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Sunday, January 1, 2017

Choosing a Fence for an Outdoor Play Area

A few friends of mine with young children called me in to help them transform their backyard into a preschool play area. Specifically, I had to put in a new fence because the short chain link that was on location was regularly being climbed by the kids, and was leading to scrapes and falls. Being in a neighborhood that was a little rough around the edges, they wanted the new fence to provide a measure of security as well.

On top of that, they wanted the fence to look as good as the rest of their property, since an attractive and well-designed space is typically better for business. Taking all their needs into consideration, I could tell that I was looking for a fence for an outdoor play area that would be reasonably high, solid or with smooth, unclimbable pickets, and one that would stay looking clean and professional for years. Achieving the best possible combination of safety, security, and style would be the guiding light for my project.

First Requirement for a Fence for an Outdoor Play Area: Safety

 Kids are incredibly inquisitive beings, testing out everything they can reach, and playing with everything they can touch. With this in mind, there are a few major requirements for fences that are going to contain children:

  • A Kid-Friendly Surface: To make the fence safe, I was mindful to choose a surface as free as possible from jagged edges and abrasive surfaces. Wooden fences, especially cedar, are often full of splinters and a bit rough. Chain-link fences often rust and break down, making them a good place to get a scrape. Smoother surfaces are ideal for kid-safe fencing. Vinyl, composite, aluminum, and steel picket and rail fencing are all good options.
  • Climbing Difficulty: Most kids love to climb just as much as they love to explore through touch--at least that was the case when I was young. If having a child potentially climbing and falling off a fence is something to avoid, the best strategy might be to put in a fence that is simply too difficult to climb--a seemingly hard task when kids are involved! A fence with smooth, tall pickets, and without a lot of horizontal surfaces like rails has been my go-to option.
  • Durability: This requirement goes back to the safety issue. It doesn’t matter how smooth and child-friendly the fencing material you initially choose is, if it won’t remain that way after a few years. Fencing that breaks down easily in the weather can be a hazard, as sharp and rusty edges might emerge, or joins might fail and cause the fence to fail when kids pull on or climb on it. When running a childcare business, it’s far better to start with durable materials that won’t require a whole lot of patching and maintenance.

Of course it’s important to keep kids from hurting themselves, but it’s equally--if not more--important to keep others from hurting the kids. A fence can do this by creating a safe, secure environment.

Second Requirement: Security

A high, sturdy fence is a natural pick for security reasons. With a daycare business, the peace of mind of both the parents and the business owners is absolutely crucial. Just as with safety, there are a few main considerations:

  • Climbing Difficulty, Again: When I want to keep other people out and children in, I opt for fencing that is difficult to climb, plain and simple. Topping something with barbed wire is probably a bit excessive and definitely ugly, but a high picket fence, with smooth pickets, few horizontal rails, and perhaps topped with pointed finials, will likely be more than sufficient to deter would be climbers.
  • Clear Sight Lines: Fencing that can be clearly seen through is often safer than fully solid privacy fencing, as it keeps people from hiding on the outside of the fence, and provides a line of sight for preschool employees or parents who might want to keep an eye on the kids from outside the enclosure. This is especially helpful around entrances and exits, particularly when those areas are somewhat discrete or closed off from public view.
  • Height: This really goes without saying (but we’ll say it anyway). The nightmare of many parents is to have an adult reach over the fence and grab a child when no one is looking. Having a fence that is at least 5 feet tall keeps this from happening.

Third Requirement: Aesthetics

 Since taste is often subjective, this is a wide-open category and changes from context to context. Wood, vinyl, and metal fences can all be beautiful if made with care and quality craftsmanship. At my friends’ nursery, safety, security, and good aesthetics combined in the form of a well-coated black galvanized steel picket and rail fence for the outdoor play area. There’s a reason that powder-coated steel is often used as security fencing for schools and preschools. Paired with their retrofit Queen Anne-style home, a black steel fence fit perfectly. The tall, smooth pickets with only a couple horizontal rails proved difficult to climb and safe to the touch, while the height and the ornamental finials provided security and clear sight lines, and made it the perfect fence for a Victorian house.

In addition to the classic picket and rail fence, there are new picket and rail systems that are designed with the option of attaching wooden or composite infill boards. With yards that could use both privacy and openness--say, an open picket arrangement on one side of the fence and a solid privacy-style fence on another--this flexible fencing system works extremely well.

My friends’ business boomed and they asked me back a year later as their play area needed to expand into the backyard, which translated into adding 200 more feet of fencing. There are many ways of providing a safe and secure perimeter for a play area. When I need secure, attractive steel fencing, one of the first places I consider is Fortress Building Products, as their fences are unique in the quality and strength of their protective coatings, ease of installation, and craftsmanship. They use a special coating method involving a protective zinc coating on top of galvanization, topped with an e-coat and powder coat, which keeps their fencing looking beautiful for ages. I also frequent their building products website, if only for the extra bit of inspiration that often results from looking at their decking, railing, and ornamental hardware offerings.


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