There are many options to choose from when it comes to playground surfaces. Ranging in price, level of maintenance and replenishment requirements; there is a lot to take into consideration.
While safety should be the primary concern when considering playground surfaces, there are other factors to consider too, such as appearance, environmental impact and health and wellbeing of those using the playground.
Sand is a great, impact absorbing surface choice for a children’s playground. Sand is naturally soft, and fun to play in. The right type of sand must be sourced though – the sand which is best for impact absorption is not the same type of sand which is good for making sandcastles.
Why it’s Great: It’s sand, and everyone loves sand (except when it gets in your shoes!).
Problems: It can cover hazards (like broken glass) and animals might use it for a toilet!
Playground wood chip or bark nuggets are both great options for a playground surface. It offers good impact absorption for falls and trips. It also provides excellent drainage, so it is a great surface for year-round use. On top of this, it looks good.
This type of playground surface is easy to install, rakes out easily and requires little maintenance. It’s cost effective and it is person, animal and environmentally friendly – providing you choose a natural, un-dyed product.
Playground chip has a lifespan of around 2-3 years (bark nuggets 2-4 years) and may need occasional replenishment and maintenance during this time, depending on how well used the playground is. At the end of its life, it will need replacing, but it’s easy to dispose of. There is also the added benefit that as the playground wood chip slowly decomposes, it releases nutrients into the soil below.
Why it’s Great: It’s a safe, natural product which helps to improve its environment as it breaks down.
Problems: It must be replaced periodically as it decomposes.
Rubber cement, sometimes referred to as wet pour uses shredded rubber tyres which is ‘cemented’ in place using a special resin which creates a flat, fixed but spongey surface. This kind of surface is great for absorbing high impact falls and trips, and can be laid in different patterns and colours, making it a favourite at many playgrounds and childcare facilities.
There will be a higher initial investment for this kind of playground surface as it will require a trained professional to design and install it. More complex, colourful designs will be more expensive to install than simpler designs.
It is durable and long lasting and will not need much maintenance at all – maybe just a clean every now and then.
Why it’s Great: It’s springy and it can be made into colourful patterns or pictures. Low maintenance.
Problems: Rubber mulch might have environment and health implications, and initial high cost to install.
There are many options available and although this is by no means an exhaustive list, the three playground surfaces talked about in detail in this blog are three of the best.
As well as sand, playground wood chip and rubberised cement, the following options could also be considered:
Gravel – this can hurt and cause nasty cuts when fallen on
Natural Grass – heavy usage will kill the grass, leaving the playground with a soil surface prone to muddy puddles during wet weather
Grass Matting – installed over natural grass it can help the grass to be more durable
Artificial Grass – high installation cost, very little maintenance. Not ideal for a public playground though
The right solution for your playground might be obvious, e.g. a playground on a seafront might be best suited to sand, or a playground in the middle of a forest will be best suited to playground wood chip or bark. But there will be times when the right choice is not so obvious. The best advice would be to bear in mind that children are using the playground, so choose the most appropriate and safest (shock absorbing and toxic-free) surface available to you.
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