Q. What type of lumber do you use to make your play structures?
A. We use only redwood lumber (Construction Heart grade or better) that comes from second growth, well-managed forests. Redwood is strong, naturally durable to the weather, great to work with and beautiful to look at. We do not use pressure treated wood because we do not believe that chemically treated wood is good for children.

Q. What about safety?
A. Barbara builds each play structure to meet and in some cases exceed safety guidelines for residential playground equipment. As part of our Safety First guidelines, we grind/sand all of the redwood boards smooth to prevent splinters, and then round all corners to eliminate sharp edges. We also leave a 1/2” gap around shutters and doors so little fingers will not get pinched. Barbara specializes in custom designs to fit difficult terrain, but will not design any play feature that is dangerous (and we have been asked many times). Barbara iscommitted to building strong, safe and beautiful structures that also provide a lot of fun for the kids - great "loops" of play and plenty of challenging activities. We work closely with TUV America in certifying our commercial play structures and carry all knowledge over to our residential designs.

Q. Do you paint or stain your play structures?
A. We use only all natural, tung-oil stains (formerly known as Woodburst stains) because they are non-toxic, low maintenance and provide beautiful, vibrant, long-lasting color! We love the way the stain allows the grain of the wood to come through. After applying the stain and letting it dry, we apply several more coats of clear tung-oil. The tung oil protects the wood from the elements. It is far superior to a varnish or polyurethane finish, both of which can be a nightmare to maintain in an exterior setting. We do not recommend paint as it will bubble and peel with time. We recommend a re-stain every 3 to 5 years, but many customers go much longer because they like the"antique" look as the color mellows over time.

Q. How long does the color last?
A. The colors go on bright and vivid and then slowly mellow with age. The stains will mellow faster in hot, sunny climates with lots of bright sun and salt air, then they will in colder climates. They stand up well to rain and snow! After 3-5 years, you may want to consider re-staining some or all of your play structure, although many customers go much longer because they like the "antique" look. For a re-stain, contact us for your color chart. You may only need a touch-up kit or you may want to re-stain the entire structure. Either way, we can help you determine how much stain you will need. Or, we can send our team of experts to clean and re-stain your structure for you - simply call us for a quote.

Q. Do I just choose a play structure from your web site?
A. We offer both pre-designed and custom-designed structures. Our pre-designed playhouses andplay forts (such as our Robin Hood's Fort) can be purchased exactly as seen in our brochure or modified extensively (e.g., king-size the fort, extend the bridge, add another tower, etc). You select your modifications, layout and color palette. We provide a plan view showing the structure from an overview perspective and the recommended "use zone" for bark chip or other resilient surface material of your choice. Because we build to order, even our pre-designed structures are very flexible, allowing you a great amount of choice up front. And you can choose your own color palette or pick one from the hundreds of palettes Barbara has created.

Q. How does the Custom Design process work?
A. Barbara's specialty is working with you to design a custom play structure that fits your landscape and your family's "wish list". Custom design is a fun and interactive process that your whole family will enjoy! Whether the design is done by site visit or by "fax, phone &email", the goal is to complete the process within an 18 to 24 “design hour” time range. Barbara recently completed a custom design for a tree fort & kid's theater in Florida via a weekend site visit and follow up correspondence (her favorite way)! If you are interested in a custom design, please send an email to information at barbarabutler.com with your contact information and we will send you our Custom Play Structure Design Agreement. Barbara's design hours are charged at a rate of $95 per hour against a $2,000 retainer. She is generally booked several months in advance for new customs designs, so we encourage you to sign the Design Agreement asearly as possibleas this is what holds your place in line.

Q. Does Barbara build treehouses or tree forts?
A.Barbara's great love is to design and build treehouses. However, a good treehouse is even more custom than our "groundhouses" in that they generally requirelonger periods of on-site work, more difficult building conditions and more complex designs -all of which tends to increase costs. Based on our experience, tree perches with zip lines start at $4,000, tree forts start at $12,000 and treehouses start at $16,000. Sometimes a treehouse can be designed from photos and site plans, but generally it is necessary for Barbara to actually visit the tree, walk the land and brainstorming ideas with you.

Q. Why do your play structures cost so much?
A. Hand-crafting a beautiful, intricate, sturdy and safe play structure here in the United States cost significantly more than mass-producing standard playhouses in a factory, probably somewhere overseas. Barbara's work is her passion and her art - she is happiest making them one at a time, allowing you to choose your own color palette, design and/or modifications. And Barbara insists on making the play structures sturdy enough for the whole family to play on, adults included. We believe you will be thrilled with the quality and craftsmanship of your play structure and that it will become a family heirloom used by generations to come.

Q. Does the price on the web site include deliveryand installation?
A. The prices on our web site (and in our brochure) do not include delivery or installation costs. We deliver and install all over the country and even internationally. Please call us for a quote at 415 864-6840:

The cost of delivery will depend on location and ease of access to your site. The cost of installation will depend on which assembly option you choose:

  • Full Crew installation by our crew of skilled builders/installers. We provide all labor and equipment needed to fully assemble the play structure, or
  • Supervised installation by one of our skilled builders/installers who will supervise your crew and assist with the installation, or
  • Written assembly instructions and you hire a local, licensed contractor to assemble the play structure.

Q. Do you install the resilient surfacing material?
A. We do not install the resilient surfacing material. It is the owner's responsiblity to make sure that adequate resilient surface material is installed and maintained around the play structure. We are happy to help you select the type of resilient surfacing material and to advise your landscape contractor regarding the installation of the resilient surfacing material. We recommend 9" to 12" of bark chip as the most economical safety surface. Rubber matting and poured rubber surfaces are also great, but more expensive. Kids love to play hard and will eventually slip and fall. Most injuries can be avoided by always having a resilient surface that kids will "bounce" off of. Most serious injuries occur on play equipment installed over hard surfaces (concrete, grass, sand when wet, etc). Installing appropriate resilient surfacing material is the most important safety feature with any play structure!

Q. What is the lead-time on ordering a playhouse or play structure?
A. For our pre-designed playhouses and play forts, we usually need 3 to 4 weeks lead-time from date of contract to date of delivery. For the Big Forts and custom designed structures, we generally need 6 to 10 weeks. If you have a birthday party or special date, let us know up front and we will let you know if it is possible!

Q. How can I buy your stains?
A. You can now buy these beautiful (formerly Woodburst) tung-oil stains from us. Barbara mixes her own colors using the same formulas that Woodburst used to make our base colors.  Click here to buy online at our e-store or call us at 415.864.6840 to order over the phone.

Q. How much stain do I need to buy?
A. To estimate: For rough woods, 1 oz of stain covers 1 square foot of wood; For soft woods, or if you grind the wood smooth so there are no splinters (like we do), then estimate 1 oz of stain covers 2 square feet of wood.

Q. How do I maintain my playstructure?
A. You can either call us and schedule an appointment for our crew to do the maintenance (we will give you a quote) or you can do the maintenance yourself. We recommend an annual 4-step maintenance program:

  • Remove all dirt and debris using a broom, blower or vacuum.
  • Do a safety check, inspecting your structure for wear and tear (e.g., tighten all nuts & bolts, screw down loose screws, sand areas where wood has splintered, replace any damaged hardware, makes sure all handles and knobs are still in good shape and examine swings and swing hardware forany wear). Call us if you have any concerns!
  • Clean the play structure using water from the garden hose, a soft brush (like the brushes used on automobiles) and a mild soap. We use PRESTO, a non-toxic, environmentally-friendly cleaner made from the lime peel, to clean the structures. We do not recommend using bleach or a power washer as it could damage the wood and the stain.
  • Allow a day or 2 to dry and then apply a clear coat of the tung-oil with a big sponge.

Q. Do you sell plans or kits?
A. Yes, we now offer both Plans and Kits for sale! Plans come with scaled AutoCAD drawings, materials list and cut list, plus the option to purchase items from us such as hinges, stain, stainless steel firepole, slides, rope net ladder, etc. Some of those items, such as the rope net ladder, are not available for purchase anywhere else as Barbara invented the design (and it would be impossible to include knot-tying instructions in the plans). Kits come with plans plus pre-cut lumber and all play accessories. Click here to see the selected Plans and Kits available for sale. Also feel free to let us know what other playhouses or play structures you would like to see offered as a kit or plan in the future.