6 Playground Flooring Ideas For Fun & Safe Play

Sep 22, 2023 | Playground Turf

What could be better than an all-weather backyard play area? The kids get out of your hair for a while and you don’t have to worry about where they are or what they’re doing!

The bad news is that the emergency room statistics for playgrounds in the Dallas-Fort Worth area are truly alarming. And it’s not just about dangerous play or faulty equipment. The choice of playground flooring is just as important as the equipment chosen.

Whether you’re renovating your existing play area, installing a new one or in charge of a commercial playground project, safety must come first.

The best playground flooring ideas include artificial grass, mulch, gravel, rubber tiles/matting and sand.

To find the right floor surface to prevent fall injuries, bear in mind the following and consider the pros and cons of the six best playground flooring ideas:

Quick comparison of playground flooring ideas

Let’s take a quick look at the six leading playground flooring materials and see how they stack up against each other for cost, lifespan, maintenance and safety requirements.

Backyard playgrounds are a great idea for parents who want to create a safe haven for their children to play at home. But the accident statistics make the eyes jump out of your head.

Every year, more than 200,000 children go to U.S. hospital emergency departments with injuries associated with playgrounds. That’s 548 children every single day, on average, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

45 percent of playground injuries are severe fractures, internal injuries, dislocations, concussions or amputations.

Fortunately, only a handful of children suffer fatal injuries but no parent wants to have to rush their child up to the ER for an avoidable playground accident.

The National Program for Playground Safety reports that over 70 percent of playground injuries involve falls and the National Safety Council (NSC) puts the number at almost 80 percent

The majority of these fall injuries relate to unsafe surfaces. In other words, they are preventable accidents. The choice of flooring material around the playground equipment is directly related to these injuries.

So, your children’s safety is at risk unless a safe, shock-absorbent playground flooring material breaks falls and prevents serious injury. 

Falls are inevitable in playgrounds. Cuts, scrapes and grazes are part and parcel of growing up but homeowners must protect against more serious and even potentially life-threatening injuries by making the right choices…

How to choose playground flooring

When choosing between different playground flooring ideas, safety is the clear priority. With that in mind, it’s important to familiarize yourself with a few terms that may come up when researching your playground flooring options.

Playground flooring safety terms and tips

Fall height

This is a measure of the highest point a child can potentially fall from a playset onto the floor without serious injury. Fall height ratings are placed on playground flooring products by manufacturers, who certify these ratings by testing the flooring’s shock absorbency. They generally range from around one foot to 10 feet or more. 

If you’re going to install specific play equipment, check the heights and ensure you purchase flooring with a fall height rating that meets or exceeds what’s required.

If, for instance, your playground flooring surface is fall height rated for four feet, it means the child can fall from that height without serious injury resulting. That rating (or even lower) may be adequate for small-scale backyard play areas but, generally speaking, local municipalities in DFW require a fall height rating of six feet or more in commercial play areas.

As a general rule for backyard play area flooring, look for a fall height rating of four feet or more.

Critical (fall) height

This is the maximum fall height of playground equipment that would not result in a life-threatening head injury. Sometimes, it is used to define the minimum height at which a person who has fallen or tripped will be able to break their fall with their hands alone.

Fall zone

The fall zone is the area surrounding playground equipment where playground surfacing must be installed to prevent injury.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) states that playground fall zone surfacing must extend beyond the equipment for a minimum of six feet in all directions (up to 14 feet).  Structures over 30 inches high require a nine-foot fall zone space and swing set areas should be twice the height of the suspending bar, front and back.

Safety zone

This is the area around a play structure covered with impact-absorbing surfacing to cushion a child’s fall. 

Use zone

This is the area under and around a play structure, requiring proper safety regulations.

Impact-absorbing surfacing 

This is the flooring materials, such as artificial grass, mulch, sand or gravel, used in playgrounds to cushion falls and prevent injuries.

When choosing playground flooring products, note that some products are tested and certified by the International Play Equipment Manufacturers Association (IPEMA).

Other safety tips for playgrounds

For a safe playground, the flooring materials should not only be shock absorbent; they must also be non-abrasive so that they don’t leave scrapes or scratches when your children slip or fall.

As well as carefully considering the ground surfaces for your backyard playground, the following safety precautions will help you design a safe play area for your kids:

  • Avoid overcrowding play areas with equipment: remember, you need at least six feet in all directions between playground equipment.
  • Watch out for sharp hazards: especially protruding bolt ends, “S” hooks and other sharp points or edges on playground equipment (or that fall into loose playground flooring materials)
  • Protect the heights: any elevated areas over 30 inches should have guardrails or barriers with openings less than 3.5 inches or more than nine inches to avoid head entrapment hazards.
  • Avoid tripping hazards: such as exposed concrete footings, tree stumps, rocks, etc.

Other factors when considering playground flooring ideas

In addition to safety, there are some other considerations when selecting playground flooring:

  • Suitability for the climate: the intense heat and sunshine for most of the year in the Dallas-Fort Worth area is a consideration when choosing any materials for your backyard. All-weather materials are best for playground flooring.
  • Size of space: the available space will impact the equipment you can install and, perhaps, the type of playground flooring you’ll require. You’ll need to plan out the area with adequate safety.
  • Budget: this is nearly always a factor with any backyard project. Playground floor materials vary greatly in upfront costs and maintenance requirements — and you’ll need to determine what works best for your pocket.
  • Installation requirements: if you’re planning a DIY installation, this is likely to limit your choice of playground flooring materials. While sand may be relatively easily installed by homeowners, artificial grass requires considerable ground preparation and shock-absorbent materials placed beneath it.
  • Aesthetic preferences: do you prefer the appearance of sand, mulch or rubber tiles or the verdant shades of artificial grass?

6 of the best playground flooring ideas

One or more of the following playground flooring ideas should help you decide what’s best for your backyard play area:

Artificial playground turf

Artificial turf is increasingly used in Dallas-Fort Worth backyards for multiple purposes — from replacement lawn landscaping to backyard putting greens.

Another popular use is in backyard play areas, where it should be installed with shock-absorbent padding underneath for safety. 

The best synthetic playground grass has a high face weight and is made from polyethylene fibers, which are durable yet soft and perfectly mimic the look and feel of natural grass. 

Artificial turf looks green and immaculate all year round with minimal water usage or maintenance. And, despite higher upfront costs than other flooring surfaces mentored here, it pays for itself over the many years of durability.

Main pros of artificial turf 

  • Safety: when professionally installed with shock-absorbent padding beneath 
  • Aesthetics: can match a backyard lawn for green and lush appearance
  • Low maintenance: no cutting, trimming, seeding, aerating or fertilizing required
  • Eco-friendly: synthetic grass needs no water and uses no lawnmower fuel
  • Comfort: feels soft, cushioned and inviting underfoot
  • Durability: high-quality artificial grass can last up to 20 years (for playgrounds usually 12-15 years) and is suitable for high-traffic areas 
  • Cost-effective: over the course of its long life, artificial grass makes economic sense
  • UV-protected and suitable for the DFW climate
  • Comes with a 15-year product warranty if purchased from DFW Turf Solutions

Main cons of artificial turf

  • Higher upfront costs than other materials 
  • Needs professional installation with ground preparation, additional padding and silica infill 
  • Poor quality grass/installations may have drainage/wear and tear issues
  • Retains heat: artificial grass from DFW Turf Solutions is, however, stable even in extreme heat

Cost estimate

  • $9-$12 per square foot (fully installed excluding shock-absorbent padding)

Recycled rubber mats or tiles

Recycled rubber is another popular playground flooring idea. It is used either as loose material or in mats or interlocking tiles to form a shock-absorbent surface beneath around play equipment, such as swings and slides.

Loose crumb rubber can be kicked out with the rough and tumble of boisterous play but mats or tiles provide the shock-absorbent benefits of rubber without these concerns. The mats or tiles stay in place with pegs and loops that help them snap together and interlock.

Many rubber tiles are perforated to aid drainage, which is important for any outdoor play area (preventing standing water on the surface).

Rubber mats or tiles may be used for the entire playground or only in areas immediately surrounding the play equipment — with other materials covering the rest of the play area.

Main pros of recycled rubber mats/tiles

  • Eco-friendly: saves rubber tires from landfill
  • Safety: the best rubber mats have excellent shock-absorbing properties with generally high fall height ratings
  • Comfort: smooth rubber surfaces are easy on children’s feet
  • Durable: heavyweight material that lasts for years and stands up well to wear and tear
  • Stable: tiles and mats stay in place once installed
  • Insect-free: rubber won’t usually attract bugs, fungi or mold 
  • Non-slip: rubber surfaces can help prevent slips and falls, especially when wet
  • DIY installation possible: rubber tiles and mats often have a modular design that allows easy home installation — but the ground must be flat first
  • Available in different colors: this can add a splash of color to your backyard play area
  • Low-maintenance: rubber tiles or mats require very little looking after (mainly removing debris)
  • Easy to replace: if one tile is damaged, it can usually be replaced easily

Main cons of rubber mats/tiles

  • Can get expensive if used over the entire play area (depending on size)
  • Inferior products offer only minimal protection and may disintegrate
  • Possible drainage issues for non-perforated products
  • Most products offer a limited warranty of only around five years
  • Strong smell: the strong odors of rubber take a while to dissipate
  • May get hot: rubber heats up in the Texan sunshine
  • Ground may need preparation before installation (if  it’s not flat)
  • Not biodegradable

Cost estimate

  • $8 – $17 per square foot 

Pea Gravel

Pea gravel is a collection of small, naturally smooth river rocks around the size of peas, used for various outdoor purposes in Dallas-Fort Worth homes.

This gravel is irregularly shaped but all stones are rounded (no sharp edges) and multi-colored, with gray, cream, tan, gold, black and white the most common colors. Its smooth nature makes it suitable for kids’ play areas, where it can cushion falls and provide a soft landing if it’s installed to a sufficient depth.

Pea gravel is also a popular playground flooring idea because it is easy to maintain, affordable and stays cool in the Texan heat.

Playground Flooring Ideas

Main pros of pea gravel

  • Good shock absorbing qualities: because of its small size and smooth, rounded shape
  • Stays cool: if the gravel is mainly light-colored, it stays cool in the Dallas sunshine
  • Relatively easy to maintain: gravel needs occasional raking and inspections and may need refilling
  • No sharp edges: unlike some stones, pea gravel has no dangerous sharp edges, so it’s graze- and scratch-resistant
  • Inexpensive: pea gravel is available at low cost from most home improvement stores, nurseries or online
  • DIY friendly: homeowners may be able to install pea gravel themselves
  • Available in different colors: gray, cream, tan, gold, buff, brown, black and white coloration adds variation
  • Excellent drainage: the gravel allows water to percolate through

Main cons of pea gravel

  • Over time it settles and may become less shock-absorbent
  • Requires sufficient depth to remain effective
  • Needs replenishing every few years at least
  • Pea gravel can “spread” unless properly installed with a border
  • Can be noisy when children are playing

Cost estimate

  • $1-$4 per square foot (depending on depth required)

Rubber mulch

Most rubber mulch consists of “nuggets” of recycled rubber in a  variety of sizes from one-quarter of an inch to three-quarters of an inch.

The rubber is recycled from old tires (also used for rubber tiles or mats), making this option another eco-friendly idea (though the end product is not biodegradable).

Mulch is soft, elastic, very durable, hardwearing and economical for playground use. Its wide variety of sizes, shapes and colors make it a popular choice, though black-colored mulch is the most common.

Rubber mulch is dense enough not to blow away in the wind or rain, which is an advantage over bark-based mulch.

Playground Flooring Ideas

Main pros of recycled rubber mulch

  • Eco-friendly: saves rubber tires from landfill
  • Safety: excellent shock-absorbency and no sharp edges
  • Comfortable: smooth rubber surfaces are easy on children’s feet
  • Durable: stands up well to wear and tear
  • Insect-free: rubber doesn’t attract bugs, fungi or mold 
  • Non-slip: rubber surfaces can help prevent slips and falls, especially when wet
  • DIY installation possible: rubber mulch may be easily installed but needs to be on flat ground with a border
  • Available in different colors: adds variety to your backyard play area
  • Low-maintenance: rubber mulch needs very little looking after 
  • Easy to replace if mulch needs replenishing

Main cons of rubber mulch

  • Strong smell: the string odors of rubber take a while to dissipate
  • May get hot: rubber heats up in the Texan sunshine
  • Buried hazards: dangerous sharp edges (like glass) may get buried and rise to the surface later
  • A border is required: otherwise, mulch may find its way onto your lawn
  • Needs replenishing from time to time
  • Ground may need preparation before installation (if it’s not flat)
  • More expensive than wood mulch
  • Not biodegradable
  • Young kids may try to eat it!

Cost estimate

  • $3-$5 per square foot (depending on depth required)

Pine bark mulch

Another type of mulch frequently used in Dallas-Fort Worth playground areas is wood mulch — especially pine bark mulch. This is either shredded or in “nuggets” like the rubber mulch.

Pine bark mulch provides an all-natural, cushioned floor covering that tends to blend in well with the overall aesthetics of many backyards while also offering decent safety.

It is a cost-effective and easy-to-install option that only requires a border around the play area to keep the mulch in place. You can find bark mulch at home stores like Lowe’s and The Home Depot as well as from nurseries and online — but beware of it blowing away or being washed away by the rains.

Main pros of bark mulch

  • All natural: no nasty toxins or fumes
  • DIY-friendly: easy to install (as long as you build a border)
  • Cost-effective: freely available at low prices from home improvement stores
  • Stable and color-fast: high-quality mulch is stable and retains its color
  • Few problems with insects
  • Some homeowners prefer its natural appearance over rubber

Main cons of bark mulch

  • Lightweight: can be washed away in heavy rains or even blown away in strong winds
  • Difficult to keep in place (needs a border)
  • Requires frequent replenishing
  • Needs maintenance to prevent the growth of mold, mildew and fungi
  • Some children may develop allergies to it
  • Young kids might try to eat it!

Cost estimate

  • $1-$2 per square foot 

Play sand 

Plain old sand is another possible playground flooring idea that all homeowners will be familiar with.

Play sand (washed sand) is clean and hygienic. It is manufactured specifically for play area use while construction sand is used in concrete, cement mixes, etc.

Soft, easy to find, cheap and relatively simple to install, play sand ticks many of the boxes for playground flooring materials. However, it may be let down by its structure, with its tiny silica particles easily finding their way to where they shouldn’t be: in eyes, mouths and ears, as well as traipsed back through the home to make a mess. 

Vast amounts of sand are required to adequately cushion falls too. With a depth of 12 inches (9 inches with compaction), the fall height rating of play sand is just four feet.

Some Dallas homeowners install a sandpit separate from the main playground area and use a safer and more convenient flooring material around the play equipment.

Playground Flooring Ideas

Main pros of sand 

  • Cheap: washed sand is generally very cheap to buy (though a little more than construction sand)
  • Plentiful: washed sand can usually be found easily at home improvement stores 
  • Easy to install: can be installed as a DIY project
  • Easy to maintain: needs occasional inspections for debris and raking

Main cons of sand

  • Large amounts needed: sand must be installed to a great depth to make it safe for playground use
  • Safety issues: can easily get in the eyes and ears and may not adequately cushion falls
  • Requires a border: sand is “fluid” and must be contained within a border
  • Messy: granules can easily be traipsed back through the house
  • Buried hazards (like glass) may rise to the surface 
  • May attract creatures from the neighborhood —kitties may use it as litter
  • Needs replacing annually

Cost estimate

  • $1.50 to $3 per square foot 

Safety warning!

When choosing from the above playground flooring ideas, bear in mind that what goes under the flooring material is critical. 

For instance, loose fill like pea gravel, sand or wood/rubber mulch should never be placed over a hard surface like concrete or serious injury can occur. 

Loose fill also requires a border to ensure that it stays in place; you can use lumber, bricks, tree stumps or pre-made borders.

When we install artificial playground grass at DFW Turf Solutions, every installation starts with careful ground preparation and a layer of shock-absorbent padding. No borders are required as the surface is fixed and remains in place regardless of wear and tear.

Get seasoned help with your playground flooring

Whether your project is a backyard play area or a commercial playground, choosing the right flooring will go a long way to its success.

Our team has installed artificial grass for playgrounds and backyard play areas across the Dallas-Fort Worth area for many years. If you decide that synthetic grass is right for your project, call DFW Turf Solutions for a free quote.

Remember, we provide a limited 15-year warranty on all workmanship and the artificial turf itself is backed by a 15-year manufacturer warranty.

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