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Pros & Cons: Wood Chips for Playground Surfacing

Playground with Wood Chips
Wood chips are not a good surface for playgrounds… Click here to see why »

Picture the playgrounds you went to the most as a kid. They were covered in wood chip mulch, right? And you hated the splinters and sharp edges that it caused. Mulch (also known as “landscape mulch”) and wood chips have ruled the playground world for decades — but those responsible for playground upkeep (such as elementary school administrators, daycare directors, park maintenance crews, church managers, etc) have to deal with constant maintenance just to give the kiddos a place to play.

Wood Chips Are Popular, But Are They The Best Option for Playground Flooring?

Let’s take a closer look at using wood chips for playgrounds to see how they measure up to their competition in terms of safety, cost, and quality.


Safety of Wood Chips on Playground Surfaces

Pros:

  • Wood chips have a degree of shock absorbency. A 9-inch layer of wood chips will allow a child to safely land from a 10-foot fall, according to American Standard Testing Methods (ASTM), the institution that sets industry safety standards such as this critical fall height requirement.

Cons:

  • The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) says that CCA wood mulch is an “inappropriate surfacing” type for playgrounds. So make sure your wood mulch is not CCA-treated.
  • They can obscure hazards, like broken glass from glass beverage containers.
  • They can develop insect or mold problems.
  • They can be choked on or swallowed by young children.
  • While wood chips meet the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) for playgrounds that require surfacing that lessens the impact of falls, they do not meet ADA requirements for surfaces that allow for wheelchairs and other mobility devices. So if you’re looking to build an accessible playground, wood chips aren’t your best option.

A further note on shock absorbency: One reason rubber playground surfacing has risen in popularity is because of the drastic difference in critical fall height requirements. Just 4.5 inches of poured-in-place rubber surfacing provides a surface on which a child can safely land from a 10-foot fall, compared to 9 inches for wood chips.

Wood Chips Playground Flooring
A layout of wood chips can vary in level and density across a playground surface area.

Cost of Wood Chips as Playground Flooring

Pros:

  • Wood chips are one of the cheapest playground covering options, above only pea gravel and sand in terms of cost. You can generally expect to pay around $3 per square foot, installed.

Cons:

  • Wood chips lose their color and texture over time.
  • They require regular upkeep, such as raking for hazards and to maintain an even surface level. You will need to occasionally add new material to continue to meet safety standards and maintain the playground’s appearance, as the wood chips are gradually kicked out of the playground, lost in storm drainage, etc.

Quality of Wood Chips as Playground Surfacing

Pros:

  • Those who choose wood chips as a playground covering often cite their visual appeal. Wood chips are a step up from traditional mulch, complement most landscaping, and are available in a range of colors.

Cons:

  • One thing to watch out for in terms of color is whether or not the manufacturer uses dyes to enhance the color of the wood. Some of the dyes made for wood chips are known to cause reactions in people with certain medical conditions.
  • Dust gets in eyes, on clothes, and causes a mess.
  • Kids easily get splinters in it.
  • Weeds can grow in it.

Those who choose poured-in-place rubber surfacing over options like wood chips often cite that they appreciate that we use only premium rubber made from natural materials: EPDM rubber (which helps the surface resist cracks due to severe temperatures and weather), and SBR rubber (which helps the surface stay flat and supple).

Installation of Wood Chips for Playgrounds

Pros:

  • Wood chips are easy to install; professionals can usually complete the job in about one day.

Cons:

  • Installers need to clean the area and make sure the perimeter is outlined with some type of edging to keep the wood chips in place. Some playground surfacing options (such as poured rubber or rubber tiles) don’t require edging – the material naturally stays in place.
  • Installation isn’t a once-and-done type of thing. Wood chips needs regular maintenance (including adding more material) in order to maintain their critical fall hall requirement. If you do not maintain the specific installation depth on a playground, children who fall are at risk of serious injury.

Next Steps

Engineered Wood Fiber (EWF) Chips Mulch Playground
This rubber playground flooring area (lighter section at the playground itself) is surrounded by wood mulch, but blends in nicely.

Now that you’ve learned more about the basics of wood chip surfacing, you probably want to consider other, safer playground flooring options.

We might be biased, but we strongly recommend considering poured rubber and rubber tile playground surfaces. The reason we only install those options is because we honestly believe they’re some of the best surfacing options for your playground.

You probably still have questions — please feel free to contact us for answers. Again, we don’t offer to install wood chip playground surfacing (because we don’t think it’s good for kids). If you’re ready to take the next steps to choosing the right type of playground surfacing for your situation, reach out to us to request a free quote (for poured rubber or rubber tile playground surfacing). We’d love to help you create a place for adventure!

With so many different qualities and characteristics to consider, choosing a playground surface can be bewildering. That’s why we’ve created an ultimate guide of all the pros and cons of 11 of the most popular playground surfaces, from wood chips to recycled rubber mulch.

FAQ

Yes. Wood chips are one of the cheapest playground covering options, above only pea gravel and sand in terms of cost. They do, however, require regular upkeep, such as raking for hazards and maintaining an even surface level.

Learn More

Woodchips do not meet ADA requirements for surfaces that allow for wheelchairs and other mobility devices. So if you’re looking to build an accessible playground, wood chips aren’t your best option.

Learn More

They can be. A 9-inch layer of wood chips will allow a child to safely land from a 10-foot fall, according to American Standard Testing Methods (ASTM), the institution that sets industry safety standards such as this critical fall height requirement.

Learn More

Pros & Cons: Poured Rubber Surfacing for Playgrounds

Poured Rubber Playground Flooring
Poured rubber playground flooring is soft, spongy, and durable.

Being tasked with choosing the materials for a playground surface that will experience millions of footsteps (particularly those of children) is harrowing – especially if you don’t have a construction background! If you’re in charge of selecting a flooring surface for a playground – we often talk to daycare directors, early childhood center administrators, church administrators, and city managers, for example – you have a lot of options and information to sift through. So what’s the deal with poured rubber surfacing for playgrounds? Also called “wet pour rubber” or “poured-in-place (PIP) rubber”.

Is Poured-in-Place Rubber the Best Option for Playground Flooring?

Researching playground surfacing means you’re going to learn about poured rubber, also commonly called pour-in-place (PIP) rubber or poured playground surface. For this post, we aim to answer the most important questions you’ll be asking: how does poured rubber measure up against other playground surfacing options in terms of safety, cost, and quality?


Safety of Poured Rubber Playground Flooring

When you’re discussing the surface for a playground, of course, the most important consideration is safety. This is where pour-in-place rubber (also called PIP rubber surfacing) can’t be topped.

Poured rubber playground soft spongy surface
Poured rubber surfacing specifically designed to be extremely shock-absorbent.

Pros:

  • Poured rubber surfacing is durable, soft, and can’t splinter. The chief complaints from parents and kids about popular playground surfaces like Poured Rubber for Playgrounds and rubber mulch is that they splinter, and pieces find their way into skin, eyes, shoes, and clothes. Pavement is also likely to crumble as it ages, and doesn’t provide any cushioning from falls.
  • This type of surfacing was also specifically designed to be extremely shock-absorbent. Just 4.5 inches of poured rubber provides a surface on which a child can safely land from a 10-foot fall, according to American Standard Testing Methods (ASTM), the institution that sets industry safety standards.
  • Parents and playground administrators don’t have to worry about chemical sensitivities. adventureTURF uses only premium rubber made from natural materials, EPDM rubber (which helps the surface resist cracks due to severe temperatures and weather), and SBR rubber (which helps the surface stay flat and supple). These materials are free of metal, wood, harsh chemicals, and other compounds that may irritate sensitive skin, aggravate allergies, or cause other health issues.
  • On playgrounds near areas where animals may roam, poured rubber provides peace of mind that kids won’t encounter any “surprises” that are sometimes found buried in mulch playgrounds. The same goes for any potentially harmful items humans may have left behind (they won’t be buried in the material).
  • Poured Rubber ADA Accessible Playgrounds | Poured Rubber Inclusive Playgrounds
    Poured rubber playgrounds are wheelchair accessible and safe for those with physical disabilities.

     

    Poured rubber playground flooring is ADA-compliant, meaning it’s wheelchair accessible and safe for those with physical disabilities. Childcare experts agree that youngsters with special needs (and their non-disabled peers!) greatly benefit from inclusive playgrounds, and pour-in-place rubber is widely viewed as the best surfacing option to allow safe and easy play among those with physical limitations.

Cons:

  • Depending on the climate of your location (this applies particularly to dry, cold climates), PIP rubber can become hard over time. This is why experts recommend administrators check in every few years to see if the playground should be topped off with a fresh layer of rubber, which is a simple and fast process.

Cost of Poured Rubber Playground Surfacing

Pros:

  • One of the strongest cost-saving factors in poured rubber’s favor is the lack of yearly maintenance to be figured into your budget. A pour-in-place playground surface will generally last about 10 years (depending on foot traffic) before any type of upkeep is required — no need to truck in new surface filler every spring. With proper maintenance, it can last as long as 12-15 years.
  • After that, maintenance is simple. The surface can be treated with a coating to renew its wear and weather resistance, and on high-traffic playgrounds, new top layers can be poured onto the existing surface.
  • Spot-repairs can be made. Note that not every poured rubber playground requires an entirely new playground surface. Often a playground can be completely revitalized by simply adding a new color cap or wear layer to the surface. This restoration technique will actually improve the playground’s safety rating and is a budget-saver.
  • Using this type of surface also makes your playground eligible for LEED® credits and state grants, to help defray your up-front cost.
  • Learn more about the cost of poured rubber playground flooring here.

Cons:

  • The initial investment to cover a playground with PIP rubber is not the cheapest available option. However, the longevity of the material and its minimal maintenance costs render it comparatively low-cost in the long run.
Texture of Rubber Playground Flooring
Very zoomed-in/close-up view of the texture of rubber playground flooring. It comes with a wide variety of color options.

Quality of Poured Rubber Playground Surfaces

Pros:

  • The granules that make up poured rubber playground flooring provide the opportunity to cost-effectively customize the appearance of your playground. You can select the depth, color, shape, and design of the surface – meaning school colors, logos, and even games can be permanently incorporated.
  • We often hear that poured rubber surfacing makes it easier to maintain a playground that appears clean and welcoming. The surface is smooth and easy to clean, and unlike mulch or stone, it won’t get kicked out of place by busy feet. The customizable appearance means you’re able to make design selections that allow it to blend into the surrounding area, creating a more natural look than pavement.

Cons:

  • As noted above, PIP rubber doesn’t last forever (as does any playground flooring material). You can expect the surface to need more comprehensive resurfacing after about a decade.

Installation of Poured Rubber Playground Flooring

Installing Poured Rubber Playground Surfacing
Poured-in-place rubber flooring for playgrounds is mixed and hand-troweled on site.

Poured rubber playground surfacing is mixed and hand-troweled on site.

Pros:

  • It turns out that this safe and cost-conscious method of playground surfacing is also one of the easiest for professionals to install. Poured-in-place rubber safety surfacing is mixed and hand-troweled on site. You can view videos of adventureTURF’s installation process here.

Cons:

  • Installation must be done by a professional who has the right tools and experience.
  • Surface prep with a base is needed.

Next Steps

Now that you’ve learned more about the basics of poured rubber surfacing, you’re going to want to compare it to other options and dive into the details. You can read more about rubber playground flooring from adventureTURF and find some FAQs we answered. We’ve also created a gallery where you can browse some of the awesome playground designs we’ve completed across the country.

You probably still have questions – you can contact us for answers. And if you’re ready to take next steps, reach out to us to request a free quote. We’d love to help you create a place for adventure!

With so many different qualities and characteristics to consider, choosing a playground surface can be bewildering. That’s why we’ve created an ultimate guide of all the pros and cons of 11 of the most popular playground surfaces, from wood chips to recycled rubber mulch.

GET A FREE QUOTE »

Serving the entire USA We install poured rubber flooring for playgrounds in the entire USAContact us for more information or get a free quote.

Installation of Poured Rubber Playground Flooring
Mixing of Poured Rubber Playground Flooring

FAQs About Poured in Place Playground Surfacing

Poured rubber is playground flooring that’s seamless and contains very small rubber granules that are stuck together. It’s not a loose material (like rubber mulch, wood chips, sand, or dirt). It’s a “solid” rubber surface for playgrounds or unitary playground surface, meaning that it’s not made up of rubber tiles.

Poured-in-place rubber is also called poured rubber, wet pour rubber, pour-in-place rubber (PIP), rubber playground turf, bonded rubber stone, or a playground foam surface. There’s both pros and cons of using it for playgrounds, as with any playground surface.

Poured rubber is a very durable playground surface. Its longevity really depends on factors such as:

  • How well it was installed
  • Quality of material used
  • How much the playground is used
  • Weather/climate

As with any playground surface, regardless of how well it was installed, poured rubber for playgrounds does eventually wear out. You can expect it to need more comprehensive resurfacing after about a decade.

Discover more about the quality of it here.

For larger “commercial” playgrounds (for parks, schools, water parks, etc), it’s typically best to leave it to those who have the right tools and experience needed to make sure it’s installed properly. As mentioned previously, if it’s not, or the quality of the material used is sub-par, you’re going to have to replace the surface much sooner. That said, you should be careful when choosing a poured rubber playground installation company.

It’s installed by mixing the materials in a very specific way (using specific tools), poured, and then hand-troweled into place.

Yes, it’s ADA-compliant, wheelchair accessible, and one of the easiest playground surface types for those with disabilities to navigate. Accessible/inclusive playgrounds, and pour-in-place rubber is widely viewed as the best surfacing option to allow safe and easy play among those with physical limitations.

Learn more about the safety of poured rubber playground surfacing.

Playground and Safety Surfacing Maintenance

Recap and Replace Rubber Playground Flooring | adventureTURF Playground Surface Installers
Poured rubber playground surface showing signs of wear and tear.

Despite what many people may believe, poured in place rubber surface is not 100% maintenance-free. Of course, it’s a lot easier than maintaining wood chips as a playground safety surface. By no means does this mean that it isn’t a durable and reliable playground safety surface that will last a long time. A newly installed playground surface will last for years to come. However, in time, some basic maintenance may be needed.

The amount of maintenance and possible repair work you need completely depends on the amount of traffic on this durable rubber surface. Most of the time only small repairs in very high traffic/high use areas are necessary. These areas such as those surfaces underneath playground swings, at the base of slides, and at main entry points are very easy to repair when they become worn. The repair work require to fix these areas is very affordable, usually less than 1% of the initial cost of the rubber surface installation. It is also easy to complete and can be done in one day. Learn about our recapping and restoration services.

For those who want to be proactive and prevent or prolong the normal wear and tear, wear mats can be installed in these high traffic areas. These mats will prevent the wear which typically occurs on poured in place surfaces. Here is a link to a supplier page where these mats can be purchased: https://www.aaastateofplay.com/playground-wear-mat/

Finally, it is important to address these maintenance needs as soon as you become aware of them. At the first sign of wear, have the playground surface repaired. The longer you wait, the more expensive the maintenance becomes. You don’t want to have to replace your entire playground surface.