Playground Surfacing

If you’re building a commercial playground, what goes under your playground equipment can be just as important as the equipment itself.

We’re talking about impact attenuating safety surfacing.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) estimates that 500,000 injuries occur on playgrounds each year, and 44% of these injuries are caused by falls. Proper safety surfacing reduces the risk of serious head injury and is required under most playground equipment.

But that’s not all. Surfacing is also important for ensuring accessibility and inclusivity. The right playground surface can make your commercial playground compliant with Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) guidelines, but designing an inclusive playground means going a step above and creating a surface that children of all capabilities can easily navigate.

When choosing playground material, you’ll need to consider your budget, the size of your playground, the type of play equipment in your space, and how your play area will be used. If you are unsure, the play professionals at Little Tikes Commercial are happy to assist you!

Jump to a specific section to learn more:

Playground Surfacing

Unitary Surfacing

Unitary surfacing material is a more fixed form of ground covering, such as rubber tiles or poured-in-place surfacing. This option is beneficial because it accommodates children and guardians with wheelchairs or other mobility devices as well as those who are fully able to get around easily. It also does not move around like loose fill, making for a more stable surface.


No Fault® Poured in Place surfacing is one option when it comes to unitary surfacing materials. No Fault® Poured in Place is made from rubber granules derived from EPDM/TPV and is covered by a layer of material made from polymer and recycled tires. Since it is poured in place at your playground, there are no seams or gaps. No Fault® Poured in Place also offers these benefits:

  • It is designed to offer fall height protection for children.
  • It is flexible and can be used to create different designs and patterns, so your outdoor or indoor playground surfacing design can be used to designate different types of play areas.
  • It is backed by a warranty.
  • It offers a seamless surface to reduce the risk of trip-and-fall and slip-and-fall injuries.
  • It is ADA-approved.
  • It can be used for indoor and outdoor playgrounds.
  • It is installed by professionals for a safe finish.

Rubber Tiles

Another option when it comes to unitary surfacing is rubber tiles. These interlocking tiles are made thick for added safety and come in connecting squares so you can easily cover your entire playground. This surfacing can offer some cushioning for light falls.

Rubber tiles offer several benefits:

  • They typically require no special tools for installation, and interlocking tabs make them easy to align.
  • The design reduces the risk of shifting, curling, and gaps in the tiles.
  • They can help offer fall height protection.
  • They offer the ability to fully cover your playground area.
  • They are available in multiple colors that you can mix and match, allowing you to create a unified surface or a pattern, or design with the tiles.
Landsoft Rubber nuggets

Playground Surfacing

Loose Fill Playground Surfacing

Loose fill surfacing is made up of small components, such as engineered wood fiber (EWF) or rubber mulch. This surface moves around and is not solid like unitary surfacing options. Loose fill is the traditional and budget-friendly option and can be a strong choice for non-traditional playground equipment where unitary surfacing does not offer the best protection.

As long as you are willing to commit to the maintenance to keep loose fill at the proper depth, this can be a strong option for commercial playgrounds.

Rubber Nuggets

If you’re considering loose fill, Landsoft™ Rubber Nuggets surfacing is one of the best options. These non-toxic nuggets are delivered in large quantities and come in a variety of colors you can use individually or in combination to achieve a unique look. There are many reasons to choose loose fill rubber playground materials for your playground. The benefits include:

  • It is non-toxic, so it is safe for children and pets.
  • It is constructed from recycled tires, so it is an environmentally friendly playground surfacing option.
  • It has superior shock absorption to protect from injuries from falls.
  • It can last years without the need for additional maintenance or replacement.
  • It is cost-efficient.

Engineered Wood Fiber Surfacing

Another type of loose fill playground surface option, engineered wood fiber, is a common natural choice for playground surfacing. To make engineered wood fiber, wood is ground to a fiber and then processed so it knits together, creating a soft, loose fill surface. It provides a natural look, which is great when paired with natural-themed playground equipment.

The pros of including engineered wood fiber as your playground surfacing include:

  • It has a high level of water absorbency.
  • It has low upfront installation costs.
  • It can be topped off before needing a full replacement.
  • It can last years if the area has proper drainage.

Playground Surfacing

Factors to Consider When Choosing Playground Surface Options

Today’s playground equipment and indoor playground surfacing materials are designed for safety. While playground surfaces like sand, gravel, and even concrete dominated the market in the past, softer surface options are now the go-to choice for playgrounds across the U.S.

How do you know what playground surfacing materials are right for your space? No two playgrounds are the same. Some are positioned on flat lots, while others have areas of hilly terrain to account for. Depending on where the playground is located, you may have to consider factors such as drainage, climate, or sun and shade patterns. All playgrounds have their own parameters.

Choosing the right playground surface for your space involves considering these main factors:


Based on the kids that use your playground and the playground equipment, different surfacing options might provide a safer play experience than others. Whether kids are running, jumping or riding in the playground, they deserve to stretch their limits safely.


For any playground project — whether it’s a middle school playground or daycare play area — there are budget specifications in place. Playground surfacing comes in a wide range of prices. It’s important to talk to your playground manufacturer about surface options that are within your budget, but that don’t compromise safety.


The appearance of your playground surfacing material is also important to consider. The right material can show your attention to detail and tie the aesthetics or theme of the playground together for everyone to enjoy.


Choosing a playground equipment manufacturer who is responsive to your needs is crucial. In case questions arise or your playground surface requires maintenance, you want to make sure a professional is readily available.


Passed by Congress in 1990, the Department of Justice established the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) to address the needs of people with disabilities. This law still has a significant impact on how public playgrounds are designed. The ADA outlines that playground surfacing options must be suitable to accommodate all individuals, including those in wheelchairs or on crutches.

unitary pros cons

Playground Surfacing

Selecting a Playground Surface

  • When choosing what type of surfacing to use for your project, consider the following:
    • Does your budget allow for ongoing care and maintenance?
    • Will the playground surfacing materials you choose fit your playground’s design and theme?
    • What age group is the playground designed to accommodate?
    • Is the surfacing material soft enough to lessen the impact of a child’s fall?
    • What is your project’s installation timeline?

Playground Surfacing

Pros and Cons of Loose vs. Unitary Materials for Playground Surfaces

Certain playground surfaces can improve accessibility for visitors with mobility challenges and increase the playground’s overall safety. Because almost half of all playground injuries are the result of falls, playground surfaces must be soft and thick enough to cushion the impact of a child’s fall.

When it comes to surface options for your playground, you can generally choose from two options — unitary or loose fill materials. Before selecting a unitary or loose fill option for your playground, it’s essential to consider the pros and cons of each.

Loose Playground Surfacing Advantages

  • Easy to install
  • Readily available
  • Cost-effective
  • Quality impact attenuation

Disadvantages Of Loose Playground Surfacing

  • Tendency to compact under high traffic or wet conditions
    Continuous maintenance

Unitary Playground Surfacing Benefits

  • Attractive appearance
  • Grip for safety
  • Durability in all conditions
  • Easy to accommodate ADA requirements

Disadvantages Of Unitary Playground Surfaces 

  • Higher purchase and installation costs
  • Specialized knowledge required for installation


Little Tikes Commercial has a commitment to safety, and our equipment meets or exceeds the regulations of the leading playground safety organizations. This commitment extends from initial design to installation and maintenance to create a space where children can safely play, learn, and grow.

If you’d like to discuss your surfacing options to incorporate with your new playground or you’re ready to make your current commercial playground a safer place for children to play on, find a Little Tikes Commercial rep near you. We can help you with playground design and help you choose the right surfacing options for your playground and your community.

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