Playground Surfacing Options

If you’re building a playground in your community, you have most likely spent a significant amount of time and resources researching the playground equipment that’s right for your patrons. Choosing play equipment is fun, but don’t overlook the importance of your playground surfacing. The type of playground surfacing you choose will have a meaningful effect on your patrons’ safety and overall experience.

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Choosing the Right Surface

Comparing playground surfacing types and choosing the safety surfacing that is right for your community is easy when you choose Playworld. Review the playground safety surface material options available, and contact us for more information about the playground surfacing that’s right for your community.

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Playground Injury & The Impact of Playground Surfacing

Three major factors help determine the severity of an injury sustained from a playground accident: the speed at which a child falls, the distance he or she falls, and the type of playground surfacing onto which they fall. Although minor cuts, bumps, and scrapes account for the vast majority of playground injuries, sometimes a more serious injury occurs. You may not be able to control every aspect of your patrons’ playground experience, but you can control the quality of your play equipment as well as the surfacing under and around it.

Did you know:

  • 75% percent of all playground injuries occur when kids fall on improper or poorly maintained playground surfacing.
  • Falling from heights over 8 feet can cause a concussion as serious as what an adult might sustain in a 40 MPH car accident or heading a soccer ball.
  • Most playground surface manufacturers don’t publish safety test or field test results.

Slips, spills, and falls are inevitable on the playground. That means protecting your patrons against the potentially devastating consequences of an accident is essential. Your Playworld representative can walk you through all your playground surfacing options, to ensure you choose the playground surfacing that meets your community’s needs.

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Types of Playground Surfaces

There are several kinds of playground surfaces for you to consider. They are:

  • Rubber Tile
  • Poured-In-Place Rubber
  • Concrete/Asphalt
  • Wood Fiber
  • Loose-fill Rubber
  • Synthetic Turf

Unitary Playground Surfaces

Unitary playground surfaces are bound together to make a smooth play surface. These surfaces can be formed tiles that are fixed into place, or poured material. Examples include rubber tile, poured in place rubber, synthetic turf, and concrete/asphalt. Unitary playground surfacing is the preferred surfacing for a truly inclusive playground because unitary surfaces make it easier for individuals who use mobility equipment to participate safely and comfortably on the playground. Not every unitary surface is right for every playground space, however. Examples of unitary playground surfaces include:

There are advantages and disadvantages to rubber tiles. They provide adequate cushioning while retaining ease of mobility for inclusive play. Replacing a small section is also possible if one area sustains more wear than another area. Although rubber tiles also make slipping less likely, they aren’t suitable for every surface, such as any area designed for exercise or ballgames.

Poured-in-place rubber surfacing is accessible, and is often preferable for playgrounds due to its ability to customize a playground’s look. Smooth uniform surfaces like rubber tiles and poured in place surfacing help keep playground tumbles from becoming serious injuries. They meet all ADA guidelines and CPSC guidelines for shock absorption.

Concrete or asphalt is ideal for areas such as sport courts, outdoor fitness equipment like LifeTrail® and ENERGI, and the NEOS® electronic playground because it provides predictable traction, but not for regular playground activities and equipment.

Community parks and playgrounds made of synthetic grass provide accessible, versatile play surfaces for people of all ages and abilities. Many public spaces are turning to synthetic grass for appealing water-saving landscape solutions that reduce operating and maintenance expenditures.

Loose-Fill Playground Surfacing

Loose-fill play areas are made up of small components that move. Examples include engineered wood fiber and loose-fill rubber. There are several advantages to loose-fill playground surfaces; these solutions are cost-effective, traditional playground surfacing favorites because of their excellent shock-absorbing properties. The downside of loose-fill playground surfaces includes the regular maintenance required to keep the playground surface at a safe and somewhat even depth.

Because loose-fill thins out over time, replacing it is necessary—perhaps as frequently as every year. Nevertheless, loose-fill surfaces are a great surfacing solution for non-traditional playground elements, such as Origins Natural Playground equipment. You can minimize loose-fill surface replacement costs with Border Timbers from Playworld, which are interlocking border elements that keep loose-fill materials in the play space. Made from 100% recycled plastic, they won’t splinter or crack like conventional wood.

Your loose-fill options include:

Engineered Wood Fiber (EWF) is an attractive, affordable, and biodegradable surfacing solution that is available nearly anywhere. While it’s affordable, it also requires maintenance, so you should also plan in your budget to add more EWF on an ongoing basis to keep the proper surfacing depth and add more as necessary. Before choosing EWF, carefully check its source to be certain it has not been sprayed with chemicals that are hazardous or attract pests.

Loose-fill rubber is a more durable solution than EWF because they will not degrade. You’ll also be able to use recycled rubber, which is better for the environment, and may reduce your need for replacement with rubber fill. Remember that black or dark loose-fill rubber retains heat and is likely to become hot on warm summer days. Although loose-fill rubber has adequate shock absorption, it might become uncomfortable to play on when temperatures get high.

Which playground surfacing you choose depends on the purpose of your playground, the type of equipment you purchase and your budget. Your local Playworld representative is happy to help you choose the best playground surface material that is right for your specific needs.

Which playground surfacing you choose depends on the purpose of your playground, the type of equipment you purchase and your budget.

Your local Playworld representative is happy to help you choose the best playground surface material that is right for your specific needs.

Contact Us

Playground Mats for High-Traffic Areas

Once you’ve selected your surfacing, you’ll need to make sure you protect your investment. Loose-fill surfacing can move, shift, and suffer erosion, especially in high-traffic areas or in spots where impact happens often. For example, the areas under swings and slides can eventually develop pits and grooves from repeated impact from small feet.

Erosion is a serious concern. It can be costly to have to replace your surfacing frequently and thinner or missing surfacing in areas can be unsafe for children. When parts of the playground surface thin or wear down, the appearance can be unsightly, too.

To address this, playground mats are one option. Rubber playground mats, such as wear mats, are actually made from a blend of materials, such as resin-bound recycled rubber and polyurethane. They don’t replace other surfacing options, but they do protect the playground and the kids.

Designed to prevent erosion in those areas of your playground that see more impact, outdoor playground rubber mats are simple to install and don’t usually need stakes or additional devices, meaning you can add them as needed to protect the surface under bars, swings, and other equipment. When installing wear mats, ensure they are installed with enough impact-absorbing, loose-fill surfacing for the right level of protection.

Learn More

Playworld is happy to provide more information about each of the playground surface options identified above.

We’ll evaluate your space and use requirements, and make a recommendation that suits your safety requirements for critical fall height and budgetary needs. Your local Playworld representative will help you determine the type and quantity of surfacing you’ll need to make your playground safe and accessible.

To learn more about surfacing, take our On-Demand Continuing Education course, Increasing Play Value with Surfacing.

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