Supplement Feature - April 2019
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Choose Your Own Adventure

Assess Needs, Get Input to Select the Right Play Equipment

By Deborah L. Vence


Select the Right Surfacing

Choosing the best surfacing for your playground is important, too.

And one crucial factor when making this selection is the maintenance capabilities of your staff, Spencer said.

"While the cost of unitary surfaces like poured rubber or impact-absorbing turf may be higher initially, the cost of maintenance is much lower over the life of the play space," she said. "Engineered wood fiber costs much less initially, but will require regular and ongoing maintenance to ensure it is maintained at a uniform, impact-absorbing depth, especially under active areas like the base of swings and slides. It will also require regular 'top offs' as it is a natural material that decomposes, therefore, reducing the overall depth, which needs to be maintained for proper fall attenuation.

Another deciding factor is the look of the overall space. "Turf and wood fiber provide a great natural appearance, while poured rubber surfaces can accommodate graphics and additional games and activities, which can be inlaid into the surface," Spencer said.

The surfacing depth is determined by the fall height of a playground, and purchasing surfacing from "IPEMA-certified manufacturers also is recommended, as they validate the safety of a participant's products and provide added comfort in your purchase," Lisiecki said.

"After making certain that fall height requirements are met, it's important to note that all surfacing choices must meet ADA standards for accessibility," she said. "Deciding on surfacing is important and can determine what type of experience children and other users will have in your play space."


The most cost-effective solution that meets ADA requirements is engineered wood fiber (EWF).

"Turf is a great option and has the look and feel of real grass and kids really seem to enjoy that," Lisiecki said. "Tiles and poured-in-place (PIP) provide a nice smooth surface and access for everyone. In certain designs it works really well to combine surfacing types to create perceptible boundaries and allow more obvious access to the most exciting parts of the play environment."

Nolan said that surfacing should be selected according to the intended use and budget.

"Above all, any surface considered should be IPEMA certified for compliance to AS™ for both impact attenuation and accessibility standards," he said. "Poured-in-place (PIP) rubber is by no means the least expensive, but it provides so many tangible assets it should always be considered. Not only is it accessible and inclusive, but it is clean and colorful and can contribute to the overall aesthetics of the playground by adding graphics or color mixtures. There are additional items to factor with a PIP rubber surface outside of the initial cost, such as sub-base and annual sealing expenses. A factor that should be considered in the selection process in hotter climates is [that] PIP rubber surfacing gets hot.

"Many times, loose surfacing is selected because of [the] budget, and it later causes frustrations due to unforeseen maintenance expenses, accessibility issues at transition and threshold areas or when integrated with other types of surfacing," Nolan said. "Many times, there [are] vegetation concerns, plus other costs of additional curbing and drainage required for loose surfacing. Every year or two, additional loose surfacing should be added to bring into compliance."

In choosing surfacing, Steven said it is "part of the fact-finding mission, and often is a decision that is pre-determined by the client. It is likely going to be a function of the budget. It is exciting when we can incorporate a colorful poured-in-place surfacing to help create a theme and better stimulates the imagination of the children, but that's not always realistic."

Budget drives this decision, Ahrens noted, as well as environmental factors, such as wind, heat and moisture.

"If the customer is acceptable to putting half of their budget into the surfacing, then a synthetic surface is the best answer for a maintainable, inclusive surface," Ahrens said. "My personal preference is synthetic turf for longevity in our climate, crisp appearance that is maintainable and long-range performance with impact attenuation."

And, while there are many different surfacing options, only a few of them are ADA accessible.

"We often recommend customers go with engineered wood fiber or poured-in-place rubber," Huber said. "You can also use artificial turf with impact-attenuating rubber underneath. The two main things to drive the decision on which surfacing will be based on cost, maintenance, needs of the users and opportunity for phasing—(begin with wood fiber and later convert to PIP)."