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Loose-Fill versus Wet-Pour Rubber Surfacing: Which One’s Better for Outdoor Playgrounds?

When it comes to outdoor playgrounds for your kids, you want nothing short of the best and safest environment. The safety of an outdoor playground is defined by the amenities and infrastructure that it provides for the kids. As a parent, one of your top priorities is of course to ensure that your children do not hurt themselves while playing. While you cannot always stop your children from slipping or falling on the playground, a surface that will prevent injuries can be quite reassuring.

Due to this reason, outdoor playgrounds have constantly changed and evolved to adapt rubber surfacing systems in recent years.

Rubber Surfacing for Outdoor Playgrounds

Even today, surfaces with materials such as gravel, bark, sand, or wood chips are highly preferred by younger children, however, maintaining such surfaces is generally quite expensive. In comparison, rubber surfacing has emerged as one of the most ideal surfacing options for outdoor playgrounds considering higher safety and lesser maintenance costs. So if you are working on surfacing a playground, chances are that you are faced with several options to choose from.

While selecting the surfacing for your playground, it is important to consider the lifetime cost of the surface material, its durability, and its ability to withstand wear and tear over the years. Playgrounds usually witness a lot of roughhousing since children are the primary users, and thus require surfaces that can protect them from getting serious injuries. Rubber surfacing fits the requirement perfectly and is a cost-effective solution for outdoor playgrounds.

So, while choosing a rubber surfacing solution for your playground, you can choose from having a loose-fill rubber surface or the more common option – wet pour or poured-in-place (PIP) rubber surfacing. It is important to discuss the pros and cons of both kinds of surfacing solutions to be able to nail down one that best suits your needs.

For ease of comparison, we will analyze both options across four important parameters:

Safety

Loose-fill rubber surfacing consists of rubber mulch that replaces engineered wooden pieces within the surfacing material. If you go for a loose-fill rubber surfacing system, you are essentially choosing rubber mulch to be the foundation of your playgrounds. This option offers many advantages such as cost-effectiveness and the softness of rubber material, creating a safer surface for your kids to play on.

On the contrary, when it comes to PIP rubber surfacing, you have a more unitary and stable surfacing solution, as it is smooth, uniform, and more durable. The definitive surface material and design also ensure a lack of splinters. Moreover, you can also be assured that your kids will not encounter any ‘surprises’ within the mulch of the playground.

Note: Loose-fill rubber mulch, as well as PIP rubber surfaces, are equally shock absorbent.

Quality

As the term suggests, the mulch used in loose-fill rubber surfaces is pretty much made of recycled materials. The wooden chips, pea granules, sand, and rubber mulch used in loose-fill surfaces are recycled from tires and can be a great way to build an eco-friendly playground. However, the quality and finish of loose-fill surfaces are such that it needs to be regularly maintained and raked to maintain its utility. The material becomes less effective over time after withstanding rain and cold.

On the other hand, wet-pour rubber surfaces are more reinforced and create a flooring option that has a uniform finish and more durability. One of the biggest advantages of this option is that such surfaces are ADA-compliant and can be a great option for making your playground wheelchair accessible. Their resistance to weather conditions and wear and tear is also higher making it a more qualitative option in terms of preventing and controlling falls.

Installation

The installation of loose-fill rubber surfacing systems and wet pour rubber surfacing does not differ much in terms of time taken, and the process involved. Installing both kinds of surfacing systems is easy and takes professionals very little time and effort. Both kinds of installation are done with recycled materials, however, the primary difference lies in the finish of both systems which can be the reason shaping your decision to go with either of the two options.

The wet-pour surfacing system is laid down on a concrete or asphalt base, and the surface is made uniform and smooth with minimal scope for any errors and gaps. However, the loose-fill surfacing can have quite a few gaps and errors, where biological garbage, and other kinds of substances such as cigarette butts, and bottle tops that you do not want your children to touch can get lodged.

Cost

Similar to the installation, the cost of laying down a loose-fill rubber surfacing does not vary much from wet-pour surfacing options. Both kinds of surfacing systems use recycled rubber which contributes to its cost-effectiveness compared to many other kinds of surfacing systems. Moreover, the availability of rubber mulch in many colors makes it easier for surface managers to install a safe surface that is also aesthetically attractive for children. But loose-fill surfaces can be marginally cheaper than wet-pour surfaces due to the quality of materials and installation efforts involved.

However, there is a significant difference in the costs associated with the maintenance of both kinds of surface systems. The loose-fill system requires regular upkeep and maintenance, and may even require significant repairs very soon, making it a more expensive option to maintain over time. In the case of wet-pour surfacing options, once a uniform surface is laid down, it does not require much maintenance or vigilance for a long time.

Wrapping up

In closing, it is important to mention that when it comes to outdoor playgrounds, choosing a rubber surfacing system is more ideal than other options that have been used traditionally. It prevents major injuries caused due to falls and offers a shock-absorbent surface that is great for children to play on. While loose-fill, as well as wet-pour rubber surfacing, are similar in execution and materials used, the finish makes all the difference. The wet pour rubber surface solution is slightly expensive but provides cost-effectiveness and durability in the long-term, as compared to its loose-fill counterpart.

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Creative Director, Rubcorp Distribution, LLC

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