Outdoor Furniture Considerations

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Posted with permission, from an email posted by Greg Heid (Newton County Library) on 3/22/07:

Our Friends purchased teak benches and picnic tables for us. We poured concrete pads and bolted the furniture to the pads. The teak wears well, does not need to be repainted, and blends in well with our woodsy environment. Forget umbrellas on the tables. They are hard to keep clean and always break after a year’s continual use – or are damaged by wind as staff/patrons forget to collapse them when finished. Wood furniture can easily be sanded down, re-stained or re-finished if damaged or graffiti-ed. If you do go for wood, stick to the forest renewed tropical woods and select the styles with heft and thick wood struts, slats, etc. Do not get a solid seat or top. Get slats or an open design.

If you are going to get outdoor furniture that is metal, consider high quality uni-steel constructed tables with seating as part of the design. Tubular steel (14 gauge or better) or expanded 2” OD steel (or better) outdoor furniture, with welded joints, electro-powered enamel paint finishes are the best. Several manufacturers have begun to offer special finishes on outdoor furniture that are resistant to scratched graffiti and slough off painted graffiti when using paint thinner or their brand of graffiti remover. Thermoplastic coated steel tables, benches and chairs are durable and hold up to the elements well. But stay away from red, orange and yellow colors. The are not yet UV stable under several years of wear and tear. Blues, greens and browns are best. Tops to tables and benches should be slat or open mesh design to allow dirt, etc. to fall through.

I would stay away from aluminum furniture unless it is a very high quality and thick gauge 1-5/8” O.D. schedule # 40 pipe frame with .078” thick top and bench constructed design. Several articles that I have read state that most grades of aluminum suffer stress problems more quickly than steel construction, paint finishes are difficult to maintain, many people do not like natural aluminum color or feel (unless they have a retro aluminum Christmas tree) and aluminum interacts with other metals so you have to be careful what metal object is being used to bolt the furniture to the pad or patio.

Fiberglass with steel frame is durable, but the fiberglass always loses color from UV rays and tends to crack and craze after 3 to 5 years of outdoor exposure. Fiberglass is difficult to repair. Fiberglass is also difficult to paint. Use the same specs for the structural steel constructed support ( as already mentioned) if you are going to purchase fiberglass furniture.

I would stay away from recycled plastic furniture. It looks durable and has the color impregnated into the plastic so you never have to paint it. Despite the fact that you may feel PC and environmentally good by purchasing recycled plastic furniture, most often the plastic is not core reinforced and the benches, table tops, and chair struts will begin to bend and sag after 2 years of use.

I would also stay away from fabrics and woven plastic materials incorporated into the seats. From my reading and experience these quickly suffer from wear, mildew (even Sunbrella materials) and theft – even when screwed down to the furniture.

Try to get rounded corners on tables and benches for safety.

Costs may appear to be high for some of this furniture, but you have to purchase industrial quality in order for it to last. There are several companies that provide good quality furniture and will give you a good wholesale price because you are a governmental entity. If you do not have large amount of funds, I often tell people to contact their parks and recreation departments (city and county) to see if they have surplus or extra picnic tables, benches, or other outdoor furniture. Often they will have something (that they will give to you for free) that only needs a fresh coat of paint. Painting can be a great Friends or teen group project.

Whatever you purchase, make sure that it is ADA compliant since it will be for both staff and occasional public visitors.

Hope that this helps.


Greg Heid
Newton County Library System
7116 Floyd Street
Covington, GA 30014