Buyers’ Guide To Playhouses

Wanting to surprise your little ones with a garden playhouse but are clueless as to where to start? WhatShed is here to help. Our playhouse buyers guide has loads of great information for those unsure of what’s out there and how they can make sure they’re buying a quality product for their garden. 

  • Why Buy a Playhouse
  • Where to Build a Playhouse
  • Playhouse Assembly
  • Playhouse Maintenance 


Why Buy a Playhouse?

Buying a playhouse is a perfect way to encourage your kids to get outside, stretch their legs, and burn off some excess energy. These days, with technology an ever-present lure away from the great outdoors, it can be difficult to get little ones to drop the video games or mobile phones and get some fresh air.

Even a modest playhouse will encourage your children to use their imaginations and will no doubt provide them with countless hours of joy. Of course, with a high quality playhouse you can always enjoy some peace and quiet knowing that they’re out getting exercise and having a fun and safe time in the garden.


A Plastic or Wooden Playhouse?

There are two main types of children’s playhouses: plastic playhouses and wooden playhouses. Within each there are a huge number of different styles available.

Deciding which to buy will depend on a number of factors:

  • Your budget.
  • The number of children playing in it.
  • The amount of garden you’re willing to sacrifice for it.
  • Your children’s age.
  • How long you hope your children will enjoy it for.

Generally speaking, wooden playhouses will be more permanent, more expensive, bigger, and much more versatile. With a big enough wooden product, your kids’ play area can easily become a cool teenage hangout, providing them with a few more years of fun. Meanwhile, plastic playhouses may be more appropriate for very young children, small gardens, tight budgets, or individual/small group use.

Manufacturers design playhouses with a specific age range in mind. They will list this on their products. For example, two to five years, or three to twelve years. Wooden playhouses, being more permanent and usually larger, will often have a wider age range than a plastic product.


Styles of Playhouse

There are many different styles of playhouse available in both plastic and wood. Traditional “Wendy house” designs are popular amongst younger kids, and exciting multi-storey tower designs will surely delight the more adventurous.

Traditional playhouses can come in either material. They usually closely resemble an actual house, with a door, a window or two, and an apex or pent roof. These playhouse designs might feature either one or two storeys.

Within the traditional style, there is a huge selection available from loads of different manufacturers. Cheaper, non-wooden traditional playhouses are ideal for younger kids, whereas something more grandiose, still resembling a cosy cottage, might be better if you want your children to enjoy the space for more than a couple of years.

Manufacturers also make lots of unconventional playhouse designs. We’ve seen rocket ships, treetop fortresses, windmills, and wigwams prove a big hit with their end users.

Unconventional playhouses, because of their structural complexity, are usually made out of wood. They, therefore, require a more involved assembly process, more upkeep, and usually, more upfront cost.


Design Features

Both traditional and unconventional playhouse designs may come equipped with various design features. From a stylish window feature, to an exhilarating outdoor slide, these make the space either more visually appealing to youngsters, more fun, or both!

Below, we’ve listed some of the common design features seen on playhouses and some things to think about if opting for a model offering them.

Doors and Windows: To give a more authentic look, many playhouses have doors and windows. Don’t worry though, window glazing won’t be glass. Instead, manufacturers provide polycarbonate products or simply omit the pane entirely. Similarly, the doors on a playhouse are a bit more style over substance. We wouldn’t, for example, recommend using the space to store your children’s bikes or other expensive equipment. However, the inclusion of a door and some form of safety glazing will definitely make the playhouse much more functional in poorer weather.

Veranda: A veranda can really give your children’s playhouse a quaint mountain chalet vibe.

Multi-storey: Some playhouse designs will have more than one floor. It’s common to see traditional playhouses with a mezzanine style upper floor accessed by a ladder.

Play features: Some playhouse models will feature a slide, a climbing frame, or a swing set. These extra features will encourage your little ones to get even more active and, by grouping items, will also mean that play equipment does not need to encroach too far into the rest of your garden!

Tower: Tower playhouses are popular amongst adventurous kids. They usually consist of an elevated room on legs. Some tower designs are quite tall and others are less than a foot off the ground. Of course, if you are considering buying a tower playhouse, ensure that your child is old enough to enjoy it safely.

Planters: Some manufacturers offer playhouses that encourage children to get green fingered. Potting shed styles are endlessly cute and allow you to teach children all about plant cultivation in a safe and fun fashion. Such designs will often feature outdoor planters for your little ones to show off their new garden skills.

Roof styles: The style of roof will make a big difference to how a playhouse will look. For example, a classic apex roof might be perfect for a traditional playhouse. Meanwhile, a rugged military outpost, would surely suit a lick of camouflage paint and an efficient pent roof. 


Get Creative

Wooden playhouses offer the perfect opportunity to get creative. Typically supplied without finish, you can allow your kids to choose the colour scheme themselves. With a splash of colour a playhouse can easily become a fairy princess castle, a back garden military outpost, or even your child’s favourite football team’s clubhouse.

What’s more, the theme of the playhouse can change as your child’s taste changes. If you have more than one child, you could even alternate. First you paint it how your daughter wants it, next how your son would prefer it. The scope of customisation with a wooden playhouse really is only limited by the imagination of yourself and your little ones.


Where to Build a Playhouse

When planning where to position your children’s playhouse in your garden, there is quite a bit to think about. Firstly, you’re going to want it in view of your house so you can keep a watchful eye over playtime antics. You’re also going to need to make sure you have a suitably level area to build it on, making sure to avoid any sharp or poisonous plants and any hard edges that there might be in your garden.

We don’t recommend positioning a playhouse too close to boundary walls or other structures in the garden. Not only can children injury themselves on such features but they would also probably appreciate a bit of garden space around their new recluse within which to play. Additionally, wooden playhouse owners will need to leave suitable space between a playhouse and fences, hedges, walls, or trees to allow for periodic treatment of the timber. 


Playhouse Base

Once you know where in your garden you want to build your playhouse, you can then think about a base. With a plastic playhouse, you probably don’t need much more than a level area of grass or paving to position the building on. These playhouses are usually easy to assemble and dismantle. Their relatively small size and light weight also makes them portable, meaning you can move the building when the kids have had their fun.

With wooden playhouses, a base is much more important. Most manufacturers recommend building on a concrete or paving slab base. Wooden playhouse designs typically feature a sheet or boarded floor, which will make the space more cosy and homely. Such bases can include anchor points to provide additional structural support and extreme weather resistance to playhouses.

WhatShed Tip: If you want your playhouse to last, make sure you build it on a solid, level base. Resist the temptation to build directly on an area of garden. Wooden floors laid on damp ground will rot quickly and need replacing.

Some playhouse designs offer less of a traditional cottage vibe and more of a tree house fortress feel. Such tower playhouses will often not require a base and instead manufacturers recommend legs are concreted into the ground.


Planning Permission?

Usually considered a temporary structure, planning permission should not be a concern when buying a playhouse. However, to be sure, you can always check the government’s planning permission guidelines.


How to Buy a Quality Playhouse

Being so structurally distinct, there are different considerations to think about when buying a wooden or plastic playhouse. When shopping for the latter, you want to pay attention to its overall weight and stability. Some cheaper products will be much more flimsy than more expensive offerings. It’s also important that the playhouse is UV-protected. This will increase its longevity and ensure that its colours remain vibrant for longer. It’s going to spend most of its life outside, after all. . 

Since they are usually much more complex, choosing a quality wooden playhouse is a bit more of an involved process. It’s important to make sure that the materials used throughout are substantial, reducing the likelihood of breakage, which can lead to injury. 

Pay attention to the thickness of the wood and the building methods used. For example, a product using 12mm tongue and groove cladding will be a much sturdier product than one that uses single sheets of plywood or a composite wood product. Although cheaper, products such as chipboard or OSB (oriented strand board) will generally not last as long as those built using quality timber.


Playhouse Safety

The first step to ensuring a safe playhouse is to make sure to buy a sturdy one that will not collapse under the often-testing conditions of play time. The easiest way to be sure of a quality product is to check if it has an EN-71 safety certificate. As part of the EN-71 approval process, the building will be checked for its ability to stand up to poor weather, if window covering materials are appropriate for children, and that timber edges are rounded and without splinters. If the building is raised, safety railings will need to be suitably robust and any play equipment (slides, climbing equipment, etc.) will be tested for durability. You can be confident that any playhouse displaying this British safety standard certificate will be safe enough for your children.

To ensure that your playhouse remains in perfect condition for years to come, it’s important to follow any recommendations for assembly or maintenance the manufacturer might provide. You should also use your own common sense. Ensure, for example, that nails are fully hammered in and unlikely to catch small legs or arms.

WhatShed Tip: If it’s possible to visit the manufacturer to see a model set up, it’s a great idea. A site visit will let you see how well constructed the building is. If you’re shopping online, use a manufacturer’s product pictures and sales material to get a good idea of extra touches that will add to the overall longevity and, therefore, the safety of the structure. You can also find a supplier’s email address and contact them for details that might be missing from sales materials.


Playhouse Assembly

The style of playhouse will ultimately dictate how difficult your playhouse is to assemble. Non-wooden playhouses will usually take a matter of minutes to set up. Many examples of this type of playhouse will comprise of large panels, with door and window details and other touches already in place. The “builder’s” job is simply to slot pieces together. The ease with which such models can go up and down makes them a more flexible option than their more permanent, wooden counterparts.

Assembly of a wooden playhouse will usually require at least moderate DIY skills and a few tools. It will take a good few hours and you will likely need a team of at least two adults. Each playhouse will have its own individual assembly instructions, which should be closely followed. Also, be aware that more complex designs will likely demand more construction expertise. Check how difficult a playhouse is to build before buying it!

Although manufacturers make their designs as easy to assemble as possible, some will provide an installation service at an additional cost. This can be a great option for those suffering from mobility issues, the elderly, or those who are totally out of their depth when faced with a hammer and nails.


Playhouse Maintenance

A plastic product will need periodically cleaning. It should also be stored either under sheeting during winter or dismantled for use again the following spring.

Meanwhile, wooden playhouses will need more dedication to keep them in perfect condition. Soon after assembly, you should treat the product with an oil-based wood preserver. It’s important to really get the treatment into every little corner and even under floorboards and other areas where damp might damage the timber.

Such treatment should be reapplied about once every year. The time in which you perform the treatment is an excellent opportunity to survey the playhouse for any damage that might have occurred. You should aim to replace components as quickly as possible to keep the building in tiptop condition and safe for your little ones.