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Any community can benefit from installing playgrounds for kids and families to gather. However, playground surfacing might not be the first thing that comes to their mind when trying to create safe spaces for children to play. The truth is, surfacing is one of the most important things about playgrounds for children. The ideal playground surface is one that is made from long-lasting, shock-absorbing materials. With a soft material to catch them, parents won’t have to worry about their children getting injured whenever they fall.

This is a complete guide to playground surfacing. Once you go through it, you will learn how to give children safe grounds to play and have fun.

Playground Surfacing Options

When choosing the best playground surface materials, you could go for loose-fill or unitary.

  • Loose-fill surfaces have small, individual pieces. Sand, wood chips, shredded rubber, pea gravel, and engineered wood fiber are some examples of loose-fill surfaces.
  • Unitary materials include rubber tiles, synthetic turf, and pour-in rubber surfaces.

Neither of these categories are superior to the other. You can use a material of either kind and have a safe surface for children of all ages to play on. The type of surface you choose also depends on your needs. In the next session, we will take a close look at various surfaces to help you decide.

1. Wood Chips

Mulch or wood chips fall under loose-fill material that you can use for landscaping or beneath playground equipment. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), you must only use wood chips without chromate copper arsenate. As a playground owner, your wood chips must be filled to 9 inches and above the ground underneath. That is because when wood chips do not have enough depth, they can get displaced. Mulch and wood chips are good options since they are easy to find. Also, they don’t cost a lot of money to install.

Unfortunately, despite their many benefits, wood chips are not ADA-compliant. Thus, the material has some limitations. You must always monitor your wood chips to ascertain that they are deep enough to protect children from a fall. If their depth falls to below 9 inches, more chips need to be added.

2. Sand

Like mulch or wood chips, good sand is another affordable loose-fill option. It is does not cost a lot of money, and it is easy to install. However, you must be careful not to use sand in playgrounds with a fall height greater than four feet.

  • The fall height is the distance between the ground beneath and the highest section of a given play surface.

Aside from the fact that most children enjoy playing in the sand, it is very easy to maintain. Again, like wood chips, the ADA doesn’t recommend sand. That is because it can conceal dangerous objects such as broken glass.

3. Pea Gravel

Pea gravel is made of round, tiny pebbles. It is not an expensive loose-fill option. However, you must never use pea gravel in playgrounds with a fall height higher than five feet. It is important to note that the only benefit associated with pea gravel is its affordability.

Otherwise, this material presents some serious risks when used as a surfacing material for playgrounds. Children are likely to throw the small pebbles or even try to eat them. Pea Gravel has a high maintenance requirement and is also not ADA-compliant.

4. Shredded Rubber

This is a type of mulch that is made from recycled tires. It is another good option if you are looking for an affordable loose-fill surfacing material.

Shredded rubber is ADA-compliant, so you shouldn’t have any problem using it to make a safe playground. It will not cost a lot of money to install either. Note that since it is a loose-fill material, you need to monitor it at all times to ensure the correct depth is maintained.

5. Pour-In-Place Rubber

Also known as PIP, pour-in-place rubber falls under the synthetic unitary surface category. PIP will always be mixed on-site and then poured in places where you need a fall cushioning surface. PIP comes in a wide range of colors, unique shapes, patterns, etc.

When using a PIP surface, you can go for something that matches your workplace theme or playground. Note that PIP is one of the best playground surfaces you can ever go for. It has many benefits which includes:

  • Durability
  • ADA-approval
  • Permanent surfacing solution
  • Smooth, attractive appearance
  • Excellent shock absorption
  • Low maintenance cost

6. Modular Tiles

Just like PIP surfaces, modular tiles are synthetic and fall under unitary surface materials. The tiles come shaped in 2-by-2 foot squares. You will then have them installed with long-lasting subsurface chips.

Most people go for modular tiles since they offer reasonable solutions for many business owners that are looking for beautiful and compliant surfacing for a playground. Like PIP surfaces, module rubber tiles come with many benefits, such as:

  • Easy maintenance and repair
  • ADA-approval
  • Fast and easy installation
  • A wide range of available colors

7. Engineered Wood Fiber

Also known as EWF, engineered wood fiber is a loose fil material that is quite similar to wood chips. However, Engineered Wood Turf is designed and manufactured for playground use. Like other types of loose-fill materials, you must ensure that EWF has proper depth since the pieces can get displaced.

The good thing about EWF material is that, unlike other loose-fill materials, it does not attract insects. It is also ADA-approved, so you can be sure that it is a recommendable surfacing option. You can use EWF on playgrounds with fall heights of up to ten feet, which is why it is a better choice compared to other types of loose-fill materials.

8. Synthetic Turf

Synthetic turf features artificial grass blades and rubber. You might have seen synthetic turf used in many athletic fields, but you can also use it to surface playgrounds for children.

As long as it is installed correctly, synthetic turf is ADA-compliant and will not get displaced. Note that while synthetic turf is readily available, it comes in limited designs and colors.

Key Takeaways

After all the planning that goes into creating a safe playground, it is understandable to think that you have made the best choices when it comes to safety. If it is not ADA-compliant, however, it might not be the right solution. Feel free to use any of the options mentioned above, provided they meet your unique requirements. You can never go wrong with synthetic turf and engineered wood fiber. If you have to use loose-fill materials, remember to always keep checking to maintain proper depth.

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