and gravel. Rubber mulch is the best choice because it acts as a shock absorber for safer landings. Give the equipment check ups to ensure the structure is secure and all the surfaces are level and smooth. The play area should be placed safely away from houses, trees, fences or other buildings.

Consider A Kit

A pre-fabricated playhouse can be a great, quick option. Making a visit to a showroom or play set business may be an appropriate first step to designing a play area that will last for many years. Many stores will come with design kits and directions. The wood is pre-cut and all the holes are bored for an easier set-up. Pieza suggested laying out the wood in sections by size and placing all the wood, nuts, bolts and screws in order by number or a color code. If there is a problem, a phone call to a contractor or handyman can help.

Related: Tips For Adding Local Flair To Your Home From A Pittsburgh Designer

Related: Tips For Keeping Your Kids Active From A Pittsburgh Professional

Gerry Cernicky is a retired health and physical education teacher with 36 years of experience. He is a former teacher of the year and a sports writer for the Vandergrift News. He delivers podcasts, and maintains a website and blog. He currently resides in Pittsburgh. His work can be found at

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