Today, 1/30/2019, is officially the coldest temperature since 1985 in Chicago. I think it’s pretty safe to say that kids aren’t playing on any playgrounds today.
What about when the temperature is cold in general though?
Most schools just close their playgrounds entirely when it’s cold outside. This is partially because many playgrounds become dangerous in the cold.
That doesn’t mean kids won’t find time or ways to play on them though, so even with the most cautious of policies choosing the safest surface in the winter should be an important consideration.
Without further ado let’s talk about the four most common surfaces:
Poured in place rubber (PiP Rubber)
Poured in place rubber has severe issues with cracking during the winter. While safety is often unaffected, the lifespan of such a surface is reduced in cold climates. Also consider the need for yearly repairs of the cracks that appear with the freeze/thaw cycle when planning the long-term costs of this surface.
Wood chips and Engineered Wood Fiber are porous materials that retain water. Normally this isn’t a big issue as far as fall-height goes, but when it gets cold that water freezes.
This is extremely dangerous, as a study by LTR Products showed that wood fiber becomes very dangerous when frozen. In a test 1 according to ASTM F1292 standards, frozen wood mulch surpasses 1,000 HIC from as low as 2 feet. At 5 feet 7 inches the HIC increases to 1,800! That’s an average 10% chance for a lethal fall and a 45% chance for critical brain injury when falling headfirst.
For comparison statistically it is much safer to get in a car accident at 40 MPH than to fall 2 feet headfirst onto frozen wood chips!
Loose rubber is a great contender. The material doesn’t retain water and maintains it’s safety at cold temperatures. Furthermore unlike poured in place rubber there’s no cracking issue.
PerfectPlay® and some competing turf systems
PerfectPlay® uses a type of padding under the turf that stays soft even at freezing temperatures. It’s loose composition has great drainage, so freezing isn’t an issue, nor is thawing. This makes turf the other top placing system in cold weather.