Are you getting ready to choose your playground surface but not too sure which option is right for you?
With so many different options available, you may be wondering which type of playground surface is best for your project. When it comes to surface material of playgrounds, there are four main types of materials available here in New Zealand: Woodchips, Interlocking PVC Tiles, Artificial Turf and Wet Pour Rubber. In this article, we will look at the advantages and disadvantages of each surface and hopefully help you find the right surface for your project.
Woodchip is a very popular and common option for playground surfacing because of its affordability and natural look. Woodchip is laid to a depth of 300mm that after compaction gives a minimum 200mm recommended depth. If you’re looking for an affordable and environmentally friendly playground surface, woodchips are an excellent choice.
Compared to other playground surfaces, woodchip is probably the cheapest which is why you can find it in most playgrounds. Another plus is that the material keeps a very even temperature, so on a nice sunny day, it’s not going to burn bare feet. The natural look of woodchips is also a characteristic of the surface that a lot of people like. It blends in well with outdoor environments and adds a nice texture element to a playground.
One of the biggest disadvantages to woodchip surfacing is that there are ongoing costs. The surface requires annual top tops to maintain the appropriate Critical Fall Height requirements and then replacing every 3 years. The other major disadvantage is that woodchip surfacing requires constant maintenance to keep the space safe and tidy because it is a loose material. Woodchips can really become a hassle to clean up and can often leave the space looking messy if it’s not frequently maintained. Woodchip surfaces are also not the most accessibility friendly. It can be difficult to manoeuvre over a woodchip surface for someone in a wheelchair or with disabilities.
Interlocking PVC Tiles:
Interlocking PVC tiles are also common in a lot of playgrounds, creating a surface that is engineered by interlocking these tiles together over a cushioned shock pad for added safety.
Interlocking PVC Tiles are low maintenance, which is why they make for such a popular play surface. Unlike a woodchip surface, they don’t move around and are fixed into the space. The cushioning shock pad underneath makes the surface comfortable and minimises the risk of injury. The tiles also offer a nice smooth and accessible surface for those with a disability.
There are a couple of downsides to Interlocking PVC Tiles. Firstly, they are not as durable as a seamless surface that has no joins. With time, tiles often come apart at the seams where they join, creating a bit of a safety hazard with lifted edges that can cause people to trip up. Interlocking Tiles also really only have one look, so if you are wanting more variety and creative freedom with your play surface design, this might not be the option for you. The last disadvantage with this play surface is that because the tiles are plastic, the surface does get quite hot and can end up being quite uncomfortable during a sunny day, so if you are considering installing Interlocking tiles in your space, we really suggest you consider some form of shading either from shade sails or utilising surrounding trees.
Artificial turf is a synthetic grass surface that has become quite popular because of its resemblance to real grass, only without the mess and dirt of the real thing. Artificial turf is usually installed over a layer of cushioned shock pad for added safety and can bring in a great pop of green colour to your playground.
Artificial turf is a very low maintenance surface. It doesn’t move around like woodchip and requires little to no effort to upkeep. Depending on the turf product you install, artificial turf can look very realistic and can even feel like nice lush grass. The natural look is definitely a very attractive feature of this surface and is a big reason why it’s so popular. This surface option is also great and easy to move around on for wheelchair accessibility, allowing people with a range of abilities to manoeuvre around the space.
The disadvantage of artificial turf is that it can start to come apart at the joins over time, especially in high traffic areas or where the surface gets a lot of wear. We often see this happening on features like mounds where children might often slide down on climb on, which is why we often recommend avoiding artificial turf on these elements, to avoid potential tripping hazards, and opting for a wet pour rubber surface instead. Another disadvantage is that artificial turf does get very hot in the sun, in fact, it’s probably the hottest out of the artificial playground surfaces out there. Like the interlocking PVC tiles, if you are looking at installing artificial turf in your project, we really suggest you consider installing shading, to protect from your surface getting too hot.
Wet Pour Rubber:
Wet pour rubber is a seamless rubber surface made from rubber granules that are mixed with a bonding agent to create a unique safety play surface. Wet pour rubber surfacing is installed in two parts. First, a cushioned shock pad layer is laid out and set, for that added safety element, followed by a colourful top layer that is customizable to your design.
Compared to other play surfacing options, wet pour rubber gives you the most creative freedom in terms of aesthetics and design. There is a range of colours available to choose from. You could even combine some together to create your own unique blend allowing you to fully personalise your project. Along with the colour range, wet pour rubber also gives you the ability to create shapes, curves, lines, mounds, steppers, whatever design you want, which makes this surface the ideal material for designers to work with when planning a play space. Wet pour rubber requires very little maintenance. The surface is hard-wearing and highly durable, able to withstand volatile weather and a whole lot of traffic. It also makes for a great smooth wheelchair accessible surface.
A disadvantage we commonly find with wet pour rubber is that like other artificial surfaces, it can get hot; so, like the others, if you are thinking about installing wet pour rubber in an area that is exposed to a lot of sun, you should consider some form of shading. Another disadvantage to a wet pour rubber surface is the high initial cost when compared to other play surfaces. Wet pour rubber tends to be more expensive than other options, which can mean that this might not be an affordable option within the budget of some projects. In saying that, when you consider the durability of the surface and the lack of maintenance cost to upkeep it, you will find that it has a similar cost over the long term as some of the other surfacing options. Wet pour rubber lasts a long time, and you aren’t likely to need upkeep or replacing for many years.