How to evaluate a playground’s cost

July 20, 2017

Hint: It’s not the purchase price

A playground’s cost is more than what you pay the supplier. That’s the acquisition cost, which is a poor gauge for evaluating playground proposals from competing bidders.

When you evaluate vendor proposals, you want to calculate the cost of ownership over a long term, such as 30 years. Let’s say you are evaluating two proposals: a steel playground and one built from EcoPlay plastic lumber. (What about wood playgrounds? Our customers don’t speak highly of it; take, for example, this private school’s experience with wood. )

Here’s EcoPlay’s simplified, 4-step approach for comparing the cost of ownership of playgrounds. (To focus just on equipment, we’re not including landscaping, fencing, or the cost of ground cover materials, such as pea gravel or rubber mulch. And to “stack the deck” against EcoPlay, we’re also excluding the ongoing maintenance costs of rust removal and repainting steel playgrounds.)

  • For each proposal, calculate your initial investment in the playground. Add transportation and installation costs to the cost of the equipment.
  • For the steel proposal, calculate replacement costs in today’s dollars. Use a 15-year lifespan for steel—meaning you will be tripling the original installation cost over a 30-year period.
  • The EcoPlay playground’s structural components are guaranteed for 50 years. Your only maintenance costs are to “refresh” the playground 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.
  • For steel, add steps 1 and 2; for EcoPlay, 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 EcoPlay.

Check out this real-world example. The initial investment in the EcoPlay 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 EcoPlay. We’ll help you design an age-appropriate playground to suit your space and budget. And we’ll help you determine the playground’s value over its life expectancy.

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