5 Sustainable Surfaces We Love For Playgrounds

Posted by
Kim Riebel on Sep 15, 2015 5:00:00 AM

Sustainable playground surfaces poured rubberThere’s much more to a playground than exciting equipment that begs kids to slide, climb and swing.

The surface beneath a playground is actually the most important factor for a number of reasons, including safety, accessibility and sustainability.

Keeping up a playground surface can get expensive if you’re adding yards of new wood chips every year—we’re talking thousands of dollars, depending on the surface area. And you can count on replenishing wood chips or mulch annually.

Sustainable playground surfaces are safer and eliminate that annual expense. Plus, the sustainable playground surfaces today are aesthetically appealing—rubber can include logos and cool designs.

There is a range of sustainable playground surfaces that offer a neat, clean and ADA-compliant alternative. Here’s a roundup of five sustainable playground surfaces we recommend.

#1 Poured Rubber

Also referred to as “poured in place” rubber surface, this is exactly what the name implies: rubber that is poured just like concrete to create a seamless rubber surface.

What some commercial property owners like about poured rubber is colorful options: You can select and mix colors, create designs and have your logo emblazoned on the surface.

Depending on the brand, a poured rubber surface can be LEED rated based on its recycled content. (Some are made with non-toxic pigments and recycled, post-consumer tire rubber shred.) The surface is cured so it is “inert,” meaning the rubber will not off-gas in any way.

Poured-in-place rubber surfaces are durable and provide wheel-chair accessibility and slip resistance.

As for installation, poured rubber can go right on top of grass, concrete, asphalt—it’s a sustainable fresh start for the playground on your commercial property. It’s also low-maintenance. You’re not adding wood chips every year. Once the surface is poured, the work is done.

Poured rubber is the most expensive sustainable playground surface option, followed by synthetic turf and rubber tiles. You can expect to pay up to $15 per square foot.

#2 Rubber Safety Tile

sustainable_playground_surfacesInterlocking rubber mats and tiles are installed over a cushioned base, and they’re low-maintenance like other sustainable playground surfaces.

Rubber safety tiles also offer design potential with color and tile design—and the tiles help break falls from playground equipment.

The tiles are available in a range of thicknesses, and a porous surface assists with drainage. (This is an important consideration for all commercial properties.) You can get ADA-compliant ramps and edges for the surface, too.

As with other sustainable surfaces, one big selling point is not replacing mulch, chips or repairing asphalt. And, safety is critical on your commercial property—no one wants to see a child get injured on a playground.

Rubber safety tile is one way that commercial property owners can convert an existing space, or the tiles can be installed in areas where high-impact falls are a risk.

#3 Synthetic Turf

You can get the natural look of grass with no maintenance required, and the shock-absorbing surface underneath synthetic turf enhances its safety.

Synthetic turf facilitates drainage, and you can get materials that are appropriate for various fall heights.

Check to see if the brand of synthetic turf you’re considering is lead-free and recyclable. (Many are.) The synthetic blade fibers are anti-bacterial so mold and mildew are not an issue. For playgrounds in full sun, synthetic turf provides a cooling component, reducing heat reflection.

As for cost, you’ll pay about as much for synthetic turf as a poured-in-place rubber surface—perhaps slightly less.

The reason to choose synthetic turf is for the natural feel it lends to a playground. Also, you can combine synthetic turf with other sustainable surfaces to create visual zones for different types of play.

#4 Bound Rubber Mulch / Rubber Mulch

Rubber mulch comes in two forms: rubber mulch and its bound version, which forms a solid surface.

Both are a smart alternative to traditional wood chips, mulch or asphalt you’re looking for a most cost-effective sustainable surface than, say, synthetic turf or poured-in-place rubber.

You can choose among a variety of colors, and the surface is porous (yet does not absorb moisture, so no worry about mold, mildew and insect problems). Bonded rubber mulch looks like its “loose” counterpart (rubber mulch), except the surface is bonded so the surface is solid. That means you’re not adding more rubber mulch each year.

Rubber mulch is less expensive than a bound rubber surface (you’ll pay about $15 per square foot for bonded rubber mulch vs. $10 per square foot for rubber mulch). Keep in mind, you might need to add more rubber mulch (because it’s a loose material) after seasons of heavy play.

That said, rubber mulch is up to five times heavier than wood chips, so you don’t get the same problem with chips “shifting” during play, or blowing because of weather.

#5 Engineered Wood Chips

sustainable_playground_surface_wood_chipsFor playground surface projects with budget constraints, engineered wood chips are a fine alternative to traditional chips or mulch.

The benefit of going for engineered wood rather than nature’s variety is that it provides better fall attenuation. It is made from virgin wood fiber, and the size and type of wood chips are controlled, with no twigs, debris or other organic material.

Basically, you know that the surface you’re installing has been produced for playgrounds and contains no “extras” that you wouldn’t want on your surface. Even though the surface is not bonded or poured, it is wheelchair accessible and complies with ASTM standards for safety.

This is one of the most cost-effective sustainable playground surfaces available, which makes it a popular choice. You’ll pay about $2 per square foot for engineered wood chips.

Sustainable And Safety Rule On Playgrounds

Your playground is an asset, and an investment. So consider installing a sustainable surface that will reduce (or eliminate) maintenance requirements over the long term, look great and provide a safe play surface for kids of all ages.

There’s a sustainable surface that meets nearly every budget, so we encourage exploring one of these five options for your commercial Illinois property.

Want some more ideas? Call us any time at 630.497.1000, or fill out this simple contact form and we’ll get in touch with you.


Beyond Buzzwords — Commercial Property Trends

Topics: Sustainability

Written by Kim Riebel

Kim Riebel

Kim Riebel, Director of Marketing and Sales for Sebert Landscaping, oversees all new business development activities for the company’s lawn maintenance and snow removal services. Having joined Sebert in 2004, Kim helped create a new five-person business development team for the company.