An Easy Maintenance Choice
Engineered wood surfacing has become a popular choice for playground safety surfacing in the last ten or twelve years for a variety of reasons. First, the head injury criteria and impact attenuation of wood fiber rates are among the highest when properly installed and maintained. Second, engineered- wood fiber has been approved as an accessible surface for wheelchairs. Other factors that have made wood fiber an excellent choice include, it is aesthetically appealing, costs less to purchase and install than its rubber counterparts, and does not attract animals the way sand can. It does less damage to school grounds and interior floors. It doesn't wear away the play structure decks the way sand and gravel can. And, the children can't be hurt by throwing it. AlI these factors make wood surfacing a popular choice. But, the focus here is on how easy wood surfacing is to maintain. Factors to consider when planning to purchase, install, and maintain engineered wood fiber include: proper wood fiber, proper drainage, weed barrier material, concentrated use zone, foreign objects, accessibility, winterizing, and topping off.
Proper Wood Fiber
As simple as a "wood chip " may seem, engineered wood fiber is a product that goes through rigorous testing to meet ASTM 1292 -99 for impact attenuation and ASTM 1951-99 for accessibility. Many engineered wood fiber companies have even gone so far as to have their products tested by a third party lPEMA- to prove its quality. Wood surfacing is processed in a huge machine called a tub grinder. The processing literally pulverizes and crushes the wood while pushing it through a small screen. This process, if skipped, is mere wood chips and landscape material.
Drainage is an issue that must be addressed before surfacing and equipment is installed. While wood surfacing works best at cushioning a fall when it holds some moisture, too much water will cause it to prematurely decompose. If water has no escape, the surfacing may actually float as one solid mass. In this state, the surface is neither accessible or resilient.Check with local professionals who understand the local conditions such as; type of soil, annual rainfall, slope, etc. to determine how to best drain your play area.
Always place at least one layer of weed -barrier material-often called geotextile material- between the ground and your wood fiber. This will help prolong the life of your wood and is a requirement for many manufacturers to validate their warranty. In addition, it will keep foreign objects from rising up from the ground into the wood. It will also keep the wood from mixing with the ground material. If the fabric becomes exposed, repair immediately and top off the area with a little additional wood to keep the fabric from coming up again.
Even well-maintained wood can become displaced in high traffic areas such as, under swings, slides, and exit routes, on a play structure that leave large holes exposing bare ground. This is probably the most common problem with wood surfacing and potentially a dangerous one as it exposes your weed barrier material and leaves the heights of swings and slides out of compliance with CPSC. A good way to eliminate this problem is to put a rubber mat product under your high use areas. This will stop the hole from going any deeper and solve your "divot" problem. Simply install a rubber mat under the wood surfacing.
Removal of objects such as glass, trash, leaves, and other debris is a simple, cost-effective way to keep your wood surfacing performing and looking good. This measure should be incorporated into routine playground inspections. It makes your play area inviting and minimizes the chances of more trash being left behind. Make sure a trash receptacle is nearby.
To meet requirements for accessibility, you must provide a ramp into the wood surfacing. This ramp is much like a boat ramp; when the level of the lake or river recedes you still have access to your boat because the ramp disappears down into the water. Wood surfacing does not stay perfectly at the height of your curb wall and sidewalk. This ramp will provide access even when the level of surfacing fluctuates.
When in a climate that receives snow, you need to remove the snow off your surfacing regularly. If you keep snow, water, and ice off, the playground can be utilized all winter long.
The lifespan of your wood surfacing is highly dependent on following these few maintenance rules. It is not at all uncommon to find a playground with wood surfacing 10 years old, while still providing an excellent surface with the resilient properties it had when new. Don't be afraid to purchase top-offs for your wood and stick to a playground surfacing maintenance schedule. Wind, children, compaction, and other factors all cause wood surfacing levels to go down. Periodic top-offs will be required. Much like the play equipment, the surfacing to requires maintenance to promote a safe, long-lasting product life.
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