Types of Play Surfacing

Playground surfacing provides a cushioned layer between play surfacing equipment and the ground to prevent minor falls from becoming severe injuries like concussions, dislocations and fractures. It’s important to understand the different surface options available to choose the best playground surfacing material for your space. It’s also crucial to stay updated on new research regarding the safety of playground surfaces to ensure your equipment and surfacing are meeting the highest standards.

The type of surfacing you choose for your playground will depend on many factors, including how heavily the area is used and whether it’s indoor or outdoor. The surfacing material you select should meet ASTM (American Society for Testing and Materials) guidelines, be long-lasting, and provide adequate shock absorption to protect children from serious injury.

There are three main types of unitary surfacing materials that are commonly used in playgrounds. Poured in place rubber (PIP), poured or loose-fill rubber mulch, and rubber tiles are all excellent choices for playgrounds. Each option has its own unique benefits, cost, and ADA accessibility.

PIP is a safe, durable, and long-lasting surface that can be made into shapes and inlaid with graphics to create a themed playground. It’s the most popular surfacing option for ADA accessible playgrounds and comes in a variety of colors. It’s also an excellent choice for reducing noise and vibrations, which can cause children to fall asleep or become disoriented during play. It requires professional installation and can be costly up-front, but it offers low maintenance costs and durability over the life of the playground.

Loose fill rubber mulch is a safe and affordable alternative to wood mulch. It’s made from recycled tire rubber, is clean and odorless, and will not leach into groundwater. This surfacing should be raked and fluffed regularly to remove any debris that could potentially pose hazards, as well as topped off and replaced when needed.

Recycled loose-fill rubber surfacing is an environmentally friendly option that can be made from 100 percent recycled rubber chunks or a blend of recycled and natural materials. It’s a good choice for ADA accessible playgrounds, as it can be raked and topped off to maintain appropriate minimum depths over time. It’s important to note that if you use a recycled loose-fill rubber surface, it must be tested regularly to ensure the proper shock attenuation.

Engineered wood fiber, or EWF, is another natural loose-fill surfacing option that can be raked and topped off as needed for debris removal and to maintain an appropriate depth over time. It’s an inexpensive, biodegradable and aesthetically pleasing choice that works well with natural-themed playgrounds. However, it’s important to know that EWF is not as shock absorbent as its wood counterpart and may require more frequent top-offs and replacement than other loose-fill surfacing materials. It should also be tested regularly for potential toxins and other hazards.