When choosing playground surfacing, it’s sometimes tempting to go with the apparent ‘simple solution that requires no maintenance’. However, what if you were told that ‘solution’ potentially creates the need for increased maintenance, involves more capital outlay and can deteriorate into a safety hazard? We’ll get into the details later, but before we do let’s take an initial look at four different playground surfacing choices.
What to watch for: cracking, slipperiness when wet or icy in winter, requires professional installation, limited lifespan- requires costly disposal after five years and on-going cost of tile replacement
Positives: easy to clean, choose from a range of colours
What to watch for: non-compliant and non-certified bark – not all barks are the same, look for one that meets the standard: NZS5828:2015
Positives: low capital cost, low or no-cost installation (e.g. spread during a school working bee), cost-effective, sustainable, resourceful, can be re-used in gardens
What to watch for: splinters from wood, non-compliant products (don’t meet NZ standard), nails from wood products
Positives: Low capital cost, low or no-cost installation (e.g. spread during a school working bee), cost-effective, resourceful
What to watch for: high installation cost, surface requires major preparation, surface flooding /run-off, temperature-sensitive
Positives: custom-colouring, easy to clean
All these options are commonly used in New Zealand schools. However, the negative aspects of some choices are noticed well after installation and often too late to remedy.
Let’s look at some of the common issues with artificial surfacing:
Considering a black surface to complement your landscaped areas? Think again. Although they are an aesthetic attraction, black surfaces act as heat magnets in summer – similar to asphalt or black piping. This leaves children with limited comfortable play space in the warmer months. It also creates maintenance issues with cracking, warping and gaps created between tiles due to shrinkage from fluctuating temperatures.
Health and Safety:
Over time, ambient temperature fluctuations put considerable stress on the plastics in artificial surfacing changing their structure. Cracking, warping or shrinkage can be the result of just 2-3 years of New Zealand’s intense sunlight. This can mean artificial surfaces deteriorate to the extent that they no longer meet the NZ safety standard certification which can, in turn, place children in jeopardy.
Often, artificial surfacing is chosen by schools at the design stage because of a perception that on-going maintenance will be limited. When tiles move or the poured surface tears, artificial surfacing can be extremely costly to repair. Often a certified installer needs to carry out remedial work to ensure the surfacing continues to comply with certification and doesn’t void future warranty.
Discussions with school caretakers around the South Island indicate that most prefer bark as a playground surface because of its ease of maintenance. A quick rake once every couple of months and annual top-ups undertaken during working bees provides for flexible and low-cost maintenance.
A large outlay of funds can impact negatively on a school’s balance sheet. We ran the numbers for an artificial surface earlier in the year, and the results can be found in our Bounce®Bark brochure. What it shows is that when the installation cost of an artificial surface is divided by its lifespan, its annual cost is extremely expensive compared to options like Bounce® Bark. This doesn’t include the recurrent cost of reinstallation when the surfacing requires replacement.
New Zealand can experience a range of extreme climates, from the super cold South to the hot North. Artificial surfaces are susceptible to freezing over in frosts which creates a safety hazard for children. Unlike bark products with their loose form, which displace in cold temperatures, artificial surfacing freezes hard into an icy layer, providing no impact-protection.
A natural product such as Bounce® Bark is unaffected by fluctuations in temperature. Bark can still act as practical impact protection from -5 °C right up to the mid-40s. Whilst it’s unlikely the playground will be in use in such weather extremes, should it be – it will remain a safe space to play, giving peace of mind to parents, principals and school board members.