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 promoting 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 floor 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:
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:
- Affordability: 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 without compromising children’s safety.
- Safety: The CPSC offers guidelines for safety regulations that some authorities require playgrounds to meet. Even if not required in your area, it’s a good idea to design to these standards. They call for playground surfacing material that meets certain fall protection guidelines from the highest level of the playground structure. Have your playground inspected and audited by a Certified Playground Safety Inspector (CPSI), who is designated by the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA).
- Appearance: The appearance of your outdoor or indoor safety 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. Similarly, different color surfacing can designate different areas of play.
- Availability: 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.
- Accessibility: Passed by Congress in 1990, the Americans With Disabilities Act or ADA addresses the needs of people with disabilities. This law still has a significant impact on the design and construction of public playgrounds. The ADA outlines that playground surfacing options must be suitable to accommodate all individuals, including those using wheelchairs or crutches. Look for a playground equipment manufacturer that prioritizes and exceeds the ADA’s regulatory specifications.
- Age-appropriateness: Your primary user’s age group can also guide you when choosing a surfacing material. For example, rubber mulch pieces could be small enough to present a choking hazard for infants and toddlers. Fixed surfacing or materials with individual elements in larger sizes would likely represent a better choice for this age group.
- Installation timeline: Factors like supply chain disruptions, site accessibility, and the installation’s size and depth can impact your completion date. Use your desired timeline to inform your decisions and help you meet your installation goals.
- Maintenance: Playground surfacing handles a lot of kid traffic, subjecting it to displacement, spills, and leftover food. Surfacing that doesn’t meet the correct depth may not provide adequate impact protection. Food or beverage spills left unattended could cause allergic reactions in some kids. When choosing your playground floor material, consider its upkeep needs and whether you have enough staff to perform them.
Unitary Versus Loose-Fill Playground Surfacing
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.
Unitary surfacing material is a more fixed form of ground covering, such as rubber tiles or poured-in-place surfacing. With unitary surfacing, materials bind or connect together for relatively smooth navigation.
These options are beneficial because they accommodate 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. As a result, you can create a more inclusive playground experience for those of all abilities.
Pros and Cons of Unitary Surfacing
Unitary playground surfacing comes with a wide range of benefits:
- Attractive appearance: Many options come in various colors and shapes to add aesthetic appeal to your space.
- Grip for safety: Selections like pour-in-place surfacing and rubber tiles often include a textured outer layer for improved traction.
- Durability in all conditions: Although unitary surfacing may be more expensive to install initially, it offers easy maintenance and a long life span to help offset those upfront costs.
- Ease of accommodating ADA requirements: Since it provides a smoother and more stable surface, this material can help you meet ADA accessibility standards.
- Sustainability: Options using recycled materials contribute to more environmental friendliness.
Disadvantages to choosing unitary playground surfaces include:
- Its higher purchase and installation costs.
- The specialized knowledge required for installation.
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.
These options commonly require more upkeep to follow ADA accessibility guidelines. 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.
Pros and Cons of Loose-Fill Surfacing
Loose playground surfacing materials have many advantages:
- Easy to install: Loose-fill surfacing generally requires no specialized installation techniques or tools.
- Readily available: These materials are easy to find from numerous suppliers.
- Cost-effective: Loose-fill options typically fit many budget points, and bulk pricing discounts may be available to stretch dollars further.
- Quality impact attenuation: When kept at the recommended depth, loose-fill surfacing helps provide impact absorption, potentially reducing the risk of injury.
- Effective drainage: Since it’s more permeable by nature, loose-fill surfacing can help promote better drainage and reduce standing-water concerns on outdoor playground floors.
Disadvantages of loose playground surfacing include:
- Its tendency to compact under high traffic or wet conditions.
- The necessity of continuous maintenance.
- The difficulties of navigating it with a wheelchair or other mobility device.
- Its ability to conceal buried hazards, such as animal waste, food waste, and broken glass.
Playground Surface Options
Both unitary and loose-fill surfacing have multiple options to choose from, and either type may work for your application. Since each has its advantages and drawbacks, it’s best to familiarize yourself with the pros and cons of the materials to choose the one best for meeting your unique playground needs.
No Fault® Pour in Place Surfacing
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.
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.
Rubber Nuggets Surfacing
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.
FIND A LITTLE TIKES COMMERCIAL REPRESENTATIVE TODAY
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.