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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!