When we hear Steel, most of us will naturally think “Stainless Steel” cookware, or metal objects like pipes or bridges. At Bubby Cubby, we also think of outdoor play equipment like swing sets and trampolines as well. They are fabulous materials for making strong and long lasting play centres that will provide hours of fun for kids.
To talk about why steel makes great swing sets and trampolines, we first have to talk about what it actually is.
What is Steel?
I believe most of us do remember from science class in school that Steel is basically a mix of Iron and Carbon. The resulting metal or alloy is stronger then iron alone, and when added with other metals in various amounts, create a super strong material that we build bridges, skyscrapers, and cookware.
In general though, steel has the same small weakness that comes with iron… it rusts when exposed to air and water.
Why aren’t our buildings and bridges collapsing from the rusting steel they are made of? Well, Steel is not as simple as just Steel. There are different types of steel, and that’s where other terms like “Stainless Steel”, “Galvanised Steel”, or “Powder coating” sets one steel pole from another.
Difference between Stainless Steel and Galvanised Steel?
Notably, the 2 most recognised types of steel is Stainless and Galvanised steel because they are the most “common” types that we come in contact with in our everyday life. Remember earlier, I mentioned that other metals are added to iron and carbon to make steel? Well, when you add the metal Chromium to Steel, you get Stainless Steel, and when you coat Zinc to Steel, you get Galvanised steel. Both these steel are resistant to rust and corrosion because Chromium and Zinc don’t easily corrode, or rust in a traditional way. And by adding them to Steel, they impart this property to the steel.
And yes, Chromium is, traditionally, how you get the Chrome Bumpers and hubcaps on cars, and why they are so super shiny, like your stainless steel cutlery. Zinc in Galvanised steel is usually on the top coating of the steel building material only; where as chrome is added into the production process of the steel, which is why if you scratch galvanised steel enough, it can still rust, where as Stainless Steel is much less likely to since the Chromium is mixed into the mixture and spread throughout the entire steel rod, bar, or pipe.
However, because Zinc is much cheaper, and the process of coating is less than adding chrome, while producing similar results, Galvanised steel is used more for domestic purposes like play equipment and steel structures in sheds and granny flats.
Most of the metal or steel swing sets and trampolines from Bubby Cubby’s partners use galvanised steel.
So what is Powder-Coating or Powder-Coated Steel?
Unintuitively, Powder-coated steel structures do not look like what you think it might look like. Powder-coating is actually like painting steel (galvanized, or otherwise) to give it an extra hard coating above the steel or zinc to give an added layer of protection, and colour.
Metal swing sets use Powde- coating to give it the gorgeous and bright colours you see on them, and it looks like shiny paint or plastic that is put on top of the steel… because it kinda is. Powder-coating is a dry coating process that uses a thermoplastics or thermosets to form a strong hard layer over the steel. In that way, it seals the metal below from exposure to the elements which then protects steel, or in the case of galvanised steel, give it even more protection.
Why use steel for outdoor play equipment?
As you know, steel will pretty much last a very long time. But more than that, it is much lighter than timber, and can be just as versatile as wood to create wonderful shapes and objects. Because of its weight to strength ratio, the structures that hold up a swing set become lighter and easier to pack into less boxes, and cost less to ship to you. The other great thing about the Powder Coating of the steel is that it allows for wonderfully bright colours to be added to kids play centres that you would have to use several coats of paint on timber to achieve the same result.
Another advantage is that it can be easily put up and taken down, if needed, so it is great for families in rentals, where they want to have a minimal impact on the lawn that the Swing Set will sit on, and can be moved, when the time comes to move. (However, we do recommend that if you are in a rental, to check with your landlord before putting up any structures on the lawn.)
How environmentally friendly is steel compared to Timber depends on how the steel is manufactured and used. As mentioned above, steel uses carbon from coal to make and mining is not always the most environmentally friendly process. It also take a lot of energy to produce steel, which has a great environmental impact.
However, it is likely that steel will outlast wood structures, and it technically doesn’t cut down a tree to make. Steel manufacturers are now turning to green energy like solar farms to power the power hungry processes. So while steel still needs coal, the coal is not burnt and thus not adding to the carbon footprint of the material.
Steel is also much easier to recover and recycle (almost indefinitely) compared to timber and certainly plastic. So the environmental cost is reduced over a long time frame.
So if you are looking at setting up a simple play centre in a modest sized backyard or garden, steel swing sets and trampolines do take up a less space that an equivalent timber set, and if shipping cost is a factor, steel outdoor play equipment do tend to weigh less and hence cost less to ship to you.
Oh, and because of the galvanizing and powder coating, it is usually colourful, require no painting, and ready to play as soon as it is assembled… and will withstand the crazy Australian weather.