Updated on 05.12.09

Playground Equipment: An Example of Sharing Resources with Neighbors

Trent Hamm

After reading my recent article about cooperating with your neighbors to share resources, my always-sharp wife Sarah made a great point.

“You know, we have a perfect example of this at work out in our yard right now.”

And she’s right. Here’s a picture of it.

The play equipment in our yard

The play equipment above sits exactly on the property line with our neighbors to the south – the property line actually runs just to the right of the slide. The entire piece is used extensively by both families – we have a three year old and a one year old, whereas the neighbors to the south have a six year old and a four year old.

This item was already in place on the property when we moved in – it came with the house. The previous owners of our home and the home to the south each wanted a large, wooden play area for their respective children, but instead they got together and made the frugal decision to split the cost of the play equipment.

When we moved in, one of the first things we did was discuss the arrangement with our neighbors to the south. It turned out to be a great way to introduce ourselves to them and a great way to have our children begin to play with each other. According to them, they actually bought the very play set that they intended to buy for their children – they just paid half the price for it and got all of the use out of it.

Later, when that family moved out, a new family moved in to the south of us. This provided them an opportunity to meet new neighbors (us) and have our children bond – and they certainly have. The younger child next door and our older son play together regularly and the older child next door loves “mothering” our toddler-aged daughter.

What about liability? Whenever I discuss this arrangement, this is often the first question we’re asked. In this situation, house insurance would cover any claims that resulted from the equipment, just as if another child without health insurance was hurt while playing in our yard. In most practical situations, though, common sense and an ongoing, healthy relationship with our neighbor takes precedence – we’re all aware of a lack of any sort of ill intent with the equipment and the social costs of any sort of legal action in this situation would be tremendous.

What are the potential benefits? As enumerated above, the play equipment itself saved each family 50% on the initial purchase (or it could allow for the families to combine resources to purchase an even better set of play equipment). It also reduced the work load on each family by half when the equipment was actually installed.

After the purchase, it facilitated a better relationship between each pairing of neighbors that lived there – and also helped build a friendship between the children.

What are the potential drawbacks? The drawbacks come if the situation changes. If one family moves out, the new family that moves in has to be agreeable to the situation or else you may have a legal problem (though most situations like this are resolved by common sense). Thankfully, two such moves have occurred since the equipment was installed without any problems.

Another problem that may occur is if one family wants to do something different with the property line, such as installing a fence. Again, we’re fairly lucky in this regard – we have a large shared lawn area where the children of many families play together and most of the families are loathe to interrupt this with a fence or other obstruction.

Yet, even in the face of these drawbacks, the shared play equipment has been an enormous win for us. Half the price, half the labor, all the enjoyment, and a built-in opportunity to bond with your neighbors. Sounds like a great deal for me!

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  1. Cass says:

    What an awesome arrangement you have with the neighbours, and a great way to get to know people! I hope that when I’m ready to have a family a similar arrangement can be made. For now though, my university roomates and I worked out something similar with our neighbours who with we share a yard. We share a common clothes line that allows both houses to reduce dryer use and split the cost of both a bbq and firepit last year. Makes for some yummy dinners!

  2. We don’t have anything quite as large shared with our neighbors (although how I would love to have a playset like that!), but we all share a common courtyard and old barn area, in which we keep a variety of BBQ, picnic and gardening equipment. Additionally, the dead-end street on which we live gets turned into a bike race track every summer evening, and whichever parent is outside is on all child duty, although we almost always take the opportunity to all hang out together.
    It’s quite a nice system in fact, and one of the major reasons that we haven’t yet moved out of our teeny house.

  3. Geoff says:

    As an insurance guy, my thoughts go staright to liability. I know you addressed this in you article Trent but I would still maybe get something in writing as to the shared cost, maintenance, use etc. As in times of distress if a child being injured it’s amazing how some people start to think. I’ve seen many claims (trampolines for instance) where families turn against each other because of medical bills and the like.
    At least with some written documentation it might avoid some tense situations.
    Like I say, as an insurance guy, my mind always goes that way!
    Keep up the great work Trent,

  4. Johanna says:

    Thanks for sharing this story, Trent. I’m glad the arrangement works out so well for you. My comment is somewhat tangential – it’s about this:

    “we have a three year old and a one year old, whereas the neighbors to the south have a six year old and a four year old… The younger child next door and our older son play together regularly and the older child next door loves “mothering” our toddler-aged daughter”

    because it reminds me a lot of my own extended family. The age distribution is almost the same: I’m the oldest, my brother is three years younger than me, and my dad’s brother has a son four years younger than me and a daughter seven years younger than me. When we were kids, the dynamics at family reunions were similar to what you describe, too: My brother and our boy cousin would play together, and I would be left to “mother” our girl cousin, with whom I had far less in common than the boys had with each other. I might have looked like I was enjoying myself, but a lot of times, I felt like I got the short end of the stick. And the grown-ups would subtly encourage this dynamic – for example, by giving similar Christmas presents to the two boys that were designed to let them play together, and giving me something completely different, so I couldn’t join in, even though sometimes I wished I could.

    I don’t presume to know more about your neighbors’ daughter than your neighbors themselves do, but I hope you and they aren’t projecting a “mothering instinct” onto the girl just because she’s a girl. I hope she has plenty of opportunities to play with children her own age. And I really hope that you and your neighbors are being careful not to actively exclude her from playing with your son and their four-year-old if that’s what she wants to do.

  5. Money Beagle says:

    I’ve always wondered about this as we take walks through our neighborhood and see a playset adorning almost every yard.

  6. Jim L. says:

    Incredible! What a great neighborhood you must live in to have such open neighbors. This is a great example of using creativity to breed frugality. Too often we get in the mindset of ‘mine, mine, mine’ that we forget that we can share some things.

  7. Kris says:

    @ Johanna, how were you able to turn a post about sharing playground equipment into a post about sexism?

    @ Trent, it’s awesome you have an arrangement like that with your neighbors. I wish we could do something like that here, but I would have far more concerns about liability than you have. Also, where I live the only thing that can go on a property line is a fence, this is most likely due to far too many lawsuits by neighbors who can’t just get along.

    Another concern I would have and I believe I stated this in your previous post, is that in a lot of cases you end up in an arrangement where 1 party feels they take care of and put forth more into a deal like this than the other party.

    How would you feelings about this arrangement change if your kids were respectful of the equipment and played on it right, but the neighbors kids trashed it?

  8. SubHuman says:

    This year I have set up a similar arrangement with my neighbor. We wanted to expand our raised bed garden and he wanted to start one. As our lots are mostly shaded by trees, we pooled resources and put in a shared bed across our property lines. Now we both have more room and do not need to duplicated effort. (plus he has a truck and a friend with a cow farm so I didn’t need to pay for compost this year.

    We also share tools and when he has his daughters for the weekend, they are free to use our playset. It is a win-win situation.

  9. Chan says:

    @Money Beagle: ‘I’ve always wondered about this as we take walks through our neighborhood and see a playset adorning almost every yard.’

    I’ve always wondered about that as well. Whether it is playsets, trampolines, or in one neighborhood, I saw 5 of 7 houses in a row all had a portable basketball hoops at the end of their driveway.

    On a similar note, I’d love to start a neighborhood co-op for tools. So many tools are purchased and then get used once or twice a year/season. I’m thinking extension ladders, wheelbarrows, things like that. It seems crazy to me to go out and buy these things for 1 or 2 uses when a neighbor has one available.

  10. Molly says:

    Oooh automatic free friends!

  11. Martin says:

    You are being far too dismissive about the potential liability. If someone’s child is paralyzed from the neck down and requires an iron lung for the rest of his life that costs $1,000 a week, the last thing that kid’s parents will be worried about is “social costs”.

    How much “social cost” would you incur by simply saying, “Hey, let’s all sign this waiver.”

    I am troubled by your assumption that only unfriendly people file lawsuits. That’s a good way to ensure that if anything bad happens, it will cost everyone dearly, both financially and socially.

  12. Prasanth says:

    You Americans!! Can’t you guys live without thinking of liability and law suits? And Johanna, come on, get a life !! Trent, its awesome that you have this arrangement. I grew up in an environment similar to this. That i enjoyed my childhood is an an understatement !!

  13. Marc says:

    Great post, my parents actually had a very similar arrangement when I was a child. The only difference was we had the playset but let the neighbours use it as they liked.

    Eventually the neighbours put up a fence because they had a pool installed, of course they were very generous in letting us use the pool (supervised, somehow, of course).

    It’s unfortunate that this kind of sharing/generosity might not happen because of legal concerns. They are legitimate since you never really know who can turn on you, but it’s a sad commentary on the obstacles to create a real community that exist these days. In my experience it was not an issue though, although fortuntely nobody was ever really hurt.

  14. Joe says:

    It’s all fun and games until someone gets hurt. It’s more important to protect your hard-won assets than try to play nice with the neighbors. If you have this kind of arrangement, you should consider an umbrella policy. Personally, I wouldn’t gamble my house on the kindness of injured strangers. Recently, I had to put my foot down when our new neighbors started dropping hints about our treehouse, pool, and halfcourt.

  15. Jules says:

    We used to live in an area where most of the houses had teensy tiny back yards, and to keep teenagers from tromping through the yards, most of the neighbors put up fences. Our yard, and those of our neighbors on either side of us, were the only ones without a fence, giving us (and our friends) a small football field’s worth of space.

  16. Just a guy... says:

    I know this is off topic, but it makes me laugh at the irony of Trent’s 49 page book on a subject of everything you need to know on one page. Shouldn’t that mean there are 48 blank pages. Just kidding you Trent.

  17. Nik says:

    Given your last entry about haggling… ‘If you can’t afford extravagant playground equipment, why are you bothering buying it at all?’ Why don’t you play with your children yourself instead of leaving them to entertain themselves on the deathtraps that most playground equipment items are?
    That sounds really judgemental and assinine, doesn’t it? That is very much how your statements in the previous entry sounded. Substitute ‘playground equipment’ for do-dads.
    What? You’re building a sense of community? Maybe a bunch of kids being surpised by a few trifles will make a celebration a little more memorable and the kids can continue to bond while laughing at all of the silly little things the woman’s children picked out. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to save a little money in both cases. You expanded your mind to get yourself out of that financial hole you were in, don’t stop now that you are comfortable.

  18. steve in W MA says:

    when I was a kid we all used to romp through each others’ yards and any of us kids felt free to cut across anyone’s property–respectfully.

    There was actually a “trail” that threaded from our street, through two backyards, and two the next street that all the neighborhood kids used.

    My how times seem to have changed!

    Sometimes you just have to accept some risks to form relationships with people and realize everything can’t be “formalized” and protected against.

  19. Dean says:

    How sad that people live in society where they have to worry about being legal liability for play equipment. Socalised medicine will solve that issue for you.

  20. S says:

    @ Dean the communist
    socialized medicine is going to protect you if a kid breaks his neck and dies and the parents sue you for negligence.

  21. getagrip says:

    People worry about liability because even if the person or family doesn’t want to sue you, their insurance company most likely will as a cost recovery measure. Many medical insurance policies now include wording or require you to sign documentation to the effect that you allow them to sue someone in your name to recover costs and damages. So even if the other family didn’t intend to sue and figured their insurance would cover it, there’s a good chance their insurance company would sue you regardless of your neighbors feelings.

    That said, I agree in essence that as long as you have a fair bit of insurance (I would recommend the umbrella policy), and a good agreement with your neighbors, this is a good thing. The probability of the kids getting more than bruises, scrapes, or bumps are fairly slim.

  22. Laura says:

    “…most of the families are loathe to interrupt this…”

    You have used loathe incorrectly. If you want to be a writer, it is something you should know. Really. It is on the most basic lists of misused words.
    loath: adjective meaning reluctant
    loathe: verb meaning greatly dislike

    And your ‘moderation’ (i.e. deletion) of my first comment reeks.

  23. Laura says:

    Your ‘moderation’ (i.e. deletion) of my previous comments reeks.

    “…most of the families are loathe to interrupt this…”

    Loath is an adjective meaning reluctant.
    Loathe is a verb meaning greatly dislike.

    You have used loathe incorrectly. If you want to be a writer, this is something you should know. Really. It is on the most basic lists of misused words.

  24. ida says:

    What a nightmare! I could write a book about all the things that will eventually go wrong here. A great idea but in the end, not practical.

  25. Michael says:

    If someone purchases the property on which the playset resides, he is legally obliged to allow the neighbor continued access to it. He cannot ban the neighbors from using the playset and he cannot completely obstruct access to the playset with a fence. The legal term is “easement.”

    Generally, liability for injuries in/on the easement falls to the party who maintains the easement. So if the Hamms alone maintain the playset, they would be liable IF they would have been liable for an injury on a normal playset (i.e., not shared with the neighbors.) If both neighbors share the cost they share liability.

    I’m probably missing a few Iowa nuances but sharing property usually works this way.

  26. Karen says:

    To Nick at comment #12 – I am 46 years old and enjoy playing with my nieces and nephews on their playground equipment. Makes me a kid again! No where did Trent say he just let the kids run loose. Are you just trying to start something….???

  27. Borealis says:

    The neighbors were smart in that the entire play equipment is on one property. Splitting the ownership is a huge headache. It is great that neighbors cooperate and probably doesn’t cost any more on insurance. But trying to draw up split ownership and liability would be a nightmare.

  28. Jamie says:

    We have a very small yard and one of our neighbors has an empty second lot. Their house is going up for sale behind us and one over and we have really encouraged some of our friends to get the house so we can do this. We have 3 little girls(6,4 and 7 months), our neighbors to our right have 3 kids about the same ages, our neighbors beside them have 2 little boys and our neighbors directly behind us have 2 kids as well. We have discussed just how big a play set we could get with 4 families pitching in. We figured the family who owns the lot would not have to pitch in for the equipment since they are supplying the area. Hopefully another great family with children will get the place so we can see this through.

  29. Don’t take this the wrong way, but my wife and I laugh about these backyard playgrounds. We see them in almost every yard by us and we never see kids on them– to us they are expensive lawn ornaments.

    Furthermore, my wife tells me she sees people trying to give them away– FREE on Craig’s list!

    Trampolines are another item we get a kick out of seeing!

  30. Johanna says:

    @Prasanth (#12): That’s a pretty rude thing to say. Didn’t your parents teach you any manners?

  31. Nik says:

    @Karen from comment #26, I wasn’t really ‘just trying to start something.’ You don’t know whether or not Trent lets his kids play on the equipment unattended as he didn’t say so specifically. We both reasonably assume that he doesn’t, but I was just pointing out how you can make some very rotten judgments about someone based on such little information as he had in his previous article. In the previous post, he basically said the same thing about someone who was sharing a tip on how she saved a bit of money while being able to indulge her kids a bit and he took it as an opportunity to deride her for wasting money foolishly. The same could have been said in this situation.

  32. Eric says:

    I hope there are still folks who will receive this but…..we use a FREE website in our area to stay connected, post upcoming events, communicate neighborhood watch issues, list items we’d share with each other etc….

    Someone starts a “network” (could be your street, subdivision, or local friends). The others join that network and share. Only those on your network see your items or comments…it’s your private network. You can create and join several networks.

    I hope it helps some of you.


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