Why is synthetic turf becoming the most popular premium playground surface?
What makes synthetic turf superior to other materials?**
Use this table for a quick comparison where 1 is lowest and 5 is highest:
|Synthetic Turf||PiP Rubber||Wood Chips||Loose Rubber|
|Safety in High Heat||4/5||2/5||5/5||4/5|
|Safety in the Cold||4/5||3/5||1/5||3/5|
|Estimated Lifespan||10 Years||8 Years||2 Years||2-8 Years|
Now for the details:
Poured in place rubber (PiP Rubber) is generally safe in most cases. While it can get ratings of fairly high fall heights, poured in place rubber can make injuries more likely than other alternatives depending on the season.1
Moreover as you’ll see that PiP rubber needs to be patched quite often, which can cause it to lose critical amounts impact attenuation if improperly patched.
Wood Chips are fairly unsafe. Injuries on Wood Chips are between 287% and 496% more likely than sand according to a 2009 study.2 Sand isn’t even the safest playground surface, meaning that wood chips are a very poor choice for year round safety.
Loose Rubber is probably the safest material. If you’re only interested in fall safety they’re going to be the best choice by a small margin. However as we’ll get into later loose rubber can have serious issues with sanitation. Moreover you need to be careful because many brands of loose rubber do not have 100% of the steel wire removed. Even brands that claim 99.9% wire-free can still have between 20-30 exposed rigid steel wires per pound of material. If you choose loose rubber we highly recommend you get 100% wire free rubber.
Synthetic Turf playground systems actually have a double layer of protection. It has a recycled foam pad underneath the turf as well as the added cushioning of the synthetic turf above it. Long-term studies don’t exist for such a new product, but extensive testing has determined great performance passing critical fall height requirements of fall heights as high as 12 feet consistently.
Behavior at various temperatures
Poured in place rubber (PiP Rubber) has significant problems under heat. The surface will get quite hot which can cause it to harden significantly. The surface you tested and installed in fair weather can become much less safe on hot summer days. Moreover Poured in Place Rubber is extremely vulnerable to cracking during winter. This means that in areas that it freezes during winter you’ll likely need to repair it every year.3
Wood Chips are fairly resilient to high temperature. They’re the coolest under high temperatures, but have severe issues at cold temperatures. Wood chips and Engineered Wood Fiber can retain water and freeze, becoming extremely dangerous during winter months. According to standardized testing frozen wood chips can surpass the limit for a safe fall height from as low as 2 feet.4
According to the NHTSA a HIC of 700 is the maximum allowed to pass safety regulations for people of 6 years of age or older.5
This means that a fall of 2 feet onto frozen wood mulch which at 1000 HIC has a 90% chance of a moderate head injury and an 18% chance of a severe head injury for an adult.6 Compare that to a 2007 Toyota Camry which has a HIC of 175 when in a head-on car crash at 35 miles per hour into a concrete wall.7 That’s about a 15% chance of a minor injury and a 5% chance of a moderate injury. You’re generally much better off getting into a car accident on the way to the frozen park than falling at it!
Loose rubber doesn’t become more dangerous in the heat, but like everything except wood chips will get quite hot. Most loose rubber doesn’t retain water, so it has minimal problems at cold temperatures. That’s not to say that it maintains equal efficiency at low temperatures, but rather that there’s no known product that doesn’t have some issues in the same circumstances.
Synthetic Turf can get quite hot under direct sun, but the padding underneath is both immune to hardening under high temperatures and kept fairly cool. The system has great drainage and doesn’t retain moisture, so there are minimal problems at colds temperatures. That’s not to say that it maintains equal efficiency at low temperatures, but rather that there’s no known product that has less issues in the same circumstances.
Poured in place rubber (PiP Rubber) has severe problems weathering winter. It may require repairs in spring after it thaws as pieces chip or fall off in the freeze/thaw cycle. It can have cracks or gaps in bad cases, and unless quickly patched children are liable to pull at it and cause further damage. This will obviously limit the lifespan of the surface as patching can lose as much as 50% of impact attenuation in the patched area.
If you’ll be installing it in an indoor facility or in a climate that doesn’t have freezing winters you’ll experience a much longer lifespan.
Wood Chips have a very short lifespan. They need to be topped off constantly as they get blown away, decompose, and go missing. They often need to be replaced every two years on average for sanitary reasons.
Loose Rubber gets kicked out, scooped up and swept away very frequently. This means that you need to top if off every year or two.
Synthetic Turf for playgrounds is often warrantied for 8-10 years, and depending on use can last for as long as 12 or more years. The padding can be warrantied for as long as 25 years, meaning many turf systems have a much less expensive second cycle, needing only the turf to be replaced. See the table below for a ballpark.
|Replacement Cost Comparison||1st Generation||2nd Generation|
|Poured in Place||$12-15/sf||$12-15/sf + Removal Costs|
|Synthetic Turf||$11-14/sf||$5-7/sf + Reduced Removal Costs|
Poured in Place rubber (PiP Rubber) can be considered the best looking surface for some installations. Indoors turf might look awkward or out of place, but you can have good-looking, colorful designs with PiP rubber.
Wood Chips are not rated highly among consumers in regards to appearance. Furthermore children tend to dislike them compared to other surfaces because of the uncomfortable nature of the surface.
Loose Rubber isn’t considered very good looking among consumers either.
Synthetic Turf is often considered among the most visually pleasing surface for playgrounds. Every system offers natural-looking colors, but some new systems are offering colored turf to do much of what Poured in Place Rubber can.
Poured in place rubber (PiP Rubber) is fairly sanitary. With proper maintenance it will remain fairly clean for its lifetime. Rubber is a porous material and can retain bacteria, so without maintenance you can have sanitation problems.
Wood Chips are horrible in this department. They not only collect germs and mold, but retain moisture from urine, vomit, spit, blood and other fluids. In addition animals are attracted to them, leading to animals such as stray cats that will defecate in it.8 This can lead to a huge number of health risks.
Loose Rubber has large a number of toxicity concerns. Study after study has found hazardous chemicals in rubber mulch and crumb rubber.9 There is also a high risk of children ingesting pieces of crumb rubber and rubber mulch, which can lead to serious problems. Lastly many parents have expressed concern over the rubber stains caused by this mulch and it’s potential links to the suspected toxicity.10
Synthetic Turf is very clean. Good systems should not use crumb rubber for infill, only Envirofill infill. The infill only reaches about 1/16th of an inch, so while it makes the turf stand up well and helps with impact attenuation it would be extremely hard for children to access. There are no worries about grass allergies, rubber toxicity, bacteria buildup or staining. It also deters most bugs. Some systems even have built-in antimicrobial properties in the fibers, backing, and/or infill.
Poured in place rubber (PiP Rubber) is expensive. It often costs upwards of $12-15 per square foot or more.
Wood Chips are extremely cheap. They cost about $1-3 per square foot upfront.
Loose Rubber is a middle ground on pricing. It typically costs between $4-8 per square foot.
Synthetic Turf is typically slightly less expensive than poured in place rubber upfront. It can run from $11-14 per square foot installed. The cost of the second generation is reduced because of the long life of the padding.
Poured in place rubber (PiP Rubber) is moderately expensive to upkeep, but the maintenance is more repair-focused than the constant attention needed for wood chips or loose rubber. Heavy patching is typically needed after frozen rubber thaws, and the rubber damages fairly easily. It should receive a new coating of binder every year or two.
Wood Chips are expensive to maintain. Constant sanitation concerns means you’ll need to replace your wood chips extremely often, as well as natural degradation and loss of chips to a number of factors.
Another problem with a loose material like wood chips is that children are going to move them around and play with them. This means that you need to dedicate time to monitoring that levels remain high enough to ensure safety. If the area below a slide is moved to make a pile somewhere else and a child falls off the slide and gets hurt, you could be liable.
Loose Rubber is fairly expensive to maintain. You’re going to lose rubber all the time, so replacing it will be a major cost. That said much like wood chips you need to monitor for areas where material being moved compromises safety.
Synthetic Turf is extremely inexpensive to maintain. Originally we thought you would need to add new infill once in awhile, but in all the years we’ve installed our PerfectPlay system we’ve never needed to.
*All playground surfaces will obviously require general maintenance like picking up trash and animal droppings if outdoors.
**All information presented is accurate to the best of our knowledge and presented in good faith that we’re giving as complete and accurate an overview of the situation as possible. We’ve sourced everything controversial as best we could. If anyone has any comments or concerns with this comparison please contact us.
The Perfect Playground System to meet your needs!
Now that we’ve given you an objective look at Turf Systems in general, we’d like to say a bit about why we think our system is the best in the industry.
Introducing: The PerfectPlay® Playground System
High-density turf with minimal Envirofill infill over 100% recycled foam padding; the PerfectPlay® Playground System can be designed to achieve fall heights of up to 12 feet!
It can be designed with any turf, but we recommend our Playground Turf 80, built from the ground-up to work with our system and be the best playground turf on the market!
Highly Advanced Fibers
The yarn in Perfect Turf Playground Turf 80 has Cool Grass technology, which is microscopic reflective pigment that reflects UV rays, keeping the turf cooler for longer in the hot summer sun.
Secondly the yarn has anti-static properties, reducing instances where children get zapped on the equipment.
It is also the only playground turf with anti-microbial additives built directly into the yarn and backing. This means that vomit, spit, animal waste and other health-hazards can be cleaned off much easier.
The antimicrobial additives provide for a more sterile surface protecting small children crawling around on the turf.
A Selection of Colors
Playground Turf 80 now comes in 4 delightful new colors, in addition to the classic green! No longer is a colorful playground limited to cold-sensitive poured-in-place rubber, now you can have the fun layout without sacrificing longevity or comfort!
Perfect Turf® uses special foam padding that is made out of 100% recycled materials. This durable, closed cell padding comes in thicknesses between 1 inch to 4½ inches achieving fall heights of up to 12 feet without any potentially dangerous crumb rubber infill.
Infill to Meet Your Needs
Perfect Turf offers a number of advanced infills to meet your unique needs!
T-Cool is a new type of infill that actually cools the turf by absorbing and slowly releasing water over the day.
Envirofill is an acrylic coated infill designed to be durable and avoid causing turf abrasion. It has a 16 year warranty and even comes with some extra anti-microbial protection.
Safeshell is a premium infill made of 100% organic US grown walnut shells. It absorbs water and cools your turf while being both chemical and allergen free. It is durable and non-abrasive, and can be used on it’s own or as a top-layer above other infills.
Interested? Here’s The Next Steps!
Call us at 888-SYN-TURF (796-8873) or contact us with the form below: