Outdoor Play – Atlanta Treehouse Ideas and Other Backyard Fun

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Treehouse with fort, slides and swings
Remember when having an “outdoor play area” at home meant that you had a simple metal swing set sitting right in the center of the backyard? Typically, it featured two swings (that creaked and threatened to tip the whole structure over if you swung too high) and an often-rickety metal slide (that would burn the back of your legs after sitting in the sun all afternoon). If you were really lucky, there might be monkey bars and a set of gymnastics-inspired rings. 
Those vintage play sets certainly hold a lot of fond memories for many people, but times have changed…for the better. Today, outdoor play areas can be as unique, fun and exciting as the homeowners themselves, with options abounding for both adults and kids. All it takes is some imagination and the help of professionals who specialize in creating a bit of outdoor magic. 
 
Endless Possibilities 
“Creative backyard outdoor play areas encourage kids and adults to step outside, put down the phones and enjoy nature and energetic play,” says Barbara Butler of Barbara Butler Artist/Builder Inc., a San Francisco-based firm that crafts custom redwood treehouses and play structures for homeowners throughout the country, including in  Atlanta. “It’s totally a win-win!” 
Scott Chatham of Chatham Landscape Services, Inc. concurs, stating, “People increasingly want active landscapes—spaces that are useful as well as attractive.” Therefore, today’s outdoor play areas are designed not only with particular activities in mind, but also are created in a way that allows them to fit seamlessly into the yards in which they are being placed. And the possibilities of what can be done with an outdoor space truly are endless. 
 
For the Kids
While large wooden play sets (the successor to the traditional metal swing set) are still seen in many backyards, more innovative alternatives have become popular recently, including treehouses. Roomy and full of fun attributes, treehouses are a great modern option. “The fun thing about treehouses is that they can be placed in areas that would normally not be used. The more unique the better,” notes Graham Culbreth of Atlanta TreeHouse. “And with our treehouses, homeowners are able to create something for their kids that they will not outgrow.” 
Catering to all groups and interests is an important part of designing a successful and appealing outdoor play area. According to Dixie Speck of Solterra Landscape, “What we see with our residential clients is interest in creating areas and installing structures for kids’ sports play and practice and camouflaging them within a nice landscape. Most popular are batting cages, trampolines and level lawn areas for soccer and football.” Additionally, plastic slides can be installed into a hillside for an almost hidden treasure for little ones. And trampolines no longer have to be an eyesore, with in-ground structures featuring above ground enclosures that are available today. Also growing in popularity: zip lines. The key to making it all work together, Butler says, is to spread the activities throughout the yard.   
 
For the Adults
Adults need a place to unwind as well, which is why many homeowners opt for traditional features like pools, lap pools, basketball courts, outdoor kitchens, fireplaces and more. But for those grown-ups who are kids at heart, there’s even more that can be done. For instance, bocce ball courts and shuffleboard courts give adults a chance to engage in some laid back yet competitive recreation. “What’s really old is new again,” Speck observes. With enough space, a tennis court could be an option as well. What’s more, putting greens can be incorporated into nearly any  design; even a multi-purpose sports cage can do double duty and be used for driving golf balls. 
For many homeowners, what’s important is to create a space that appeals to adults and kids simultaneously. “I like to create a play area where kids and adults can play together,” Butler explains. Even a treehouse can offer entertainment for young and old. 
Des Williams of Sugar Hill Outdoors often installs sports fields for his clients, both young and old. He advises that, “…for any kind of athletic field, homeowners should allow good open space ranging from 3000 to 5000 square feet. They also need to take into account proper drainage to allow the athletic field to drain and stay dry after heavy rains. We also recommend installing an irrigation system, having the area sanded with river sand to avoid tripping over uneven areas and installing a great light source for extended use at night.” How much might a sports field cost?  “Depending on the amount of preparation needed​, size, and type of turf can be from $5,000 to $75,000.”
 
Make a Plan
Of course, creating the perfect outdoor play area takes some serious thought. There are many points to consider, from the space you have available to how much you want to spend. That’s where a professional’s help and vision can be invaluable. 
 
Fitting In
The size and terrain of your yard and the position of the play area are the first points to mull over. Butler recommends that homeowners “work with your site. Interact with the trees or the slope. Try to pick an underdeveloped part of the yard and turn it into a cool play space.” Chatham suggests that owners ask themselves certain questions. “How much space will be needed for what you want? How will the yard be leveled? And how close to the house will the area be sited? The greater the distance from the home, the less it will be used,” he says. Speck also notes that safety should be a primary concern. “For very young children, it is more important to place play structures in a safe area where parents can see them and come to their aid quickly if needed.” 
Regarding the amount of space you have, consider the features you want. Speck reveals that for play sets, the minimum clearance needed around the periphery is six feet; Butler adds that this six-foot zone should be outfitted with bark or rubber chips for safety purposes. For bocce ball courts, Speck continues, the standard size is 76 feet long by 13 feet wide—but that is too large for most residential properties; the minimum size for good play quality is 30 feet by 10 feet. Chatham says that outdoor ball areas require a minimum space of 45 by 80 feet, while a trampoline needs at least a 15-foot diameter. And a batting cage will use up approximately 15 by 45 by 80 feet of space. A tree house can be customized, although Culbreth notes that many homeowners begin with a 10-foot by 10-foot plan, which offers a large covered fort and a wraparound porch (and can be outfitted with additional accessories as requested).      
 
The Price Tag
“The price of the equipment [you want] is the tip of the iceberg. Making the site accessible and usable is often the most significant expense,” Chatham says about approaching your budget. Grading, leveling and working around trees can be costly—just like the materials used to make the area safe for play. “The ground prep and the purchase of resilient surfacing can be expensive, so it’s good to budget for it,” Butler adds. For the ground cover, Chatham also recommends the use of synthetic turf when appropriate. He explains, “In the city of Atlanta, for example, it may be difficult to remove trees and permit the sunlight required for natural turf.” Again, with each feature, the price tag goes up. And you can’t forget the play structures themselves. 
While many of Atlanta TreeHouse’s structures range from $3,000 to $4,000, the amount spent on outdoor play  equipment can run much higher depending on your wants and needs. According to Speck, “Budgets range from a few hundred dollars for a simple play structure to more than $30,000 for a sport court.” Even a fire pit can run the final cost up. “Depending on the size and materials used, costs range from $500 to $10,000,” he adds. 
 
The Green Light
No matter what you want to do, it is crucial that you have authorization to get the work done. “Many homeowners fail to consider permitting and come to regret it,” Chatham warns. “Depending on the municipality, the permitting process may consider waterways, setbacks and ratio of impervious to pervious surfaces. Homeowners need a knowledgeable and experienced professional to guide them through the permitting process. Failure to properly permit can result in work stoppage, heavy fines and teardown—all while your children are asking, ‘When will it be ready?’”
 
Fun Achieved, Value Added
A well-designed outdoor play area can be a huge draw if, one day, you decide to sell your home. “A flat backyard play space close to the home can be the difference between a quick sale and a long drawn-out process,” says Chatham, who sold his own Dunwoody home in less than 24 hours thanks in large part to a sports field in the backyard. Until then, of course, the feature will provide a chance for true quality time and hours of fun for the whole family.    
“For us, the value is not necessarily monetary. When I think of the value derived, I think of the memories that can be created with such a unique outdoor space,” Culbreth concludes. “There’s a value in allowing your kids to have their own escape in the backyard—a place where they can explore, use their imagination and enjoy being a kid.”  
RESOURCES:
Atlanta TreeHouse | AtlantaTreeHouse.com
Backyard Fun Factory | BackyardFunFactory.com
Barbara Butler Artist/Builder Inc. | BarbaraButler.com
Chatham Landscape Services, Inc. | ChathamLandscapes.com
Solterra Landscape | SolterraLandscape.com
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