A Guide to Different Playground Equipment Surfaces
The type of material used for playground equipment is as essential as the design for kids’ safety. Any well-rounded guide to playgrounds should analyze the pros and cons of various material options for the equipment.
If you’re looking to install a play space at your public or private facility, consider available material options for playground equipment to find the perfect choice for longevity, minimized maintenance and fun.
Read the full article or jump to a specific section:
- Different Playground Equipment Surfaces
- Tips for Maximizing Your Playground Equipment Surface Materials
- Which Playground Equipment Material Is Most Common?
- Which Types of Ground Covering Surfaces Are Most Common?
Different Playground Equipment Surfaces
As new safety requirements appear, older equipment may need replacing to ensure that the materials are safe for kids. Modern playground components use durable, safe materials to ensure kids have a play space that will withstand the elements and last for years with proper maintenance. Common types of equipment surfaces include metal, plastic, wood and rubber.
When selecting the types of surfaces for playground equipment, you need to consider the outdoor temperatures, the playground’s location and the amount of maintenance you can put into its upkeep. Finding the ideal material for your playground can help create a safe space for everyone.
Metal is a common material used for building playground equipment due to its strength and polished look. While durable and long-lasting, metal has some drawbacks to consider for your playground equipment. The most significant concerns for metal are corrosion and burns, though additional surfaces and coatings can greatly reduce these risks.
Metal can be hot to the touch on sunny days at play areas with no shade around. For uncoated metal, the chances of corrosion increase because the material does not have protection against rust from rain exposure. Plus, uncoated metal has the lowest temperature for causing burns to the skin – 60 degrees Celsius or 140 degrees Fahrenheit in three seconds.
You can reduce the risk of corrosion and burns by choosing coated or painted metal. Painted, galvanized or coated metal helps avoid corrosion and rust. Several coating options are safe and protective for children.
With coatings, the temperature that can cause burns increases. A lacquer coating on metal raises the temperature that can cause burns in three seconds to 68 degrees C or 154.4 degrees F. Polyamide 11 or 12 coating on metal raises the threshold even higher to 77 degrees C and 170.6 degrees F.
To reduce the chance of burns, choose metal playground equipment with a plastic coating, which kids can touch even after sunlight exposure. For instance, on a Tensile Tough™ Noodle Climber, the internal structure is metal, but the parts kids interact with are soft and heat-resistant. You can also use playground shade structures over play areas and playground equipment to protect kids from high temperatures on surfaces.
You can find many different plastic options for playground equipment. The benefit of plastic is its ability to reduce the risk of burns. The average temperature for burns with three seconds of plastic exposure is 77 degrees C and 170.6 degrees F.
Types of plastics used for playgrounds include polyamides, duroplastic, polytetrafluorethylene, acryl glass and UV-stabilized high-density polyethylene (HDPE). Many plastics can resist mold and mildew damage and require only soap and water for cleaning, making plastic a convenient and low-maintenance choice.
Plastic can coat or form the structure of slides, panels, playhouses and other equipment. For example, high-traffic areas or spots in direct sunlight that need additional protection benefit from polyvinyl chloride (PVC) coating. If you choose equipment with a plastic coating, you can also pick the color, so your playground equipment maintains its exciting look while becoming safer. Our slip-resistant PVC coating comes in tan, green, gray, brown, red or blue.
One drawback of plastic equipment surfaces is that they’re less durable than metal structures and surfaces. With proper care, however, plastic can last for a long time. While performing regular playground maintenance, look closely at any plastic parts to identify small cracks or breaks you may be able to repair before they worsen.
Wood is a prevalent option for playgrounds. Its natural surface requires almost boiling temperatures — 99 degrees C or 212 degrees F — before it will cause burns within three seconds of touching the material. Wood is ideal for sites in direct sunlight, though it is important to coat the metal hardware the holds the wood together so those pieces stay cool as well.
While wood does not conduct heat, it can rot or harbor insects. You should choose a naturally insect-resistant wood, such as redwood or cedar. Coating the wood with a preservative to protect against rot can let you use other wood types different from cedar or redwood.
Treated wood is another option, but you should be careful about the type of wood used. Before 2003, manufacturers used chromated copper arsenate (CCA) wood for playground structures. CCA contains high concentrations of arsenic that can dislodge from treated wood and harm people who come into contact with it. If you still have these structures in your facilities, consider replacing them with safer alternatives. In addition to outdated wood treatments, playsets more than two decades old may not meet current safety and accessibility standards.
Today, treated wood uses safer alternatives to arsenic-containing CCA. When choosing these types of wood, check that the hardware will not interact with the chemicals used.
Treated wood holds up well against water damage and rot. In addition, adding a stain or coating can keep all playground elements in excellent condition instead of fading in the sun. If you want to coat the wood surfaces on your playground equipment, follow the recommendations from the Consumer Product Safety Council (CPSC):
- Do not use CCA wood as mulch or anywhere else in the playground.
- Avoid finishes that contain pesticides.
- Avoid using any wood treated with creosote, such as recycled railroad ties or phone poles.
- Do not use non-penetrating stains, including oil-based opaque stains, latex opaque stains and latex semi-transparent stains, due to their tendency to flake and peel.
In addition to coating concerns, wood can also splinter and break more easily than structures made out of metal or plastic. While doing routine playground maintenance, check for any weak spots or splintering areas that may need repair or replacement.
Wood can be a long-lasting, safe surface for playground equipment. However, you need to use the correct type of wood and coat it appropriately to ensure longevity and safety.
Most people think of rubber as a fall protection surface in play areas. Poured rubber, rubber tiles and rubber mulch are common options for covering the ground in modern playgrounds. Rubber can also serve as an important material for the equipment.
Several types of products around a playground are made of rubber or use this material for some components. For example, Rubber Hop Rocks are climbers that are important sensory play elements. These structures get kids to work with various senses, including tactile, proprioceptive, vestibular and visual. Kids can experience an unusual surface texture from the rubber rock that they would not have with other types of climbers. Plus, they work out their vestibular and proprioceptive senses by climbing on the structure and maintaining their balance.
Another type of product on playgrounds that uses rubber is the mallets for giant playground chimes. The rubber mallet fits well into kids’ hands and does not slip out when they strike the elements of playground musical elements.
Rubber can also provide extra protection on playgrounds by covering surfaces like a bumper. The Accelerator Swing is one example of using rubber as a bumper. Since this swing has a design for multiple kids to use at once, it needs protection around all sides of the base to ensure that everyone on the swing stays safe from the hardware supporting the disc.
Though rubber may not make up most pieces of playground equipment, it is a crucial covering for hardware or material for elements of structures.
Another type of surface finish for playground equipment is Gator Grip from Miracle® Recreation. This three-dimensional texturing provides kids with a better grip on handrails, rungs and other supports. While not a specific material for the structure of the parts on the playground, Gator Grip is an important surface coating to enhance safety for kids.
With Gator Grip, your playground becomes safer — kids can easily grab onto metal surfaces that would otherwise become slick when coated with dew or rain. Even if you choose Gator Grip for your playground, post notices to parents that they should dry off equipment before allowing their kids to play on it.
Tips for Maximizing Your Playground Equipment Surface Materials
Proper maintenance ensures your playground equipment and its surfaces will last for years. Keep the surfaces on your playground’s equipment looking good and working safely by scheduling regular care and maintenance.
You must also properly set up the play area to maximize safety and protect the equipment from scratches or impacts caused by other playground elements. Planning your layout before the installation and including maintenance in your playground budget are among the many ways to maximize the performance of surface materials on the equipment.
Equipment surfacing often needs maintenance or repair before entire pieces of equipment need replacing. For this reason, it’s important to keep an eye on the surfacing and check for any details that could turn into larger issues later on.
1. Protect the Ground
Protect the ground that kids will play on by choosing appropriate ground covering to offer fall cushioning. The type of material and its depth depend on the height of the equipment, the accessibility you want for the playground and the amount of maintenance you plan to put into the fall protection material.
A sturdy ground surface can actually help increase the life of your playground by giving it a strong foundation.
2. Create a Maintenance Plan and Committee
The best way to keep your playground in good shape is to make a list of necessary duties and delegate responsibilities accordingly. Depending on the type of community your playground serves, ask your school maintenance crew, faith organization volunteers or members of your neighborhood or town to help take care of the equipment on a regular basis. You may even want to make an official committee or hire a maintenance service.
Whoever you choose to maintain your playground, make sure they know all about the equipment and are aware of potential issues and damages to look out for. Each time someone conducts an inspection, have them record their observations and report back to the committee with any important findings.
Checking equipment surfaces also gives maintenance committees the opportunity to perform other responsibilities like regular equipment and grounds cleaning and gives them a reason to keep an eye out for any necessary larger repairs.
3. Inspect and Maintain the Equipment
Have your maintenance committee regularly inspect the playground equipment. Schedule routine maintenance inspections to examine the playground for issues daily or weekly. This type of check verifies that the play area is safe for kids to use.
For more in-depth inspections that examine the playground more thoroughly, conduct periodic reviews. During these types of inspections, look for and fix issues such as:
- Cracked plastic.
- Broken equipment.
- Loose bolts or missing end caps.
- Rotten or splitting wood.
- Rusted or corroded metal.
- Loose anchors.
- Ground fall protection covering problems that impact protection, such as cracks in unitary surfaces or displaced loose fill.
- Vandalism, trash or broken glass.
- Ropes tied to equipment by kids or other user modifications.
- Insect damage or nests.
- Chipped or worn coatings
You may find other issues on your playground that are unique to your area or equipment. Create a checklist that will address the specific issues that your playground may face. For instance, if you live in a cold environment, check for and remove snow and ice off the equipment or close the playground during icy conditions. Or, after a rainy day, block access to your playground until the surfaces are dry and no longer slippery.
4. Set Up a Reporting System
If your playground is part of a community park where parents or caregivers might visit with their kids, use these visitors to your advantage. Regular community members might notice issues with equipment surfaces.
If this happens, make sure you provide a way for them to report their findings. Post a sign with your maintenance committee’s contact information so all community members can help you keep your play spaces in great condition.
5. Install Equipment With Adequate Spacing
Lastly, make sure to have adequate spacing between pieces of equipment. The spacing ensures kids have plenty of space to enter, exit and move between equipment. Plus, spacing between pieces of equipment helps prevent the parts from hitting or scraping the surfaces of other play elements and causing premature wear.
Refer to updated playground safety guidelines to make sure you allow enough space between equipment. Certain pieces of equipment may require unique spacing or ground covering considerations depending on their height, surface area, functions or surrounding equipment.
Well-designed playground spaces help kids have fun during playtime with sturdy equipment that’s built to last under proper care.
Which Playground Equipment Material Is Most Common?
The best equipment materials for your playground depends on factors such as the type of weather you get, how much use your playground sustains and how much maintenance you can provide.
If you live in an area that’s more humid or susceptible to wetter weather throughout the year, a metal or plastic playground might hold up better to moisture exposure than an untreated wood structure. If your playground is in a location that gets a lot of direct sunlight, be aware that plastic equipment can weaken or fade under UV rays, and painted metal may fade as well.
The variety of playground equipment surfaces also allow you to get creative with color and design. Metal, rubber and plastic surfacings come in a variety of colors, so you can brighten up your playground with cheerful hues. Meanwhile, wooden structures offer a classic, natural look, perfect for playgrounds in wooded areas.
Which Types of Ground Covering Surfaces Are Most Common?
While the surface material for the equipment is important to safety, the type of product used is equally essential to create a safe landing area for kids. Ground coverings should offer comfortable cushioning around the area.
Covering the Ground With Safety Surface Material
Place the safety surface material on the ground around all play equipment. Most safety guidelines recommend placing safe ground cover in a wide radius around each piece of equipment, so kids have an extra level of protection all around the playground.
Refer to current safety guidelines for your state and the type of equipment you have to get accurate information about ground surface material placement. For instance, the required ground cover radius may increase around equipment that increases kids’ speed, such as swings.
By providing a large enough cushioning play zone around the equipment, you can help keep kids safe while they play.
Fall Height and Ground Cushioning Material
As you create an innovative playground for your community, remember that ground surfacing can cushion kids’ falls and provide a safe play environment. Your selection will depend on your budget, maintenance capacities, and community accessibility needs. Regardless, the ground surface you choose should prioritize safety for all.
Keeping safety in mind, try to limit your playground’s height whenever possible and choose appropriate surfaces to provide enough cushioning for all types of play. As usual, refer to updated official state and national safety standards to determine the best course of action for your specific equipment when installing playground elements and ground cushioning.
Loose-fill safety surfaces need to be kept filled to certain depths at all times. These depths depend on the fall height of the equipment and the type of loose-fill material you’re using. You can find specific minimum depth numbers with your playground’s safety standards resources.
Larger particles, such as engineered wood fiber or shredded rubber, don’t compress as much and offer greater fall height protection. The National Program for Playground Safety recommends adding extra loose-fill fall surface material in high-erosion and high-traffic locations around the playground. Even with extra depth, make sure to maintain the fill to enhance safety around the play area.
Types of Ground Covering Materials
The types of ground covering materials make a difference in how you use them. The options include unitary materials such as solid rubber in poured or tile form. Loose materials include rubber nuggets and wood fiber. Each type has advantages for different playground layouts.
Unitary surfaces, such as pour in place rubber or rubber tiles require little maintenance but cost more initially than loose-fill ground coverings. Since these remain firmly in place after installation, you can provide an erosion-free space for children. Plus, they offer accessible surfaces for kids who use wheelchairs or parents pushing strollers.
Loose-fill materials, such as rubber nuggets, sand or wood fiber, cost less, but you need to check these materials regularly to ensure they cover the play zone appropriately. Rain, wind and regular playground movement can dislodge these materials and reduce their depth. Make verifying the coverage of loose-fill ground coverings part of your regular maintenance plan if you choose to use these.
Additionally, while natural loose-fill materials such as mulch and engineered wood fiber can quickly decay, rubber or sand can better protect the area around your playground.
Contact Miracle Recreation to Design Your Dream Playground
Find the ideal playground equipment for the active, adventurous generation. With options from Miracle Recreation, you can create challenging, exciting play areas for all kids. We’ve been designing playgrounds since 1927 that meet kids’ changing needs, hone their physical skills and teach them self-discovery. Our products continue to innovate as kids change their play and growth needs.
We use a variety of playground equipment materials to ensure longevity and safety. Connect with one of our representatives to get started on designing your ideal playground for your needs.