You'll need surfacing material under and around your playground equipment to ensure safe play. Find out why and learn about your options here.

Surfacing 101

The surfacing under and around playground equipment is one of the most important factors in reducing the likelihood of life-threatening head injuries. The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) and American Society for Testing and Materials International (ASTM) provide specific guidance on suitable surfacing material usage depending on the fall heights, sub base composition, and intended age range for users of your playground. In order to provide the safest play areas, we only select safety surfacing materials which comply with CPSC guidance and that have been tested and comply with the appropriate ASTM standards.

Playgrounds should never be installed without impact attenuating protective surfacing of some type. Concrete, asphalt or other hard surfaces should never be directly under playground equipment. Grass and dirt are not considered protective surfacing because wear and environmental factors can reduce their shock absorbing effectiveness. Carpeting and mats are also not appropriate unless they have been tested to comply with ASTM F1292. Loose fill surfacing should be avoided for playgrounds intended for toddlers. Some injuries from falls, including broken limbs, may occur no matter what playground safety surfacing material is used.

Surfacing Options

Your surfacing choices often depend on your budget.

Loose Fill Surfacing Options:

Engineered Wood Fiber (EWF)

EWF is a wood product that may look similar in appearance to landscaping mulch, but EWF products are designed specifically for use as a playground safety surface. This surfacing is the most inexpensive option, but requires the most upkeep. EWF will compress at least 25% over time due to use and weathering. EWF also requires frequent maintenance to ensure surfacing levels never drop below the minimum depth indicated in the CPSC Handbook for Public Playground Safety. The perimeter of the playground should provide a method of containing the surfacing materials, and good drainage is essential to reducing material compaction and decomposition.

Recycled Loose Fill Rubber (Rubber Mulch)

Rubber mulch, on the other hand, is more expensive than EWF but requires much less maintenance. It won't compact over time or need to be "topped off" nearly as often. It's also a safer alternative to engineered wood fiber. Rubber mulch is made from 100% clean recycled car tire material, and offer the highest impact absorbing ratings of all loose fill surfacing options. It also offers more color choice options than EWF. It is ADA compliant for wheelchair accessibility, and a 6-inch deep layer of rubber mulch will cushion a child's fall from as high as 16 feet.

Rubber mulch is a more expensive upfront cost than EWF, but may actually be a more economical solution than EWF since it doesn't splinter and is resistant to compression, decomposition, insect and animal infestation, wind and water erosion, and fading caused by sunlight. Rubber mulch lasts up to 10 times longer than EWF and retains its color while not staining clothes or skin, even in the rain. Since rubber mulch doesn't compact or decompose like EWF, it lasts much longer, saving not only the costs of the mulch itself to "top off" every year, but also the labor to spread it, which can amount to nearly a 65% savings over 5 years compared to EWF.

Unitary Surfacing Options:

Synthetic Turf

Synthetic turf presents a fantastic option that brings a great, natural appearance to the playground surfacing, without the allergens associated with natural grass, and without the need to water or mow. It is made with non-abrasive material to reduce the cuts and scrapes normally associated with loose-fill surface materials like rubber mulch and EWF. Our turf products are ASTM tested and compliant, and engineered to drain quickly. Turf is a low maintenance surfacing option, as it does not displace and resistant to wear and tear. Like other unitary surfaces, turf presents a great option for ADA accessibility to play structures and equipment.

Turf installations include two layers — cushion layer and the top (turf) layer — with multiple options for infill material. There are several options for face weights and pile heights to suit your needs, and all our turf installs are completely by experienced and professional installation crews. Like other unitary surfacing solutions, turf is a more expensive option than loose fill materials, but turf offers ownership benefits that loose fill materials do not. Talk to a sales representative to see if synthetic turf is a good option for your playground area.

Recycled Rubber Tiles

Recycled rubber tiles are a great option for indoor and outdoor playground areas, and offer a wide variety of colors and thicknesses to suit your needs. Installed over a sub-base of concrete, asphalt or compacted aggregate (stone), tiles are available in either standard (individually glued to sub-base) or interlocking configurations, and require no on-site mixing. As a unitary surfacing option, tiles require far less maintenance than loose fill surfacing options, but sit at a higher price point. Like poured-in-place rubber applications, debris is often easily removed with a leaf blower, but unlike poured-in-place rubber, tiles may be repaired with the replacement of an individual tile, with no patching required.

Tiles come in a wide variety of color options and thicknesses, and present a great option for wheelchair accessibility. Talk to a sales representative today about the options best suited to your playground and safety needs.

Poured-in-Place (PIP) Rubber

This is the most popular surfacing choice for city park playgrounds. PIP is a two-layer safety surfacing — consisting of a cushioning layer made from clean recycled tire rubber, and a decorative top layer made of virgin rubber (EPDM or TPV) granules — that is poured in place at the playground site and then cured to form a unitary shock absorbing safety surface. PIP is installed with different thicknesses determined by the maximum fall height of the playground equipment and structures.

PIP surfacing presents some of the most versatile options for colors, designs, themes and graphics of the available surfacing options. PIP is a seamless surfacing material which is typically sloped to ground level, presenting terrific access to the play space. As such, PIP surfacing is highly ADA accessible. It also presents great ownership value in terms of maintenance. As a unitary material, PIP does not displace, so there is no need to be constantly maintained like loose fill surfacing. Loose debris on the playground can often be cleared with a simple leaf blower, but PIP surfacing should only be properly cleaned with manufacturer approved cleaning solutions.

PIP materials are installed over a stable sub-base of either concrete, asphalt or crushed stone. Poured-in-place materials must be installed within a particular temperature range by an experienced professional installer; you cannot install them yourself. Most PIP surfacing products come with a 5 year or longer warranty. The typical lifetime of PIP surfacing ranges from 8 to 15 years, depending on the level of use. Although PIP is one of the most expensive options, it is also one of the most versatile, durable and visually attractive.

How Much Do I Need?

How much safety surfacing you need depends on two factors: the use zone for your structure and the fall height. The higher the possible fall, the more surfacing you'll need.

For average playgrounds, you'll need between 6-9 inches of rubber mulch or 9-12 inches (compacted) of engineered wood fiber.

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