How to Build a Simple DIY Custom Outdoor Playground Area in Your Backyard

Nick P. Cellucci
Written by Nick P. Cellucci
Updated May 11, 2022
Mother and child in playhouse
Photo: DigitalVision/Getty Images
Difficulty

Intermediate

Perfect for handy homeowners.

Time to complete

4 hours

You can complete this project in one or two afternoons, depending on your skill level.

Follow these steps and you can turn your backyard into the ultimate playground

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What you'll need:

TOOLS

  • Shovel
  • Post hole digger
  • Wheelbarrow
  • 4-foot bubble level
  • Battery-operated power drill
  • Circular saw
  • Tape measure
  • 6-foot step ladder

SUPPLIES

  • Duct tape
  • Six posts, 4 in. x 4 in. x 16 ft.
  • Four boards, 2 in. x 4 in. x 16 ft.
  • Four boards, 2 in. x 10 in. x 16 ft.
  • Nine boards, 2 in. x 6 in. x 16 ft.
  • 16 deck boards, 1 in. x 6 in. x 16 ft.
  • 18 bags of fast-setting concrete
  • Exterior deck screws
  • Any additional playground accessories you want, such as a slide

Dreaming of turning your empty backyard into a place your kids or grandkids will love to play? Adding playground equipment is a great way to get kids outside and active, but playsets can cost thousands to purchase and have installed. Instead, you can follow these steps to create a DIY custom play area using materials from your local home improvement store.

How to Build a Fun Backyard Playground in 12 Steps

The cost of the materials to build this playground will run you about $700 to $800, which could vary based on the type of lumber you choose to use. Buying a playset costs $1,000 to $6,500 or more, and if you choose to have it professionally installed, you’ll pay an additional $330 to $700.

  1. Choose a Location for Your Playground

    Before you get started, you need to size up your backyard and find the perfect spot for your DIY playground. Try to do the following:

    • Avoid sloping areas, low-hanging trees, and wires

    • Position the area away from direct sunlight, under tall shade trees if possible

    • Find a spot that you can easily see from your home

    • Choose an area with good drainage that won’t easily flood

    • Find an area where you can allow at least 6 feet of open space around the equipment

  2. Plan the Size of Your Structure

    For this DIY project, you’ll build a wooden structure laid out in a square, with one or two platforms at different heights. Using the lumber amounts and measurements we’ve provided, you can build a playhouse that rises up to 12 feet off the ground, 8 feet long by 8 feet wide at its base, complete with safety railings and a ladder.

    You may wish to adjust these measurements to better fit your specific yard, but keep in mind that you’ll need to adjust your lumber measurements if you do this.

  3. Get Approval for Your Structure

    While this step won’t apply to every homeowner, some municipalities or homeowner’s associations require a local building permit or other prior approval for a project like a backyard playground. Be sure to do your research before you break ground.

  4. Lay Out the Central Playhouse Structure

    Lay out the locations for your four corner posts. You’ll place your two additional posts halfway between corners on opposite sides. With a tape measure, measure the length of each side and the distance between opposite corners to ensure that they’re equal and that you have a perfect square. Take a step back and make sure the layout looks the way you want it to.

  5. Dig Holes for Your Posts

    Post hole digger
    Photo: Dossy/Adobe Stock

    Mark your post hole digger with a piece of duct tape 42 inches from the tip of the blades. This will be the depth of your post holes, which need to sit below the frost line to prevent your playground from being pushed out of the ground during cold winters.

    Drive the post hole digger into the ground and dig four or six holes, depending on how many posts you’re using. Widen your holes with a shovel so that each is about a foot wide, allowing enough room to pour concrete.

  6. Set Your First Post

    Setting posts for a DIY playset is similar to setting fence posts. If possible, have one other person help you. Mix your bagged fast-setting concrete in a wheelbarrow according to the instructions on the bag. One person should continuously work the concrete, so it doesn’t harden. Use three bags per post.

    Place your first post in its hole, then pour concrete into the hole around it. Leave about six inches from the ground's surface to the top of the concrete. With your level, hold the post upright until it sets straight up vertically. Once the first post sets, use your circular saw to cut two of your two-by-fours at the dimension needed to reach from that post to the next.

    Place your next post in the hole and use your drill to screw a two-by-four to each post at ground level. Repeat this with the other two by four at approximately eye level. These boards will provide the support you need to keep the structure square with your first post while all the concrete sets.

  7. Set the Rest of Your Posts

    Pour concrete into the hole around the second post, then use your level to ensure it’s standing straight up vertically. Place your third post, then cut and attach two-by-fours for support just as you did between the first two posts.

    Repeat this process until all your posts are in place and level. Give each post at least 40 minutes to set, or longer if specified on your bag. As they’re setting, check them each again with your level and adjust as needed.

  8. Set the Height for Each Level of Your Playhouse

    Once all posts are completely set, remove the two-by-fours. Cut two-by-ten boards to the length of each side of your structure. Use your drill to attach these on all four sides at ground level. If you’re creating one raised platform, cut boards to the same length and attach them at your desired height for the platform.

    If you’re creating two raised platforms, cut your boards to half the length of the structure. Attach four on one half at your desired height for the first-level platform, then do the same on the other half at your desired height for the second-level platform. Once all these boards are attached, the structure should be very sturdy. You may need to use your ladder to reach your desired height.

    If your design includes a pre-purchased slide, be sure to set one of your platforms at the height necessary to attach it properly.

  9. Create the Floor for Each Platform

    Cut your two-by-six boards so they can be attached to the inside of the two-by-ten boards for each platform. Space them evenly, leaving no more than a few feet between each board. These will support your flooring. Cut and lay your deck boards across these supports, screwing them in and ensuring that they are sturdy. If not, you need more support boards below them.

    You could also add a floor to the bottom of your playset or lay a waterproof ground cover and install a covered pit for play sand.

  10. Create Rails for the Upper Platforms

    To keep children safe, you’ll need to create rails that run the length of each side of your upper platforms. These can consist of a top, middle and toe-level two-by-sixes, spaced so that there’s not enough room for a child to squeeze through. You may have municipal guidelines that specify how wide these spaces should be, but if not, keep them less than four inches wide.

    Determine where kids will be able to climb up and down from your playhouse and leave these spaces open without rails.

  11. Create Climbing Access

    Boy climbing into playhouse
    Photo: Svetlana Zayats/EyeEm/Getty Images

    There are many ways kids could climb in or out of the playhouse, from prefabricated rock walls to rope nets, both of which can be purchased online. Alternatively, you can repurpose the two-by-fours you used for support while setting your posts to construct a simple DIY ladder. To get from one platform to the other, build a small step.

    When designing your ladder, keep in mind the spacing between rungs your children will need as they climb. You’ll also want to ensure that the ladder is safely screwed to the playhouse and not propped up loosely against the side.

  12. Attach Accessories

    When your structure is complete and you have a safe way to climb up and down, you can attach any other accessories you’ve left room for. This may include a pre-purchased slide, steering wheel, rock wall, monkey bars, swing set, tire swing, tree swing, and more.

    Now you and your family can enjoy your backyard playground. Be sure to keep up with regular playground maintenance to ensure that your yard remains a safe place to play.

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Get quotes from top-rated pros.