Commercial Manufacturer FAQ

What are the advantages and disadvantages of engineered wood fiber (EWF) as a playground resilient surfacing?

Engineered wood fiber (EWF) is a premium loose-fill material processed from new or virgin wood. Engineered wood fiber does not contain any twigs or leaves. Engineered wood fiber has excellent fall height properties. With a depth of 300 mm (11.81 in), a passing fall height of 3 m (118.11 in) is often possible when conducting surface impact testing.

Engineered wood fiber has many advantages. It is easy to maintain. It is wheelchair accessible, free of contaminants, disperses, and scatters less than other aggregates because it knits together. Engineered wood fiber tends to be more durable than plain wood chips and is less abrasive on your playground than sand and pea gravel. It also can help retard insect infestation and fungal growth.

The upfront cost for engineered wood fiber is more expensive than other natural aggregates. Like other loose-fill, it can hide foreign objects. High humidity, moisture, and freezing reduce its resiliency. It can also decompose over time and may support microbial growth.

Make sure your EWF complies with ASTM F2075. Compliance with this standard checks for sieve analysis, foreign metal objects like nails and staples, and hazardous metals like mercury, arsenic, and lead. To know if the EWF you are considering purchasing is wheelchair accessible; obtain a recent ASTM F1951 test result showing it passes for accessibility. Your surfacing manufacturer or dealer will provide you with installation and maintenance instructions to install and maintain your accessible surface to meet ADA requirements.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of wood chips as a playground resilient surfacing?

Wood chips are a loose-fill material composed of small chunks of wood from trees and typically do not contain twigs and leaves. New wood chips look like freshly chopped up natural wood, not the garden mulch people are used to seeing. Wood chips should be free of CCA and other forms of chemical treatment. Wood chips should come from trees and not chipped up wooden pallets containing nails and other hazards. A passing fall height of 3 m (118.11 in) or more can be obtained with wood chips when doing surface impact testing on a 300 mm (11.81 in) depth.

Wood chips are aesthetically pleasing compared to sand. The cost is relatively low, but it depends on your location. The nice thing about wood chips is that it is easy to maintain. Wood chips can also retard insect infestation and fungal growth.

Disadvantages reside around the chips being thrown, displaced, and can hide foreign objects such as broken glass. Freezing temperatures mixed with high moisture and humidity can reduce the resiliency of wood chips.

Wood chips cost more to maintain because of scattering, cleaning up, removing foreign objects, and topping up every 1 to 3 years.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of sand playground resilient surfacing?

Sand is a loose-fill aggregate composed of small particles of varying sizes. Depending on where you live, sand can be one of the most economical choices for resilient surfacing you can get. Sand can be an excellent non-compacting surface. However, sand has many different particle sizes and shapes and base rock compositions. Some types of sand are designed for compaction and are unsuitable for playground use. When dealing with your aggregate supplier, clearly specify that the sand is for a playground’s resilient surface.

Sand is easy to install; it is durable, non-flammable, and does not grow mold or microbes.

A significant disadvantage is that wheelchairs cannot traverse it. Children often pick it up and throw it, which gets into people’s eyes or mouth. Sand also tends to get into shoes and stick to your skin. It can hide animal droppings and other objects. Sand is abrasive and hard on your playground’s painted surfaces and can wear the paint off in high traffic areas. Sand tends to blow and scatter around and tracked into buildings on shoes, causing damage to floors. Most sands retain moisture and freeze solid in cold temperatures. Alternatively, sand gets hot from direct exposure to the sun in warm temperatures.

Due to scattering, displacement, top-ups, and its tendency to hide foreign objects, sand costs more to maintain than unitary materials such as rubber. Depending on your site conditions, sand may require topping up to replace lost sand every 1 to 3 years. 

What are the advantages and disadvantages of pea stone/gravel playground resilient surfacing?

Pea gravel is a loose-fill aggregate that is available in most locations. Pea gravel is a small stone that has a smooth rounded shape, hence the name pea stone. (see image below). A passing fall height of 2.5 m (98.43 in) is often possible when doing surface impact testing on a 300 mm (11.81 in) depth.

The advantages of pea stone are like sand. This material has the added advantage of providing better drainage and is less attractive for animals as a dumping ground.

Pea stone can be easily dispersed, thrown and can create a tripping hazard on hard surfaces such as asphalt and concrete. It can also get lodged in the noses and ears of younger children, and sometimes young children swallowed it. Like sand and other loose-fill materials, pea stone can hide foreign objects. Wheelchairs cannot traverse this material either. Pea gravel is particularly susceptible to the formation of “hardpan.” Hardpan is a condition where the material becomes very hard just below the surface’s top due to contamination. Freezing temperatures, coupled with high moisture and humidity, can reduce the resiliency of pea gravel. Pea stone tends to heat up in the direct sun.

Like sand, pea gravel has a higher associated maintenance and inspection cost. This material tends to scatter and must be topped up every 1 to 2 years to maintain your surfacing resiliency.  You will also need to inspect the material for foreign objects and check for “hard panning,” which needs breaking up with a rototiller. You will often have to clean surrounding areas such as sidewalks and asphalt because the pea gravel tends to scatter.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of shredded rubber playground resilient surfacing?

Shredded rubber is a loose-fill material with an excellent environmental and recycling component—created from shredding rubber tires into small pieces. For playground use, shredded rubber has all the metal and wire removed. Have your shredded rubber supplier confirm that the rubber is free from lead, toxins, latex, or anything else that may be harmful to children. A passing fall height of 3 m (118.11 in) is often possible when doing surface impact testing on 200 mm (7.87 in) depth.

Shredded rubber is easy to install, very durable, not abrasive on your playground paint job, and does not support microbial growth. Animals are not attracted to it.

Like other aggregates, shredded rubber can hide foreign objects. It can be thrown, tends to get scattered and displaced, and requires more maintenance, can be ingested and or lodged in the ears or nose. Quality can vary significantly depending on the type of tire used; is it new tire rejects or old tires. Winter tires are softer than summer tires or truck tires. Like all aggregates, shredded rubber requires regular maintenance and inspection to remove foreign materials and requires topping up every 2 to 5 years.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of rubber tiles for playground resilient surfacing?

Rubber tiles are factory-engineered unitary surfaces commonly sold in preformed interlocking tiles. They are composed of rubber aggregate and a chemical binder and formed in a press. Because of the controlled manufacturing environment, rubber tiles can provide a guaranteed passing fall height value. As with pour-in-place surfacing, rubber tiles require little maintenance. They are available in many different colors and thicknesses. Depending on the manufacturer, a passing fall height of 3 m (118.11 in) is possible when doing surface impact testing on 200 mm (7.87 in) depth. Note that maximum passing fall height, impact attenuation, longevity, and warranty vary from one manufacturer to another.

Rubber tiles are fully wheelchair accessible and have consistent impact attenuation. Rubber tiles are easy to clean and maintain, which reduces maintenance costs over the long term. Because they are factory-manufactured with consistency and uniformity, rubber tiles tend to degrade less than pour-in-place surfaces.

Disadvantages of rubber tiles, like all synthetic surfaces, are more expensive than natural aggregates. They may not last the full life cycle of your new playground and may require replacement, so your playground surfacing remains safe. As noted above, maximum passing fall height, impact attenuation, longevity, and warranty vary from one manufacturer to another.

Although maintenance is less than for loose-fill materials, rubber tiles still require regular inspection for foreign objects and damage to the tiles. Look for sections that may come loose or tears in the rubber tiles. You should maintain your rubber tiles by sweeping, vacuuming, or blowing them clean regularly. The great thing about rubber tiles vs. pour-in-place rubber surfacing is that the tiles are easily replaceable when required due to wear, damage, or loss of impact properties. Remember that the new repair may not match your existing surface’s color like any synthetic surface because color fading occurs over time. 

What are the advantages and disadvantages of pour-in-place rubber playground resilient surfacing?

When you purchase a pour-in-place resilient surfacing, you are getting a seamless synthetic unitary surface. Most products use a chemical binder with a rubber granule filler that is mixed and placed on-site. Some newer products on the market use chemically bonded spherical polyurethane pebbles as a topcoat and use a combination of foam and recycled rubber to achieve the cushioning. The pour-in-place resilient surfacing installs over concrete or asphalt. However, a compacted granular base works as well. A passing fall height of 3 m (118.11 in) is often possible when doing surface impact testing on 200 mm (7.87 in) depth with some products. Note that maximum passing fall height, impact attenuation, longevity, and warranty vary from one manufacturer to another.

One of the best advantages of pour-in-place rubber surfacing is wheelchair accessibility for persons with mobility disabilities. Other than rubber tiles, no protective surface can compare with the wheelchair accessibility of pour-in-place rubber surfacing.

Pour-in-place rubber surfacing does not scatter or disperse, so no topping up is required. It is also straightforward to clean. Pour-in-place surfacing also has consistent impact attenuation compared to surfaces that disperse and change depth resulting in reduced impact attenuation. Pour-in-place surfacing is easy to clean and cannot hide foreign materials. It is much easier to maintain, thus saving costs in the long term. Pour-in-place surfacing is more stable than organic aggregates, which deteriorate over time. This firm and stable surfacing has no abrasive effect on play equipment paint finishes and deck surfaces, unlike sand and pea gravel. Playgrounds with pour-in-place surfacing often appear cleaner and in better shape than aggregate surfacing.

Pour-in-place surfacing is available in various colors, graphics, shapes, and designs that create an aesthetically pleasing surface. As noted above, quality, durability, impact attenuation, and warranty vary from one manufacturer to another.

Disadvantages of pour-in-place rubber surfacing are cost (up to 50% or more of the playground’s total cost) and a shorter lifespan than the playground equipment. In time, impact attenuation declines over the life of the surfacing due to sunlight ultraviolet ray exposure.

Although easier to maintain than loose-fill surfaces, you should clean it regularly by sweeping, blowing, or vacuuming it. Cleaning helps prevent dust and other small particles impending on the surface, reducing the surface’s impact attenuation. Check for damaged sections which typically happens at the edges or under high wear areas like under swing seats, end of slides, or around spinning equipment.

Should I do regular maintenance for my playground and play equipment?

Everyone knows the saying, “fail to plan, plan to fail.” This saying aptly fits playground maintenance. Before your playground is even in the ground, you should have a maintenance plan in place. The NRPA (National Recreation and Park Association) estimates that playground preventative maintenance programs can help avoid 30 to 40% of playground accidents. They state that approximately 60% of playground litigation cites “poor maintenance” or “lack of maintenance” as the leading cause of injury. Having a well-structured and routine maintenance program is essential to prevent injuries and protect your playground investment. Identifying potential issues and implementing corrective actions through a proper maintenance program will help protect children and prevent possible accidents.    

Always follow the manufacturer’s maintenance recommendations and procedures, no matter who you purchase the playground.  Develop a written maintenance plan and record all inspections, daily, weekly, monthly, and, in cases where required, annually. It would help if you also recorded all equipment repairs and repairs or top-ups to the resilient surfacing.  In case of a lawsuit, warranty claim, or an accident maintaining proper maintenance documents can prove that you have been diligent. You should have a written accident procedure. Document all accidents and investigate causes, to help prevent further accidents. Designate someone to oversee maintaining, inspecting, and repairing small issues such as loose hardware and removing graffiti. Post an owner/operator sign with contact information in the playspace so that people can call and inform you of any problems with the playground.

You will also need to budget time and money for your resilient playground safety surface. You will need to develop maintenance procedures appropriate to the type of safety surfacing you have chosen. 

At Henderson Recreation, we will provide you with an in-depth checklist for maintaining your playground equipment properly.

How can I tell my local commercial playground is maintained well before letting my child play on it?

Look for strings, skipping ropes, and any other foreign items tied on and around the playground. These items are known as choking hazards. Remove them immediately and dispose of them. Check for dangerous foreign objects like needles, syringes, broken glass, and even toys or park furniture moved unto the playgrounds resilient surfacing.

Any broken pieces of play equipment on the playground? Is the structure rusted and worn?  Does the resilient surface such as wood chips, sand, or pea stone look more like a lawn with lots of grass and weeds growing through it?  Does the surfacing look too low? Like it hasn’t been topped up in years. Does the playground show any signs of vandalism or graffiti? All these issues listed above are concerns that the playground is not appropriately maintained. Contact the owner/operator to address your safety concerns. Look for an owner/operator sign with contact information.

My playground was vandalized or damaged. What should I do?

It is a very frustrating experience to have your playground vandalized or damaged by people who don’t seem to care about other people’s property and children’s welfare. Graffiti is one thing that can be dealt with quickly enough with chemical graffiti removers, but damage to play components puts children at risk of serious harm.

Although prevention is the best way to deal with vandalism through community watch programs, proper lighting, open site lines, and other prevention programs, vandalism happens. First off, fully document the damage or vandalism with photos and written details. The best practice is to close the playground when a play component is broken or damaged to help prevent an injury.  Caution tape is a quick fix but not effective, snow fence is a bit better, but a temporary metal fence is best to prevent children from accessing the playground while you wait for repairs.  Contact one of our professional playground representatives or us so we can work with you to figure out the best plan for removal or replacement.

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