Supplement Feature - September 2008
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Playing It Safe

A Closer Look at Playground Surfaces

By Hayli Morrison


Many facilities are currently trying to up their eco-friendly ante with LEED-certified design. Playground surfaces such as artificial turf, with its natural appearance and recycled rubber component, can certainly be an integral part of that challenge. Established by the U.S. Green Building Council, the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program is a points-based ratings system for construction projects, based on how the design takes environmental concerns into consideration.

"You can achieve a lot of the green points you would get through design because of the recycled tire content a lot of turf products use," Thayer said. "A lot of turf manufacturers use green products in their manufacturing as well, so that's attractive to people who are concerned about the environment."

Poured-in-place rubber surfacing and rubber tiles are also eco-friendly products, and they are taking center stage on many playgrounds. With a flexible array of colors, logos, shapes, games and other designs, these surfaces have the ability to personalize a playground like no other surfacing option can. Poured-in-place involves rubber with a urethane binder, generally with about 80 percent pre- and post-consumer recycled materials. It can support fall heights of up to 12 feet, with a base layer of concrete, asphalt or crushed stone covered by two layers of the rubber-urethane mix, up to 5 1/2 inches in total thickness. With family-friendly activities like cycling experiencing renewed interest as gas prices continue to climb, poured-in-place is also being used on some trails and pathways at a half-inch thick.

"The recycled rubber brings a couple things to the table," said Jim Dobmeier, president and founder of a poured-in-place rubber surfacing company based in New York. "Obviously, it's friendly to the environment, rubber is very resilient, and recycled materials are cost-effective."

Check Compliance

As a way of ensuring public playgrounds are safe, the International Play Equipment Manufacturers Association (IPEMA) provides a third-party certification service. Detroit Testing Laboratory Inc. validates various manufacturers' comformance to the ASTM F1292-04 Standard Specification for Impact Attenuation of Surface Systems Under and Around Playground Equipment.

You can check IPEMA's Web site at and search by manufacturer, product number and product description to see if the surface you are considering is certified for safety.