Playground Surfaces: Bark or Synthetic Turf?

Matamata Primary School with new TigerTurf playground

Safety is one of the most important features of a children’s playground, whether it’s in a backyard, a school, or a public park. But there are plenty of other things to consider as well.

See how TigerTurf meets playground safety regulations

In New Zealand, the main surfaces chosen for playgrounds are bark and synthetic turf. Each of these surfaces has its own advantages and disadvantages, so in this article, we’ll go through what those are.

While we are a synthetic turf supplier, we think that it’s important that you can make an informed decision about your playground surface. One may be more suitable than the other, depending on your needs.

Quick-find:

The advantages of bark

The disadvantages of bark

The advantages of synthetic turf

The disadvantages of synthetic turf

 

The advantages of bark surfacing in children’s playgrounds

It’s always nice to work with natural materials when possible, especially when children are involved. Bark provides a good playground surface because it’s:

InBark 1v2expensive

Bark is the least costly material for surfacing a children’s playground.

Easy to install

Bark can be delivered and poured into the playground pit, then levelled out.

Good impact absorption

Without fail, kids are going to fall from time to time. Bark isn’t a bad surface to land on, and absorbs a lot of impact from the fall, resulting in fewer injuries.

 

Feels natural

Being outdoors feels good for kids (and grown-ups, too!), so it’s nice to use elements of the natural environment when possible.

Bark as a playground surface: The disadvantages

While bark is a natural, inexpensive material, it does have a few drawbacks.

Bark 3v2

Difficult for mobility devices

Accessibility is a big consideration for children’s playgrounds, because kids that use wheelchairs and walkers want to be able to play, too. A bark surface isn’t suitable for getting mobility devices from point A to point B.

Bark 5v2Kids might eat it

… or get it in their ears, nostrils, and so on. Children like to taste things, and we can’t always trust their taste buds. They also may get nasty splinters from the wood.

Limited in terms of design and customisation

If you want anything more than a bark pit, you’ll have trouble achieving a customised design with bark.

Insects, allergens, microbes, weather, and maintenance

Bark may be treated with allergens or toxins. It’s also subject to microbial growth when it gets wet, and makes a nice hiding place for insects, not to mention other foreign objects.

Bark 7v2Bark is also daily vulnerable to the elements – changes in temperature, rain, and frost can all impact the quality of the bark.

Bark will also be displaced around play equipment by foot traffic and the elements; it becomes unevenly distributed around the playground area, leaving some areas with less soft-fall than others, especially where children come on and off equipment.

Because of this, bark can become somewhat high maintenance – you need to regularly rake and level it, check for foreign objects and excrement, and clean up any bits that spill over onto the footpath or surrounding area. You also need to regularly replenish the level of bark in the playground, as it does break down naturally over time and with exposure to the elements.

 

The advantages of artificial turf surfacing in children’s playgrounds

Bark 2v2No harmful chemicals or allergens

Unlike real grass, synthetic turf doesn’t require any lawn care chemicals. Unlike bark, it isn’t treated with anything that may be toxic. And unlike both real grass and bark, synthetic turf doesn’t contain any potential allergens.

Accessible for mobility devices

Artificial grass ensures a smooth, level surface for mobility devices, enabling all children and parents access to the playground.

Resilient and long-life

For a children’s playground, you need a surface that can stand up to consistent use, and not degrade as a result. Artificial turf usually comes with a guarantee of its life span, so you’ll know how long to expect it to last before it needs replacing or repairs. Most turfs last 15-20 years.

Artificial turf also stands up to the elements much better than bark, and doesn’t degrade with changes in the weather.

Bark 4v2Absorbs impact

Like bark, artificial turf is great for absorbing the impact of accidental falls and deliberate jumps. But unlike bark, it achieves this through its base layer, in which softness and springiness can be controlled for maximum bounce and minimal tears.

Additionally, the performance of turf is constant over the entire surface as the base layer cannot be displaced the same way bark can.

Drainage

Getting the kids back outside after it’s been raining is often a bonus, especially if they’ve been cooped up for some time.  With the correct base construction, drainage pad and synthetic turf in place, Children are able to get on the surface more quickly after rain due to the drainage properties that exist within a synthetic turf surface.

Versatile, beautiful, and design-friendly

Not only can it aesthetically mimic real grass, an artificial turf surface actually gives you full control of the playground environment.

You can use different base layers with varying degrees of impact absorption according to the risk of injury for falls, and grass layers with varying tractions according to whether kids need to land, scoot, or run on the area.

You can colour-code the playground surface area, or customise the markings to delineate different zones and inspire additional modes of play.

Colour and games options give children the opportunity for noire imaginative and creative play while also giving the overall playground a more dynamic feel to that of bark infill.

Artificial grass as a playground surface: The disadvantages

Bark 6v2The initial cost

Synthetic turf comes with a higher price tag than bark up front, but over time, if properly installed, it costs little to nothing to maintain.

Can get hot

Some artificial turfs can get hotter than real grass under the sun. However, when compared to rubber tiles (another popular surface for playgrounds), it’s cooler.

Bark 8v2

Can melt

If the artificial turf is placed near highly reflective surfaces, some inferior types may melt.

Improper installation

If the turf is incorrectly installed and doesn’t have the right base layers, problems can arise down the line, particularly with drainage – you want a playground, not a kiddie pool! It’s important to get an installer that you trust to do the job to avoid costly replacements.

 

 

 

 

In conclusion

Unsurprisingly, we thoroughly believe that synthetic turf is the best option for surfacing children’s playgrounds. It offers you control over impact, design, maintenance, and what the kids are exposed to. It’s easy to clean – which is a huge advantage to anything that children are playing on or with – and as long as it’s well installed, it will last for many happy years of play.

There are a great deal of factors to consider when you’re surfacing a playground, and many regulations to take into account for public ones. It’s good to know that synthetic grass is capable of ticking all of the boxes.

If you’re considering options for a playground surface, why not get in touch? We’ve been surfacing playgrounds for many generations of kiddies, and we’d be happy to share what we know with you.

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