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Comparing Playground Surfacing

Comparing Playground Surfacing

The safety of children playing on your playground is undoubtedly a top priority, which means careful consideration must be taken when choosing a playground surface. Bumps and bruises will happen when kids play hard, but the right playground surface can eliminate the risk of more serious mishaps.

Explore all the differences in our playground surfaces with our comparison chart, then contact a consultant about surfacing for your playground.

Factors to Consider When Choosing a Playground Surface

When determining what surfacing is best for your playground project, keep these important considerations in mind.

  • Initial purchasing cost
  • Installation requirements and costs
  • Ongoing maintenance needs and cost
  • Long-term durability
  • Lifespan of surface
  • Visual appearance
  • Degree of safety
  • ADA compliance

Types of Playground Surfacing

Playground surfacing materials vary widely in terms of safety, accessibility, cost, and required maintenance so it’s important to understand what’s available and the advantages and disadvantages of each. The best surfacing solution for your playground will meet your unique objectives and create a space that is fun, safe and beautiful for years to come.

Below are several playground surfacing options to consider along with some general advantages and disadvantages of each.

Loose-Fill Material

Engineered wood fiber (EWF), playground sand, wood chips and pea gravel are considered loose-fill material.

  • This option has the least expensive upfront costs and is easy to install. Also, it shifts and moves on impact protecting long bone injuries from falls.
  • However, loose-fill material requires more maintenance to maintain the appropriate depth for Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) guidelines and aren't as easy for children and parents who use wheelchairs and other mobility devices to navigate. They can also be more limiting from a design standpoint.
  • If selecting EWF, be sure to request documentation from the manufacturer showing the source of the product and ADA accessibility testing results.

Resilient Tiles

Such playground safety tiles are mainly used for wheelchair access paths and high wear areas because of cost considerations.

  • Factory-engineered tile materials can provide a guaranteed critical fall height value and require little maintenance. They are also easily replaceable and come in a variety of color options.
  • The tiles can be either interlocking or adhesive.

Synthetic Turf

Synthetic turf gives a more natural appearance and texture than other manufactured rubber surfacing options.

  • It maintains cooler surface temperatures and is available in a variety of color and densities. Many synthetic turf surfaces meet the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) requirements for fall height and accessibility from the ADA. Even more, turf requires less maintenance than loose-fill material and will fit mid-range budgets.

Poured-In-Place Rubber

Poured-in-place rubberized surfacing is durable, highly elastic to prevent injuries and a great option for high-use areas.

  • It is also available in a wide variety of colors and shapes and can be embedded with designs.
  • These surfaces often have more upfront costs, but require significantly less maintenance than other playground surfacing options.

Bond-In-Place Rubber

Bond-in-place surfacing like our patented PebbleFlex® system is a durable playground safety surfacing option with its lifespan extending beyond many traditional pour-in-place surfaces.

  • It is comprised of engineered pebbles chemically bonded together with an added cushioned layer of recycled rubber, is easy to maintain, is UV resistant and withstands climate variations.
  • It also meets all safety and accessibility standards and is easy to customize designs or patterns.
  • U.S. Patent number 8,962,750.

 

Water Play Surfacing

AquaFlex®, a Landscape Structures product provided by Surface America, is a durable, chlorine-resistant, UV light stable choice for a water play environment.

  • This bond-in-place surfacing is the only water play surfacing choice available in a porous and non-porous option that can be used indoors or out.

Choosing a Playground Surface

In addition to safety and accessibility, it’s important to consider how your playground and surrounding areas will be funded and maintained over the years. Weekly maintenance can make loose-fill options quite expensive over time. KaBOOM!, a national non-profit dedicated to bringing play to all kids, estimated that one school district spent an average of $6,000 per year per school maintaining playground wood chips. If there is no room in the budget for ongoing maintenance, a surface material that won't need to be replaced, replenished or raked to maintain safe levels of surfacing might be the best choice.

Different surfaces can also support and enhance different types of play. For example, poured-in-place rubber surfaces are a great option for play elements with motion and playground bouncers, while offering added safety benefits for the surface under playground climbing structures and overhead events. Or a combination of different playground surfaces may be the best option for your needs – using resilient tiles under slides and to create various accessible pathways and loose rubber across the rest of the playground.

Comparing Playground Surfacing Chart

Unitary Surfacing

Surfacing Type Advantages Disadvantages
Bond-in-Place Rubber
  • Extremely durable
  • High longevity
  • UV resistance
  • Many design options
  • Low maintenance requirements
  • Meets accessibility and safety standards
  • Made from 100% post-consumer recycled material; pebbles are made of 20% post-industrial recycled material, and are all recyclable
  • Requires certified installers
  • Weather-dependent installation
  • Higher initial investment
  • More challenging to repair or add/change playground elements
Poured-In-Place Rubber
  • Attractive and aesthetically pleasing
  • Many design options
  • Low maintenance requirements
  • High longevity
  • Low lifetime costs
  • Meets accessibility and safety standards
  • Environmentally friendly using recycled rubber tires
  • Require certified installers
  • Weather-dependent installation
  • Site preparation requirements
  • More challenging to repair or add/change playground elements
  • Higher initial investment
  • Must be regularly swept of debris or vacuum-cleaned to prevent compaction
Synthetic Turf
  • Looks natural and clean
  • Cooler surface temperatures
  • Available in a wide variety of colors and densities
  • Meets accessibility and safety standards
  • Moderate maintenance requirements
  • Moderate longevity
  • Low lifetime costs
  • Durable and able to withstand heavy traffic
  • Require certified installers
  • Higher initial investment
  • Site preparation requirements
Resilient Tiles
  • Low lifetime costs
  • Meets accessibility and safety standards
  • Moderate maintenance requirements
  • High longevity
  • Easy to clean
  • Stays in place
  • Easy to repair
  • Very durable
  • Many color and design options
  • Require certified installers
  • Higher initial investment
  • Site preparation requirements
  • Corners and edges may curl over time

Loose Fill

Surfacing Type Advantages Disadvantages
Loose Rubber
  • Meets accessibility and safety standards
  • Great impact absorption qualities
  • Limiting access for those in wheelchairs
  • More maintenance required to meet CPSC guidelines
  • Potential fire hazard
Sand
  • Less upfront cost
  • Low site preparation required
  • Natural
  • Great impact absorption qualities
  • Very limiting access for those in wheelchairs
  • More maintenance required to meet CPSC guidelines
  • Can hide sharp objects, insects and animal excrements.
  • Impacted by high humidity and freezing temperatures
Pea Gravel
  • Less upfront cost
  • Low site preparation required
  • Easy to install
  • Natural and non-toxic
  • Limiting access for those in wheelchairs and difficult to walk on
  • More maintenance required to meet CPSC guidelines
  • Potential choking hazard for young playground visitors
  • Can be thrown, scattered and tracked
  • Can hide sharp objects
Wood Chip
  • Low lifetime costs
  • Less upfront cost
  • Easy to install
  • Natural aesthetically pleasing look
  • Low site preparation required
  • Good shock absorbency
  • More maintenance required to meet CPSC guidelines
  • Bio-degrades, compacts and decomposes over time
  • Can hide sharp objects, insects and animal waste
Engineered Wood Fiber (EWF) or rubber mulch
  • Eco-friendly
  • Economical with low initial costs
  • Meets accessibility and safety standards
  • Low site preparation required
  • Stays in place better than other loose-fill material
  • Fairly durable
  • High level of regular maintenance
  • High lifetime costs
  • Microbial growth when wet
  • Proper drainage system needed to prevent decay rate and keep the surface more resilient during colder weather
  • Design limiting