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Wood Chips are Not a Good Surface for Playgrounds (Here’s Why)

As a company that installs poured-in-place playground surfacing and rubber tile playground and safety surfacing, of course we think wood chips should be off of every playground. However, it’s not just about the business for us, we’re parents of small children too! One of the primary reasons we choose to be in this business is we believe it’s important to have safe playground surfaces for our children to play on. We also believe rubber playground surfaces make everyone’s lives just a little easier.

So, allow us to get on our soapbox for just a moment here to say…

No More Wood Chips on Playgrounds!

Replace Woodchips on Playgrounds with Poured Rubber Flooring (Safety Playground Surfaces)
Using wood chips, mulch, or bark dust as playground bedding is a messy and splinter-filled option.

Okay, now that we have that out of our system, here are 5 reasons why you shouldn’t use playground wood chips or mulch:

  1. They are a mess! Every playground we visit that has not made the switch to rubber playground surfacing, has wood chips everywhere. No matter what kind of edging or fencing is used to “contain” the wood chips, they will make their way on to the surrounding grass, parking lots, basketball or tennis courts, ball fields, and everywhere else. Cleaning this up day after day becomes really annoying.
  2. You have to keep replacing them. Wood chips constantly need to be replenished. Every year, wood chips decompose and get removed from the site. Replacing woodchip surfacing on a playground is at minimum an annual expense (in some climates they have to be replenished or replaced more than once a year). This is the case with cedar wood chips, pine wood chips, barkdust, etc. A poured-in-place playground surface is a one-time install and your problem is solved. No annual replacement or replenishment. It’s virtually maintenance-free.
  3. They’re not safe. Wood chips on a playground are a safety hazard. Woodchips are constantly moved or kicked around the playground. As a result, some areas have plenty of chips, but in other areas, there is almost no fall protection. This happens especially under swings and other high traffic areas where children play and can trip or fall. And then there’s the painful splinters that ruin everyone’s day… ouch!
  4. Children with disabilities cannot access your playground. Wheelchairs cannot be maneuvered on a woodchip surface and the loose material creates a built-in tripping hazard for everyone. Wheelchair-accessible playgrounds enable everyone to have fun.
  5. They look ugly. Wood chips are not aesthetically pleasing. Who wants an ugly brown playground? A rubber playground surface can provide you with a virtually limitless variety of different designs, including bright and vibrant colors, logos, and even games right in the surface itself!

Seriously… enough said! The good news is, we can help by . Let’s work together to replace all those wood chips on playgrounds everywhere by trading it for a better alternative…

Alternative to Playground Wood Chips

Better Ground Cover for Playgrounds

Poured-in-place rubber playground surfacing is durable, safe (no splinters!), and doesn’t have to be replaced every year.

We install rubber playground flooring across the entire USA. Serving the USA Contact us for more information or get a free quote.

Playground Ground CoverHere’s an example of a project we did to replace wood chips with poured rubber playground flooring.

adventureTURF rubber playground flooring experts install playground and safety surfaces all across the country. Contact us for more information or get a free quote for your next project.

Poured-in-Place Rubber »

Rubber Playground Mats »

Wood Mulch FAQs

The difference is negligible. The terms are typically used interchangeably and the only real difference is that wood chips are typically larger chunks than wood mulch. But everything we’ve mentioned here applies to both mulch and wood chips.

For the initial installation cost, you can generally expect to pay around $3 per square foot for wood chips (installed). That being said, that’s just the initial cost. The long-term cost is greater because of their regular upkeep and longevity. Here’s more info about the cost.

Pros & Cons: Engineered Wood Fiber (EWF) for Playground Surfacing

Engineered Wood Fiber for Playground Flooring
Splinters from EWF aren’t fun for kids or parents.

Engineered Wood Fiber (EWF) mulch flooring for playgrounds is composed of wood that’s been ground to a fibrous consistency and sometimes processed to “knit” together in order to form the surface that you see on the playground. That being said, EWF is considered a “loose fill” playground surface. EWF is also known as “engineered wood chips”.

EWF is Popular, But is EWF the Best Option for Playground Flooring?

Engineered Wood Fiber (EWF) is currently in use on many playgrounds around the country, due to its cost and adherence to the basic requirements of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA).

Although EWF is a popular option, we know that popularity doesn’t automatically equal best. Let’s take a closer look:


Safety of EWF Playground Flooring

Pros:

  • Very absorbent of water.
  • It meets the basic accessibility guidelines of the ADA.
  • If compressed properly, it can be firm enough to technically allow for wheelchairs to be used on the surface.
  • Since it’s made from the wood inside the tree (and not the bark), it doesn’t splinter as easily (it can still cause splinters) as another popular playground surfacing option, wood chips (aka “landscape mulch“).

Cons:

  • It doesn’t perform as well as newer rubber playground surfacing options, which exceed all of the ASTM’s safety and accessibility standards. This is because EWF is considered a “loose fill material,” and becomes compressed over time, decreasing its shock absorbency.
  • You need a lot of it. EWF is typically installed in a layer with a minimum depth of 9 inches (EWF fall height is ), which allows a child to safely land from a 10-foot fall, according to American Standard Testing Methods (ASTM), the institution that sets industry safety standards. For comparison, just 4.5 inches of poured-in-place rubber surfacing provides a surface on which a child can safely land from a 10-foot fall.
  • EWF has qualities that limit its ability to provide complete mobility. For example, wheelchairs are not able to navigate over it smoothly with ease. On the other hand, the ASTM deems PIP rubber and rubber tiles as universally accessible for children with disabilities. For that reason, we don’t recommend using EWF for wheelchair accessible playgrounds.

 

EWF Playground - Adventure Turf
Engineered Wood Fiber (EWF) can knit together after it settles down.

Cost of EWF Playground Surfacing Installation

Pros:

  • Cheap Initial Cost of Installation. As mentioned above, EWF became popular as a safer flooring option than wood chips, gravel, and sand, while remaining low-cost. Engineered Wood Fiber (EWF) costs about $4 per square foot, installed.

Cons:

  • Additional Costs. It’s recommended that you invest in wear mats for certain high-trafficked areas.
  • Ongoing Costs. Requires paying for new layers of material to be added for maintenance. As mentioned above, EWF becomes compressed over time and loses its shock absorbency, so you’ll need to budget for adding a fresh layer of material occasionally in order to continue to meet depth requirements outlined for falls. The frequency at which you’ll need to add new EWF depends on how heavily the playground is used and the efficacy of the site’s water drainage. The result is because of the ongoing maintenance, the real cost of EWF is more expensive than it first appears.

 

Quality of EWF for Playground Surfaces

Pros:

  • Engineered Wood Fiber is often selected for its natural look because it still resembles wood.
  • You can expect EWF to last about 8 years if you’re topping it off before needing to budget to entirely replace it, but perhaps sooner if the playground is located in an area that does not allow for adequate drainage.

Cons:

  • It requires a good degree of maintenance to keep EWF in good condition, such as raking and tamping to keep the surface even.
  • Weeds and grass can grow up through it.
  • It can be dusty and cause some issues with allergy sufferers.
  • EWF becomes compressed over time and loses its shock absorbency. That means ongoing maintenance will require adding extra material.
  • EWF manufacturers recommend that playground administrators invest in wear mats to place under high use areas — such as under swings and at the base of slides — in order to maintain stability and help the surface last.

 

Engineered Wood Fiber - Adventure Turf
EWF requires constant maintenance.

Installation of EWF Playground Flooring

Pros:

  • EWF is on the easy installation and low-cost end of playground surfacing choices.
  • Depending on the size of the playground, professional EWF installers are typically able to complete it in about one day.

Cons:

  • Installers need to clean the area and make sure the perimeter is outlined with some type of edging to keep the material in place. Some playground surfacing options (such as poured rubber or rubber tiles) don’t require edging – the material naturally stays in place.
  • Installation isn’t a once-and-done type of thing. Again, EWF needs regular maintenance (including adding more material) in order to maintain its safety qualities. If you do not maintain the specific installation depth on a playground, children who fall are at risk of serious injury.

 

Next Steps

Engineered Wood Fiber (EWF) Chips Mulch Playground
This rubber playground flooring area (lighter section at the playground itself) is surrounded by wood mulch, but blends in nicely.

Now that you’ve learned more about the basics of EWF, you probably want to continue to vet other playground surfacing options. We might be biased, but we strongly recommend considering poured rubber and rubber tile playground surfaces. The reason we only install those options is because we honestly believe they’re some of the best surfacing options for your playground.

We’ve also created a gallery where you can browse some of the awesome playground designs we’ve completed across the country.

You probably still have questions — please feel free to contact us for answers. And if you’re ready to take the next steps with installing poured rubber or rubber tiles for your playground, reach out to us to request a free quote (we don’t install EWF). We’d love to help you create a place for adventure!

Pros & Cons: Wood Chips for Playground Surfacing

Playground with Wood Chips
Wood chips are not a good surface for playgrounds… Click here to see why »

Picture the playgrounds you went to the most as a kid. They were covered in wood chip mulch, right? And you hated the splinters and sharp edges that it caused. Mulch (also known as “landscape mulch”) and wood chips have ruled the playground world for decades — but those responsible for playground upkeep (such as elementary school administrators, daycare directors, park maintenance crews, church managers, etc) have to deal with constant maintenance just to give the kiddos a place to play.

Wood Chips Are Popular, But Are They The Best Option for Playground Flooring?

Let’s take a closer look at using wood chips for playgrounds to see how they measure up to their competition in terms of safety, cost, and quality.


Safety of Wood Chips on Playground Surfaces

Pros:

  • Wood chips have a degree of shock absorbency. A 9-inch layer of wood chips will allow a child to safely land from a 10-foot fall, according to American Standard Testing Methods (ASTM), the institution that sets industry safety standards such as this critical fall height requirement.

Cons:

  • They can obscure hazards, like broken glass from glass beverage containers.
  • They can develop insect or mold problems.
  • They can be choked on or swallowed by young children.
  • While wood chips meet the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) for playgrounds that require surfacing that lessens the impact of falls, they do not meet ADA requirements for surfaces that allow for wheelchairs and other mobility devices. So if you’re looking to build an accessible playground, wood chips aren’t your best option.

A further note on shock absorbency: One reason rubber playground surfacing has risen in popularity is because of the drastic difference in critical fall height requirements. Just 4.5 inches of poured-in-place rubber surfacing provides a surface on which a child can safely land from a 10-foot fall, compared to 9 inches for wood chips.

 

Wood Chips Playground Flooring
A layout of wood chips can vary in level and density across a playground surface area.

Cost of Wood Chips as Playground Flooring

Pros:

  • Wood chips are one of the cheapest playground covering options, above only pea gravel and sand in terms of cost. You can generally expect to pay around $3 per square foot, installed.

Cons:

  • Wood chips lose their color and texture over time.
  • They require regular upkeep, such as raking for hazards and to maintain an even surface level. You will need to occasionally add new material to continue to meet safety standards and maintain the playground’s appearance, as the wood chips are gradually kicked out of the playground, lost in storm drainage, etc.

 

Quality of Wood Chips as Playground Surfacing

Pros:

  • Those who choose wood chips as a playground covering often cite their visual appeal. Wood chips are a step up from traditional mulch, complement most landscaping, and are available in a range of colors.

Cons:

  • One thing to watch out for in terms of color is whether or not the manufacturer uses dyes to enhance the color of the wood. Some of the dyes made for wood chips are known to cause reactions in people with certain medical conditions.
  • Dust gets in eyes, on clothes, and causes a mess.
  • Kids easily get splinters in it.
  • Weeds can grow in it.

Those who choose poured-in-place rubber surfacing over options like wood chips often cite that they appreciate that we use only premium rubber made from natural materials: EPDM rubber (which helps the surface resist cracks due to severe temperatures and weather), and SBR rubber (which helps the surface stay flat and supple).

 

Installation of Wood Chips for Playgrounds

Pros:

  • Wood chips are easy to install; professionals can usually complete the job in about one day.

Cons:

  • Installers need to clean the area and make sure the perimeter is outlined with some type of edging to keep the wood chips in place. Some playground surfacing options (such as poured rubber or rubber tiles) don’t require edging – the material naturally stays in place.
  • Installation isn’t a once-and-done type of thing. Wood chips needs regular maintenance (including adding more material) in order to maintain their critical fall hall requirement. If you do not maintain the specific installation depth on a playground, children who fall are at risk of serious injury.

 

Next Steps

Engineered Wood Fiber (EWF) Chips Mulch Playground
This rubber playground flooring area (lighter section at the playground itself) is surrounded by wood mulch, but blends in nicely.

Now that you’ve learned more about the basics of wood chip surfacing, you probably want to consider other, safer playground flooring options.

We might be biased, but we strongly recommend considering poured rubber and rubber tile playground surfaces. The reason we only install those options is because we honestly believe they’re some of the best surfacing options for your playground.

You probably still have questions — please feel free to contact us for answers. Again, we don’t offer to install wood chip playground surfacing (because we don’t think it’s good for kids). If you’re ready to take the next steps to choosing the right type of playground surfacing for your situation, reach out to us to request a free quote (for poured rubber or rubber tile playground surfacing). We’d love to help you create a place for adventure!