Architects design from the ground-up, ensuring there is a safe foundation in place for their structure. The same is done when designing a playground. One of the most important aspects of playground design is the surfacing, and you need a surfacing system that is durable, cost-conscious, and most importantly, safe. All playgrounds require safety surfacing with excellent shock absorption to keep children safe as they run, jump, and climb freely.

In addition to surfacing, it is important to include shelters and shade to protect guests from the elements, whether that be an oncoming rainstorm or too much sun exposure.

Let’s discuss the different types of playground safety surfacing and shade structures that you need to ensure everyone is safe and comfortable at the park.

How Surfacing Makes Playgrounds Safer

You may not think “surfacing” when imagining your playground design, but this key element is a requirement that keeps children at play safe. 

You can spot the safest choice for playground surfacing by checking the Head Injury Criterion (HIC) rating. An HIC rating of 800 or less is considered very safe. Surfacing with the lowest HIC rating of 190 is considered optimal for playgrounds with tall towers and slides. Our poured-in-place rubber systems are ideal and boast high shock absorption along with the best HIC rating in the industry.

Types of Playground Surfacing

There are a few types of playground surfacing, with options for every budget. Here are a few to consider for your next project.

Recycled Rubber Mulch

Our rubber mulch from Rubberecycle is made of 100% recycled tire rubber. Some benefits of using rubber mulch are that it drains well, has various options for colors, and has strong impact-absorption. It doesn’t decompose over time like traditional wood mulch, which means fewer top-offs and no splintering. As with any non-permanent surfacing options, this surfacing should be routinely inspected and raked to be sure an adequate amount of material is below fall zones.

Pour-In-Place Rubber

Our poured-in-place (PIP) rubber system RubberBond ELEVATE is a revolutionary unitary rubber surface that possesses optimal safety ratings and durability. It is comprised of a unique bi-layer system that makes it different than every other system in the industry. Below we’ll break down why.

Traditional PIP surfacing has a 2—3” rubber dust granule base layer topped with a .5” unitary bonded top layer, resulting in a system that is 2.5—3.5” thick. This system typically has an HIC rating of about 800, falling in the section of elevated risk on the HIC scale. This is still compliant, but not ideal.

RubberBond ELEVATE utilizes a 3.5” rubber mulch base layer topped with a 1.5” unitary bonded EPDM top layer, resulting in a system that is 5” thick. This system has an HIC rating of 400! ELEVATE’s top layer being 3x thicker than the traditional system allows it to provide long-lasting durability. The rubber mulch base layer is much more supportive than the cheaper rubber dust granule layer seen in traditional PIP. The HIC goes to show the difference that the rubber mulch base layer makes. ELEVATE has been extensively drop tested and comes in with a fall heigh rating of 16’. Traditional PIP, lacking the rubber mulch base layer, has a maximum fall height rating of 8’.

Recycled Rubber Tiles

Another recycled rubber option is an interlocking tile system. This resilient system is great for playgrounds with a maximum fall height of 12’. These are an excellent option for both outdoor and indoor use. This option also comes in several colors, is ADA accessible, and requires no on-site mixing.

Synthetic Turf

Synthetic turf gives the natural look of grass without the maintenance and upkeep. Typically used in sports fields, synthetic turf can also be used in outdoor and indoor playgrounds to give a natural theme. Synthetic turf drains quickly and has one of the highest safety ratings on the HIC scale.

Engineered Wood Fiber 

Engineered wood fiber (EWF) has the natural, classic look of wood chips on the playground. This is the most affordable choice for safety surfacing. With low installation costs, it is great choice on a tight budget. Due to compaction and natural decomposition, raking and an occasional top-off are required to comply with safety standards.

Aquatic Surfacing

Splash pads, spray parks, and other play areas with water features need a durable, non-slip aquatic safety surfacing. Life Floor is a great option for water play safety surfacing, it has been used on everything from splash pads to cruise ships. This foam-rubber surface has been described by users as a “giant flip-flop,” gripping the bottom of your feet even better when wet. 

We also provide a poured-in-place rubber aquatic surfacing, AquaBond, from our partners at Rubbereycle. It is UV, salt, and chlorine-resistant, and customizable just like your standard PIP.

What to Look for in Safety Features for Playgrounds

Safety surfacing is a great place to start, but the best way to ensure safety throughout your playground is to round out your design with additional safety features.

Perimeter Barriers

One additional safety feature many inclusive playgrounds consider is fencing around the perimeter. We can help design a fence that compliments your playground’s colors and theming.

Regular Maintenance Check-Ups

Playgrounds are a place for children to run, jump, and play; and naturally accrue wear and tear over time. Regularly checking your equipment and surfacing to ensure it is in a safe condition is the ideal way to maintain your play area. Our team can assist you in check-ups, maintenance, and repairs as needed. Reach out if you ever need us.

Shade and Shelter

It is important to provide cover over areas of the playground that are going to get a lot of direct sun. Another ideal feature is a covered area of refuge with tables and benches, for adults to comfortably watch kids at play and for breaks from playtime. Not only does this provide comfort for park-goers, but protection from a sudden storm. We provide a wide range of options from cost-effective fabric shades to gazebos, pergolas, and pavilions.

The Safest (and Most Fun) Playground in Town

With the proper safety surfacing and features, your playground will go above and beyond to ensure that everyone is safe and can enjoy the space for years to come. We highly recommend choosing a surfacing with the best safety ratings, while it may come at a higher price point, it will pay for itself over time.

Download the Playground Safety Surfacing Guide