10 Things to Consider When Choosing Playground Surfacing

The safety of children is paramount, especially when they enjoy the fun and excitement of a playground. An essential aspect of this safety is the surfacing used beneath playground equipment.

This article delves into the various playground surfacing options and the considerations when picking the right surface and material. We also provide tips on selecting the best playground equipment that complements your chosen surface.

Playground Surfacing Options

The safety of a playground extends beyond the firm surface of the equipment to the surface below. This surface cushion falls, ensures accessibility, requires maintenance and can enhance aesthetics.

With numerous options available, understanding each type is vital for an informed playground decision.

1. Engineered Wood Fiber (EWF)

This popular loose-fill material made from shredded wood provides good fall protection and is ADA-compliant. It is environmentally friendly and requires minimal maintenance.

2. Loose Fill Materials

These are materials like pea gravel, wood chips, rubber mulch, and sand. They are cost-effective and offer flexibility in depth and coverage. However, they can be displaced and may require regular maintenance.

3. Synthetic Turf

This mimics the feel and look of natural grass. It's soft, provides a consistent surface, and is easy to maintain. Plus, there's no mud after rain!

4. Poured-in-Place 

These unitary surface materials offer a consistent, rubbery, and smooth surface. They're durable, easily customized, and can absorb shocks effectively.

5. Rubber Mulch

This loose-fill surfacing material is long-lasting and offers good cushioning made from shredded rubber ties.

Things to Consider When Choosing Playground Safety Surfacing

1. Safety

One of the leading causes of playground injuries is falls. It's crucial that all playground owners know that the chosen surfacing material can absorb shocks and prevent serious injuries.

Materials like EWF and poured-in-place rubber tiles are known for their shock-absorbing properties. Let's consider a playground that's intended primarily for toddlers. Since toddlers are more prone to falls and stumbles, the surfacing material should have excellent shock-absorbing qualities.

In such cases, poured-in-place rubber, which offers consistent cushioning and minimizes tripping hazards, could be an ideal choice.

2. Maintenance

Some surfaces, especially loose-fill surfaces, require more regular maintenance to ensure they stay safe and at their needed depth. Wood chips, a popular loose-fill surfacing material, may displace over time due to children playing or due to weather conditions.

This means periodic top-ups and levelling might be necessary. If a school or community has a tight budget or lacks regular maintenance personnel, they might opt for a more durable and low-maintenance option like synthetic turf.

3. Cost

While safety should never be compromised for cost, choosing a surfacing material that fits within your budget while meeting safety standards is vital. A local community might want to revamp a neighborhood playground. While poured-in-place rubber offers great safety features, it might be more expensive initially.

Suppose the community has an outdoor space but limited funds. In that case, they might lean towards a more budget-friendly option like Engineered Wood Fiber (EWF) but ensure it's deep enough to provide ample cushioning.

4. Accessibility

Ensure the chosen material is ADA-compliant, making the playground accessible to all children, including those with disabilities. A playground located in a school for children with special needs will prioritize accessibility.

Loose fill materials like pea gravel or sand might make it challenging for children in wheelchairs or with mobility devices. In such scenarios, a unitary surface material, which offers a smooth and consistent surface, would be the most durable material most suitable.

5. Durability

Opt for materials that can withstand the wear and tear of constant play and environmental factors like rain, sun, and snow. In a coastal area where playgrounds might be exposed to higher levels of humidity and salt in the air, certain materials like wood chips could degrade faster.

Instead, opting for rubber mulch or synthetic turf, which are more resistant to such environmental conditions, would provide better longevity.

6. Environment and Climate Compatibility

The local environment and prevailing weather conditions can significantly influence the performance and longevity of installing playground surfacing materials. Consider a playground situated in a region that experiences heavy rainfall.

Loose fill materials like sand or pea gravel might get washed away or compacted when wet. In such locales, poured-in-place rubber or synthetic turf, which offer better drainage and are less prone to displacement, would be more appropriate.

7. Aesthetic Appeal

While safety and functionality are paramount, the visual appeal of the playground surface also plays a role in creating an inviting play environment. For a themed playground, say in a maritime school with a maritime theme, blue synthetic turf might be selected to emulate the look of water, making the play area safe yet visually appealing and harmonious with its surroundings.

8. Versatility

Some play areas are multipurpose and cater to various activities. The surfacing should be versatile to accommodate different play dynamics.

A community center might have a playground that doubles as a venue for local events or fairs. In such a case, durable and flat surface-like unitary surfaces and materials would be preferable, as they can withstand both the rigor of play and the occasional setup of stalls or booths.

9. Installation Process

The complexity of installing the chosen playground surfacing can influence costs, timelines, and the overall quality of the finished play area. A school with a limited window during summer break to revamp its playground would benefit from surfacing materials that are quicker to install, like rubber tiles, which can be laid down much like regular tiles, saving time and reducing potential disruptions.

10. Environmental Impact

As we grow more conscious of our environmental footprint, the sustainability and eco-friendliness of playground surfacing materials become pertinent. Engineered Wood Fiber (EWF) is biodegradable and made from renewable resources.

A school or community aiming for a "green" or sustainable playground might lean towards such materials, ensuring their play area is safe for children and kind to the planet.

How To Choose The Right Playground Surface for a Play Area?

1. Consider the Age Group

Younger children might be more prone to falls, so a softer surface like EWF or synthetic turf might be ideal. A soft, cushioned surface like poured-in-place or rubber mats would be ideal for a playground designed for toddlers and preschoolers.

It minimizes the risk of injury from falls, which are common with this age group's wobbly steps and exploration habits. On the other hand, a playground meant for older children, say pre-teens, might opt for synthetic turf that can withstand more intense games like soccer or tag.

2. Evaluate the Play Equipment

The type and height of the play equipment will dictate the required depth and cushioning of your surfacing material. A playground boasting a tall climbing structure or slide would require a surfacing material with top-notch shock-absorbing capabilities.

When installed at an appropriate depth fall height, Engineered Wood Fiber (EWF) can provide protection from falls from certain heights. Conversely, a play area with ground-level activities, like sandboxes or mazes, might not need as much depth and could utilize rubber mulch or pea gravel.

3. Think About the Environment

Loose fill materials might get washed away or muddy in areas prone to rain. In such scenarios, unitary materials might be a better option.

Wood chips or other organic materials might rot or degrade quickly in a coastal town with frequent rain and humidity. In this situation, opting for rubber tiles or synthetic turf, which are less susceptible to moisture damage and provide efficient drainage, would be advantageous.

Conversely, natural materials like sand or pea gravel might be more fitting in arid regions as they won't dry out or become too hot as easily as black rubber might.

4. Longevity and Maintenance

Playground surfacing materials' lifespan and maintenance needs can vary widely. It's crucial to consider how frequently the material might need replacement or routine maintenance to retain its safety features and aesthetics.

If we take a busy urban park, which sees a high footfall every day, a low-maintenance, long-lasting material like poured-in-place rubber would be ideal. It offers a durable surface that requires minimal upkeep.

In contrast, a smaller playground in a rural community, with less frequent use, might get by with wood chips, even though they might need periodic replenishing.

5. Budget Constraints

Financial limitations can significantly influence the choice of surfacing. While initial installation costs are significant, it's also essential to consider long-term expenses related to maintenance and potential replacements.

Initial costs might be a pressing concern for a newly established daycare with limited funds. They might opt for a more budget-friendly option like pea gravel or sand, ensuring they install it at the proper depth for cushioning.

However, a well-funded private school might prioritize long-term benefits and invest in synthetic turf, which, while costlier upfront, can save expenses related to frequent maintenance or early replacement.

6. User Feedback and Preferences

Engaging with the community or primary users of the playground can provide invaluable insights into their preferences, which can guide the surfacing decision.

Before revamping a community playground, the local council decided to survey parents and children. They discover that most prefer a natural look and feel, leading them to choose Engineered Wood Fiber (EWF) over more synthetic-looking options.

Choose Simplified Playground Equipment for Safety Playground Surfaces

Choosing the right playground surfacing is essential for safety, accessibility, and enjoyment, so research thoroughly, weigh the pros and cons, and always prioritize children's safety. The type of playground equipment also plays a role in overall safety.

Opt for equipment that matches the protective qualities of your chosen surface, ensures easy supervision, and minimizes entrapment hazards. Remember, a happy child on a playground is a sight to behold, and ensuring their safety provides their happiness.

Simplified playground equipment fosters safer playground environments as they allow for predictable movement patterns, consequently facilitating the strategic placement of safety surfacing materials like rubber tile or engineered wood fiber, reducing the risk of severe playground injuries, and encouraging safer play habits among children. Our team understands the importance of playground designers in minimizing fall-related injuries and creating inviting play spaces that children love.

Whether you need assistance choosing a suitable, safe playground surface or require professional installation of the entire playground itself, we are here to help. Reach out to us today to discuss your specific playground surface needs, and let us create a safe and fun environment for children to play and thrive.


Can I mix different surfacing materials?

Yes, but ensure that the transition zones are safe and don't create tripping hazards.

How often should I inspect loose-fill surfaces?

This ensures the material remains at its recommended depth, ideally after every heavy use.

Are all rubber mulches safe?

Look for metal-free rubber mulch products that are explicitly designed for kids' safe playground use.

How does weather impact playground surfacing material?

Loose fill materials can be washed away or become compacted in heavy rain. Prolonged sun exposure might degrade some surfaces. It's essential to consider local weather patterns when choosing a surface.