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Affordable Playground Surfacing Best Alternatives

Affordable Playground Surfacing: Best Alternatives

Installing a playground in your school or backyard is a daunting but completely worthy undertaking. It provides a healthy outlet for the kids as they love playing and running in the park well into their middle school years.

Choosing the right playground surfacing should be a top priority for all playground designers and park managers. Over 200,000 children below the age of 14 visit the emergency room due to injuries related to playground equipment. Building a safe playground involves consideration regarding the surfacing material, secure playground equipment and hazard-free spaces for the children.

Since the inception of playgrounds, thousands of products have been introduced to serve as a surface for safety and playground equipment. There are many different manufacturers of playground surfacing materials and the variety of materials is often overwhelming.

Types of Playground Surfacing Materials

The wide array of playground floor materials can be segregated into two broad categories: loose-fill and unitary. Each of these categories comes with its individual pros and cons. The loose-fill surfacing stands for an even surface created with smaller loose pieces whereas the unitary surfaces consist of singular materials placed on a level surface. 

The affordability and cost-effectiveness of the surfacing options become a key factor in determining the perfect choice. The playground floor material is considered to be pocket-friendly when the cost of both installation and maintenance is low. However, that is not the case in most of the surfacing options.

The loose-fill materials have a low cost of installation whereas taking a lot out of your pocket for regular maintenance and upkeep. Whereas the unitary surfing options may appear to be costly during the installation but need maintenance resulting in low overall lifetime cost. 

You can choose either of these types based on numerous factors like aesthetic, safety quotient, inclusivity, accessibility, and maintenance. Here’s a list of a few affordable playground surface materials for you to choose from depending on the size and location of the project you have in mind.

River Stones/Pea Gravel

Choosing a mix of pea gravel and river stones designated for playground surfaces proves to be a great alternative. This playground floor material erases the primary concern of slippery surfaces that cause falls and injuries amongst running children.

The pea gravel comes in handy in preventing the weed from taking over the ground as well as makes for a sturdy grip beneath the little sneakers. The pea gravel is one of the most affordable options for anyone who wants to install a playground on a budget.

Engineered Wood Fibre (EWF)

Engineered wood fibre is another great affordable loose-fill playground surface. It is made of manufactured wood and is quite different from conventional wooden chips. The difference that makes EWF a good candidate on our list is that it does not contain twigs, barks or other debris and is softened during the manufacturing process.

The eco-friendly nature of this product, in addition to it being the safest loose-fill surfacing material, makes it a popular choice for affordable playground surfacing. More importantly, engineered wood fibre is better at staying in place than rubber mulch or sand.

Poured In Place (PIP) Rubber

You can opt for poured in place rubber for your playground surfaces when you are looking for superior protection for children. It falls under the unitary surfacing category as the entire floor is covered with singular material. It is made of EPDM and Polyurethane resins for long-lasting durability.

The playground surface covered with PIP rubber is a great shock-absorbent and is ideal for parks and playgrounds with complex equipment. The surface can be modified with a plethora of vivid colours and is quite easy to maintain. The initial cost of the installation more than covers up for the long-term durability and hassle-free upkeep of the floors.

You can also ask for rubber tiles instead of poured in place rubber as they have a similar finish and matching properties. The rubber surfaces can be installed in both indoor and outdoor playgrounds with ease. Another advantage is that the PIP rubber surface makes the playground compatible with wheelchairs and strollers enhancing the accessibility to a wider population.

Synthetic Turf

Another affordable playground surface option is a synthetic surface. It is artificial grass that looks and feels just like its original counterpart. The turf also eliminated the need for constant maintenance. The low overall lifetime cost makes this a pocket-friendly choice for park surfacing.

It can be cleaned with a simple rinsing routine and you need not worry about the accumulation of microbial colonies that might spread infections. You should prefer synthetic turf for indoor playgrounds as it can heat up fast during summers.


The last one on the list is sand. It is a loose-fill playground floor material that is best suited for a mini-park in the backyard. It provides a beach-like aesthetic and costs the least amongst all the above-mentioned surfacing options. Though the maintenance and safety quotient does not match the unitary surfacing options. The sand can cause choking hazards amongst toddlers and does not attenuate the fall impact.

Summing up

You can select the best playground floor material through ample research. The best way to compare and choose the most appropriate option for your project includes concisely jotting the pros and cons of all the above-mentioned surfaces. Safety remains the most important criteria to be considered, followed by durability, maintenance and affordability.

Frequently Asked Questions

How to select the best surfacing material for playgrounds?

An ideal playground floor material should tick the following boxes on your checklist:

  • Elevated impact attenuation for safety
  • Compliant to ADA guidelines for inclusivity
  • Easy to maintain
  • Pocket-friendly and low overall lifetime cost
  • Captivating aesthetics for engaging children

What is the cheapest playground floor material?

Engineered wood fibres are the most affordable playground surface with low installation cost, but have a considerable maintenance cost. Whereas Poured in Place Rubber seems a viable long-term option in terms of cost-effectiveness.

Which playground floor material needs minimum maintenance?

Unitary playground surfaces like poured in place rubber, rubber tiles and artificial turf need minimum maintenance. They are easy to clean and do not need constant upkeep. They have a significantly low maintenance cost making them an affordable playground surface option.

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Creative Director, Rubcorp Distribution, LLC

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