When it comes to playhouses, there’s no bigger initial question for parents looking to purchase than whether it’s better to buy a plastic or wooden playhouse.
It’s a great jumping-off point when playhouse shopping because it cuts your decision making in half once you rule one category out. This is a massive plus because as a parent, decision fatigue is real!
In my opinion, there is no right answer here because it usually depends on you, your kid/s and your individual situation. What we’ve done below is given you everything you need to make your best choice. And once you have made that choice be sure to check out our Playhouse Buying Guides…
- 14 Best Outdoor Playhouses For Toddlers & Preschoolers
- Best Wooden Playhouse For Older Kids (4 to 12 Years Olds)
We ‘ve thought long and hard about all the potential factors and considerations in choosing between wooden and plastic playhouses – here are the primary factors you should consider:
Age of Child
The first question you need to ask yourself is – How Long Will My Kid/Kids Use This For?
If you have a little creative genius who loves to live their life in a fantasy world and will continue to do so until you send them off for college, then you likely want to buy a playhouse that will grow with them.
If you have a few kids and foresee them playing together in their playhouse, then again, you want a bigger option.
If this is the case, then you will either have to be prepared to spend a lot of money on a larger plastic option, or go straight to wood because these tend to be bigger.
If you just want a couple of years while you’re little one is into playing house or pretend adventures, then go for a lightweight plastic option which you can move around the house and pass on once you’re done.
It’s cheaper, it will take up less room inside and out, and more importantly, you can either sell it or give it away when you’re done. They’re a lot brighter and more fun for the little ones.
Winner: Plastic for toddlers – wood for older kids
Plastic playhouses tend to be cheaper. On average they run from around $100 – $600 depending on size and accessories. That being said, you can find some models that are closer to $1000, but you’re usually buying an entire princess castle for that kind of money.
Wooden playhouses on average are more expensive. You can get some impressive models on the lower end of the scale, but keep in mind that if you’re investing in a wooden playhouse, you probably want to buy one made from quality timber to ensure for longevity.
The cheaper models can be made from chipboard that doesn’t fare well outside and can warp. Not all cheaper models are made from poor quality materials though, so don’t rule out the cheaper options if your heart is set on a wooden playhouse.
Wooden playhouses tend to cost anywhere from $200 – $1500, again, depending on size and accessories.
That being said, if you really want to spoil your little one, there are some seriously impressive models which cost upwards of $3000.
Winner: Plastic wins this round for coming in at the cheaper end of the scale
All playhouses are delivered in flat pack form and it’s up to you to put them together. As a general rule, plastic will be easier to put together and theoretically should be possible to do with hand tools.
That being said, a common complaint about even the most popular plastic playhouses is that pre-drilled holes are not set deep enough and therefore require power tools i.e. electric drills or screwdrivers to put together.
Wooden playhouses are generally more work to put together and definitely require power tools unless you’re prepared to put in a whole lot of elbow grease!
That being said, no playhouse is more difficult to put together than your average Ikea flat-pack so most clever parents can work it out.
It’s also worth mentioning that the same complaint about pre-drilled holes is common for wooden playhouses, but with power tools, it shouldn’t be an issue.
Winner: Plastic for ease of assembly
Accessories & Customization
For this category it depends on what you consider an accessory. Almost all playhouses come with windows, a working door and usually one of the following: a couple of flowerpots, a mailbox, flag pole or bench to sit on.
These are usually core features of any playhouse so for the purpose of this review, we’re talking any accessories added to the ones listed above.
As a general rule, your plastic playhouses will come with more accessories than the wooden options.
There are plastic options that come with full accessory kits for a play kitchen/BBQ/sports or even for sand and water play. These will keep even the most active little adventurer busy for hours (or at least more than minutes).
Wooden playhouses, particularly those at the cheaper end of the scale, will also come with basic accessories, which often tend to be plastic and are similar to those found in a plastic playhouse but with fewer options available.
For the most part though, a wooden playhouse is like a miniature house that you need to buy furniture and accessories for. This won’t matter for kids with big imaginations who just need a place to play.
When it comes to the big play accessories like swings/slides and ladders, wooden playhouses are definitely the way to go.
You’ll spend more money, but you’ll have a studier product which will suit your kids as they grow. The last thing you want is to spend money on a playhouse only for your little one to outgrow the slide within a year.
Also, wooden playhouses are just studier, meaning their big accessories are too, which is something to consider when it comes to safety and also longevity.
Another thing to consider is that wooden playhouses are much easier to customize. You can hang pictures, attach a sign above the door, cut a dog door in a wall etc.
If you drill or cut into a plastic playhouse you risk compromising the structural integrity or effecting the weather proofing.
Plastic playhouses are not made to be altered – whereas Pinterest is full of beautifully customized wooden playhouses with crazy paint schemes and personal touches.
Winner: Plastic for the smaller accessories and wooden for the bigger – it’s a tie!
Size & Weight
As mentioned at the top, plastic playhouses are generally smaller and much better for little ones unless you want them to continue to use them as they grow.
Most kids will grow out of the smaller playhouses by the time they’re 6 or 7.
If you think your 3-year-old will grow into an imaginative 8-year-old who loves pretend play, then it’s better to go for a wooden playhouse which will give them more square footage as they grow.
The benefit of a smaller plastic playhouse is that they are much lighter and therefore can be moved around. If you have enough room they can be used inside and out and are also easier to pass on when your kids grow out of them.
Wooden playhouses tend to be larger and also heavier, meaning they’re a great staple for a backyard for a growing child or a growing family who will get years of use from it. But they are also not as easy to load into the back of a truck and give to your sister when your child outgrows them.
Winner: Plastic for little ones, wooden for older kids and bigger families: it’s a tie!
Quality & Longevity
There is a huge range for both plastic and wooden playhouses when it comes to quality and to be honest, it comes down to the individual model.
Plastic will last forever but doesn’t do as well outside and in extreme weather. It will fade in the sun and can warp and will grow mold more easily than wood in humid climates.
Wooden models tend to be better quality and fare better outside as long as you’ve invested in some good quality wood and sealant.
Some cheaper models may not make it through the assembly without cracking or splintering so be sure to check the type of wood you’re buying. For the vast majority though, wooden options tend to be better for outdoors and are a more quality item in general.
In terms of longevity, everything mentioned above is a factor. A well cared for plastic playhouse will probably last forever in the right climate but one left outside vulnerable to extreme elements won’t cope well.
Even a well cared for plastic playhouse left outside will likely fade and need regular cleaning.
Wooden playhouses will do better left outside but will need a lick of paint to keep them looking nice and if left alone for long enough will invite insect visitors.
Winner: Wooden for quality and ease of longevity
Plastic playhouses will by far be easier to clean because you can hose them off and leave them outside to dry. They may need a bit of detergent and elbow grease for some tougher stains or marks, but for the most part, the garden hose will do.
As mentioned above, mold is more likely to grow on plastic in warmer climates and so may need more regular cleaning.
Wood tends to get fewer marks in the first place and can be easily repainted when colors fade, just like a real house. This adds to their longevity. Most will have a good quality stain meaning that inside messes are relatively easy to clean up.
All playhouses will get bugs, but they’re easier to spot and remove in a plastic playhouse. Good quality wooden playhouses with a good quality finish shouldn’t be susceptible to termites, but spiders and mosquitos are inevitable, especially outside.
Consider it a good opportunity to teach your kids about creepy crawlies.
You can also put plastic panes in the windows of wooden playhouses to deter bugs and make them more weather-proof.
Winner: It’s a tie!
What Looks Better, Wood Or Plastic?
This really depends on your personal aesthetic. Plastic playhouses have come a long way, so if you prefer a more natural look, don’t write them off.
There are many options from cottages to log cabins and classic castles, so there are an array of color choices and options.
Lots of manufacturers are providing both bright color options and more neutrals to blend better with backyards.
Wooden playhouses do tend to look like miniature houses and definitely have a more natural feel. Even the most neutral plastics still look plastic.
It’s hard to beat some of the higher-end wooden playhouses when it comes to looks. Some are made to look like storybook cottages or turn of the century firehouses.
Plastic playhouses are usually designed for younger kids so the manufacturers use bright colors that stand out and are attractive to Toddlers sensibilities.
If you have worked tirelessly to turn your backyard into a beautiful rustic wonderland – a bright pink playhouse might throw things out of whack a bit.
Both wooden and plastic come in an array of adorable options with clever additions that your kids will love, so ultimately it will come down to whether you prefer a wooden or plastic look.
Winner: Wooden by a country mile!
Plastic is by far more practical for the little ones. As we’ve mentioned before it is easier to move, easier to clean etc. They’re also practically indestructible so your kids can play hard and they’ll withstand rough play.
Wood is much better for older and growing kids. It is sturdier without the need to be weighed down for wild weather. Some of the smaller plastic playhouses have been known to fly away in strong winds.
Wooden playhouses are harder to pass on to a friend or neighbor when the time comes as they are a real chore to take apart without destroying. Plastic playhouses, on the other hand, are usually small and light enough for 2-3 people to load in the back of a pickup truck.
Wood playhouses fare better outside and withstand the elements more effectively than plastic.
The vast majority of plastic playhouses have Dutch doors and no windows so if you live in a place with a particularly harsh climate for a good part of the year – your kids will get much more use out of a wooden playhouse with windows and doors that close completely.
Winner: Surprise, surprise, it’s a tie!
And last but certainly not least, you should take safety into consideration when deciding weather to pick a plastic or a wooden playhouse.
When it comes to safety, plastic playhouses have a distinct advantage over wood, at least for very young kids.
Most plastic playhouses have nice round corners and are hollow so they have plenty of give if your child takes a headfirst tumble into a wall. Also, with a plastic playhouse, you never need to worry about splinters or jagged edges caused by aging, splitting wood.
Another consideration is how much of a visual you want to have on your child as they play. Plastic playhouses tend to be more open than their wooden counterparts, so you can see your kids more clearly as they play.
This is a big deal for an outdoor playhouse where you may prefer to be doing something inside and still be able to monitor your little one from your vantage point.
Our way around this issue was to get walkie-talkies. We wanted our kids to feel they had their privacy, but they knew whenever we checked in they had to answer our call. To be honest they loved it and ended up checking in on us far more than we checked in on them!
Wooden playhouses tend to be taller than plastic as they are made for older kids. Many wooden playhouses have 2 stories, stairs, and other climbing surfaces. This is awesome for older kids, but for toddlers, it could be a problem.
My personal opinion – if the primary player will be a toddler – you will have much less stress if you get a plastic playhouses
Winner: Plastic (Especially for Toddlers)
The Winner Is???
All in all, as you can see, it truly depends on what your needs are as to which playhouse option is best for you.