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

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

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

EWF is composed of wood that’s been ground to a fibrous consistency and processed to “knit” together in order to form the flat surface that you see on the playground. Since it’s made from wood inside the tree and not the bark, it doesn’t splinter like another popular playground option, wood chips. 

Although EWF is a popular option, we know that popular doesn’t automatically equal best. Let’s take a closer look at EWF and compare it to an option that’s beginning to catch up to EWF: rubber flooring.

Safety 

EWF is very absorbent, which lends to its non-slip qualities. It meets the basic accessibility guidelines of the ADA and is firm enough to allow for wheelchairs to be used on the surface.

It’s typically installed in a layer with a minimum depth of 9 inches, 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.

One of the factors that make innovative new rubber playground surfacing options appealing, however, is how they exceed all of the ASTM’s safety and accessibility standards. 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. The ASTM deems PIP rubber and rubber tiles as universally accessible for children with disabilities.

Engineered Wood Fiber - Adventure Turf
EWF requires constant maintenance.

Cost 

As mentioned above, EWF became popular as a safer flooring option than wood chips, gravel, and sand, while remaining low-cost. You can expect EWF to last about 8 years before needing to budget to replace it, but perhaps sooner if the playground is located in an area that does not allow for adequate drainage.  

Your budget should plan for a fresh layer of the material to be added occasionally in order to continue to meet depth requirements outlined for falls, as EWF becomes compressed over time and loses its shock absorbency.

Quality 

Engineered Wood Fiber is often selected for its natural book because it still resembles wood. However, it does require a good degree of maintenance to keep EWF in good condition, such as raking and tamping to keep the surface even.

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.  

This brings up another point about rubber flooring options, like tiles and poured-in-place rubber. These surfaces require very little maintenance and generally last about 10 years (depending on foot traffic) before any type of upkeep is required.

Next Steps

Now that you’ve learned more about the basics of EWF, you probably want to continue to vet options for the playground you’re responsible for. You can read more about the variety of playground surfacing options adventureTURF offers, and browse our FAQs. 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!