Top 5 Playground Surface Materials

Posted By Playground Professionals
July 27, 2017

When maintaining a playground, it is equally important to ensure the ground or ‘safety-surface’ is as safe as the equipment. Children need a soft place to land when they jump or fall. If your playground already has a ground cover, or safety surface material, it's a good idea to get in the habit of checking the safety surface material levels often to ensure pieces have not been kicked away or even thrown out by little hands.

With school starting back up soon, children will on the playground in no time, so now could be the best time to check ensure the playground has adequate levels of safety material on the ground. If material levels are low, now would be a good time to add more safety surface to your playground or perhaps consider an entirely new material.

Here is a list of the Top-5 Best Playground Safety Surface materials to help make your decision a little easier.

1.) Solid Rubber Surface

This is first on the list because it’s not only the safest, but it requires the least amount of maintenance. Solid rubber surfaces come in two forms. The most well known is "Pour-in-Place"which is poured over a sub-base and the end product is a smooth, cushioned surface that comes in varying color options. The other solid surface option comes in the form of rubber tiles that fit together to make one solid surface.

These are popular options because they are slip resistant, allowing easy ADA access for wheelchairs and strollers.

What is the downside to the solid rubber surface? The solid rubber surface material is one of the most expensive options in playground safety surfacing.

2.) Artificial Grass or Turf

Artificial Grass is a slightly less expensive alternative to a solid rubber surface. It's also a low-maintenance and an ADA wheelchair accessible surface. It will require an occasional rinse-off but water drains well from this surface, making cleaning up a breeze. One benefit of Artificial Grass is new manufacturing techniques have brought with them a higher quality, more-realistic grass texture products.The hard, plastic green turf of past decades has been replaced with softer, real-texture options.

3.) Play Sand

The affordability of playground sand is what has made it a popular playground cover for so long. In order to ensure that it provides a soft place for children to land, it is recommended that you have at least twelve inches of sand down at all times.

Some sand can contain harmful materials, in order to avoid this, make sure that you buy a sand specifically made for playgrounds.

3.) Play Sand and Pea Gravel

The affordability of playground sand and pea gravel is why these have been popular playground cover for so long. Yet, these materials do not really provide ADA accessibility. In order to ensure these materials provide any type of fall protection, the recommendation is to have at least twelve inch depth at all times. Also, be warned, some sand can contain harmful materials. In order to avoid this, purchase only sand or pea gravel specifically made for playgrounds.

Some sand can contain harmful materials, in order to avoid this, make sure that you buy a sand specifically made for playgrounds.

4.) Rubber Mulch (Nuggets or Shredded)

If you want the flexibility of a rubber surface but not the high price tag, then rubber mulch is the perfect solution. Rubber mulch is made by grinding up recycled tires, providing a soft cushioned surface for children to land. Rubber mulch (nuggets or shredded) comes in at a fraction of the cost of the solid rubber surfaces. Noah’s sells playground-approved rubber mulch (nuggets or shredded), which is typically coated or painted with non-toxic material. We do not recommend or sell shredded black tire mulch.

5.) Engineered Wood Fiber aka: EWF

Engineered wood fiber is an affordable and durable option for playground covers. It's estimated approximately 50,000 playgrounds in the U.S. and Canada use EWF material. Engineered Wood Fiber is ground more finely than ordinary landscape mulch, is from virgin wood, and has had the saw-dust removed. It provides a safe and natural way to cover the ground while still providing an adequate amount of cushion and protection for children.

Having a good material to cover your playground ensures that children have a safe place to play, while also offering protection from the ground itself. If you have any questions about these or any other playground cover materials, please contact Noah's Park & Playground today.

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Comments

Nice sales pitch.
Although I would take issue with the solid rubber surface comments. It is definitely more expensive, and is easier for ADA accessibility. However, no one knows the life of the products mentioned, and they can harden up and become unsafe within 12-18 months of installation. I've tested it, and seen it happen. Not to mention when PIP is paired with sand; the abrasion and wear on it is ridiculous.
Also, EWF is not exclusively from virgin wood. It is not a requirement of ASTM F2075 to be made from virgin wood. Several companies out there make a quality EWF material made from recycled/reclaimed wood.
Synthetic turf/grass also has it's own problems. What about infill? If there is no infill, or it is not maintained, the impact height and safety of the surface can dramatically change. Not to mention the type of pad that is used underneath the turf; the life of the pad can be difficult to determine.
In the future, I would caution against saying one product is better than another, when only some of the facts about the products are presented.

While this covers all types of surfaces, it doesn't really discuss the pros and cons of each one. Not to mention, if this is a ranking, it is pretty subjective.
Indicating solid rubber surfacing is expensive, is accurate. However, indicating that it is the "safest" is a misleading. I have been to many playgrounds with PIP, and some with rubber tiles, and have impact tested them. In 12-18 months the surface can be hard, cracked, and unsafe for impact attenuation testing. If there is sand around the playground it is even worse since the sand can get into the surface and cause excessive wear.
The issue with turf comes down to maintenance. Is there infill? If so, is it being maintained? Another issue is the pad underneath the turf. Does anyone really know how long it holds up? And since most of them are glued together from small pieces of foam, the density, and therefore the impact characteristics can change in the fraction of an inch.
Loose fill rubber has the issue of metal particles. Granted, there is now an ASTM standard devoted to LFR, and trying to keep any contaminated product from getting through to the playground. Although some companies claim to be 99% metal free, it should be taken with a grain of salt.
As for EWF, making the claim that it is made from "virgin wood" is somewhat false. Many companies in the industry produce a good, clean EWF made from recycled or reclaimed wood. As long as the products pass the tests indicated in ASTM F2075, they can be called "Engineered Wood Fiber".
In short, if the writer of this article really wanted to educate consumers or potential consumers, the benefits and drawbacks of each product would be presented clearly and accurately.

I would offer that artificial turf uses crumb rubber which some have suggested is toxic, while I am not offering an opinion either way it is important to point this out. Plus a major drawback is that it gets extremely hot in direct sunlight. I am not sure of the purpose of the article but critical fall height and many other factors should go into determining what safety surfacing is used.

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