Tips to help with decisions
There are so many things to consider when choosing a surface for your play space. You have to consider the location, and with that, what type of surfacing will weather the best if you are in an area of extreme temperatures. Idaho, for example, can have sub-zero temperatures in the winter and then 100 degree summer days at times. As an example, in a playground in Idaho Falls, a more “floating” surfacing of PlayMatta was chosen so that when the cold or heat expands and contracts the material, it will weather well.
You’ll also want to consider the cost of materials since most playground projects have a budget. With this in mind, you’ll want to know how much area you need to cover, how high your decks will be, and also make sure you are allowing for proper use zones when planning your space.
Sand or Engineered Wood Fiber is likely the least expensive surfacing. There are advantages and disadvantages to any surfacing.
In comparison, when choosing a loose-fill material such as wood chips, bark mulch, and engineered wood fiber, the cost is lower, it’s easy to install, usually readily available, and is aesthetically pleasing. It usually has good drainage and is accessible. Some of the things to consider as well, though are that it is easily displaced, needs maintenance and must be contained with borders. It does weather some and compresses. All that said though, even though it requires maintenance and can be moved around, it is still a great solution for your surfacing needs. You’ll just want to be sure that it is properly maintained and refilled when needed. Playspaces require maintenance in general, no matter the surfacing.
Loose-fill surfaces such as sand, pea gravel, and shredded rubber also have their advantages. The initial cost is low, again easily installed, usually easy to obtain, is non-flammable, and it doesn’t decompose. It’s not too susceptible to vandalism either. Other things to consider are that is can be moved during play and needs to be refilled and maintained as well. You’ll want to watch that small children don’t decide to eat it because they put most everything in their mouths. It’s not accessible for wheelchairs and walkers. Again, that said, these can be good solutions as well. Just be sure that you keep it properly maintained as far as depth according to ASTM standards.
Other choices include unitary synthetic surfacing such as rubber mats, resilient tiles, poured-in-place rubber such as the surfacing depicted on the cover of this issue. There are also products such as the new multi-layer, interlocking system, Sof’Shield Outdoor just to name a few. Check the Surfacing Directory in this issue for a listing of companies offering these quality surfacing products. Just be sure you are choosing a surfacing that suits your needs. For accessibility, you’ll likely want a rubberized surfacing to accommodate wheelchairs and walkers.
Some advantages to the rubberized surfaces are that maintenance is low, are not easily moved out of place, no containment borders are needed, and they can be installed over concrete and asphalt bases. You’ll want to be sure you check into the different options of installing over such things as crushed aggregate, or compacted road base. There are things you should know about choosing these types of the base over concrete.
Be sure you work with a certified installer on this so that the base is prepared properly. You won’t want to risk installation over an unstable surface as it will decrease the longevity of the surfacing if there is room for pockets to form because the base isn’t level or stable. You’ll pay more for a rubberized surfacing, but that could very well be the product you need to invest in for your particular project. Don’t leave installation up to someone who is trying for the first time. Work with a certified installer.
Another advantage is that there are surfacing companies out there offering some pretty fun and aesthetically pleasing options for rubberized surfacing. You now have a guide to shopping for surfacing as well as resources in the following directory. Go down your checklist of needs and wants and give them a call to find out what might best suit your play space. These companies are well versed in what you need to know, and they are happy to answer any questions you might have to help you determine your best surfacing.