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Understanding the different types of playground surfaces

When it comes to choosing a safe surface for public playgrounds such as schools or parks, there are several options to consider that are both safe and inclusive. These options are grouped into two major categories of surfacing: unitary and loose-fill.

Playground surfacing is a key factor to playground safety – according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, falls to the playground surface account for nearly 70 percent of all injuries. Installing playgrounds over dirt, grass, concrete or pavers with no safety surfacing are not safe options and can indeed be life-threatening. To minimize risk and improve playground safety, playground flooring must be soft enough and thick enough to lessen the impact of a child’s fall.

Along with increased safety, certain playground surfaces also improve accessibility for playground visitors with mobility challenges. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which governs public playgrounds, requires that ground cover materials must accommodate all people, including physically challenged people who have mobility and footing issues such as people on crutches or in wheelchairs. 

The different types of unitary material playground surfaces include:

    • Synthetic Playground Grass
    • Pour-in-place Rubber
    • Rubber Mats
    • Tiles

Unitary surfaces include synthetic playground grass or turf, poured-in-place rubber, bond-in-place rubber, and interlocking resilient tiles – all with protective under-padding to help protect against falls. While the up-front cost is higher than loose-fill surfacing, unitary surfacing can be cheaper in the long run due to its high durability and low maintenance costs. Unitary surfacing is also extremely safe and guarantees complete accessibility and ease-of-use for physically challenged children and adults. Synthetic Grass and Poured-in-place and bond-in-place rubberized surfacing is also available in a wide variety of colors and shapes to make playgrounds more attractive to children and parents. Unitary surfacing design can also be leveraged to introduce additional games, sensory elements and play events ca to a play area bringing another added benefit to this surfacing solution.

The different types of loose-fill playground surfaces include:

    • Rubber Mulch
    • Wood Chips

Rubber mulch and engineered wood fiber (EWF), playground sand, pea gravel and other bulk materials are considered loose-fill material. However, many Owners are looking to excavate and replace the latter materials – pea gravel, sand – as it is dated, messy and not ADA compliant. While loose-fill material has the least expensive upfront costs and is easy to install, it also requires more frequent maintenance to stay within safety and ADA guidelines.

Loose-fill materials will compress at least 25 percent over time due to use and weathering. Additionally, materials must be replenished to ensure the surfacing system remains at the appropriate depth to adequately cushion falls. Generally speaking, 12 inches of loose fill material is recommended under and around playground equipment. Things like shards of glass, other sharp objects or animal waste can get buried in the loose material posing a potential hazard requiring the material to be replenished and/or replaced from time to time.

Get Started by speaking with a Byrne & Jones Playground Expert

If you are interested in learning more about designing and building a recreational or playground space you can reach out to us at  (314) 254-9766 and ask to speak with a playground expert. We will break down the entire process for you and help you choose the best products for your project. Make the world a better place by building inclusive play environments for children and let us help you along the way.

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