Playground surfacing is one of the most critical elements to consider on a playground, especially during summer, when the heat is too much. While playgrounds are made of different surfacing materials such as rubber mats, sand, and wood mulch, each material reacts differently to heat. Some remain relatively cool while others absorb the heat and become hot, posing a safety threat to kids. Our main focus in this post will be on rubber mats and how they react to intense heat from the sun.
So, do rubber mats get hot in the summer? The simple answer is “yes.” Rubber mats can absorb heat and become relatively hot during summer. However, with a specific heat of 0.3, rubber mats are still more resistant to heat than asphalt, sand, and concrete. So, does it mean that rubber is 100% safe for kids even during the hot summers? The answer is “no.” Even with a slightly higher specific heat value, rubber mats can still absorb a lot of heat on hot summer days, reaching unbearable temperatures. Furthermore, rubber tends to trap heat into the immediate area, creating something like a humid pocket of heat.
This post discusses everything you need to know about rubber mats as a playground surfacing material and their heat resistance.
We shall also highlight some of the reasons why some people always prefer rubber to any other playground surfacing material. So, let us get started.
Understanding the Concept of Specific Heat
When it comes to the temperature of a specific playground material in relation to sunlight and heat, it is critical to understand the concept of specific heat to make informed decisions.
In simple terms, specific heat refers to the actual amount of heat required to raise any substance’s temperature by 1oC. It is usually stated as X= joule/gram-change in Celsius. In this case, “X” is used to denote specific heat.
Understanding specific heat for different materials is critical when planning out your playground’s surfacing. In layman’s language, the higher the value of “X,” the more heat you require to change the material’s temperature.
For example, water has a specific heat value of about 4.186 joule/gram-degree Celsius, while sand only has a specific heat value of 0.19 joule/gram-degree Celsius.
From these figures, it is pretty easy to see that it requires a lot of heat to change the temperature of water than sand. These figures are critical when establishing the safety of a playground surfacing material during hot summers.
Are Hot Playgrounds a Safety Threat?
Before we discuss whether a hot playground surface is a safety threat or not, let us figure out the primary purpose of the surfacing material.
The primary goal of any playground surface material is to keep kids safe and comfortable as they run around and play.
Over the years, playground experts have made immense progress in constructing safe playgrounds, especially in regard to surfing materials.
Today, most playground flooring materials have a much better cushion and shock-absorbing capabilities to lessen the impact of accidents. They also have better traction to prevent the likelihood of accidents occurring.
While falling is one of the most common playground accidents, there are other potential accidents that are less common but worth considering. A thermal burn is one of them.
Despite the common misunderstanding out there, it is not just metal slides that can get hot enough to cause severe skin burns. Almost every playground equipment, especially those with dark-colored surfaces, can cause severe skin burns.
Most surfaces usually heat up when left to sit in direct sunlight for too long. Playground surfacing is the same. Dark-colored plastics, asphalt, concrete, and rubber mats are particularly susceptible to reaching dangerous temperatures.
Any child can suffer severe burns when they come in contact with hot playground surfaces. However, kids under the age of two years are more prone to burns. Typically, the younger the child, the more delicate the skin and the easier it is to burn.
It is also good to note that the reflexes of younger kids don’t kick in the same way they do with the older kids.
For instance, a relatively younger kid may feel a burn but will not understand the fact that he/she needs to remove their body from the surface.
What Can You Do To Prevent Playground Burns?
Although playground burns can be a significant risk to your little one’s safety, there are precautions you can take when visiting a playground to avoid such cases.
The most important thing you need to do is to be aware of the weather conditions before you step out to take your kids to the playground. If it is too hot, make sure you check the equipment’s temperature before you let your kids loose on it.
Many thermal burns occur at the playground when kids are running around barefoot. To keep your kids safe; make sure they are wearing shoes before they step out. You should also ensure they are appropriately dressed to keep them safe from ground-related burns.
How Can You Keep Playground Rubber Mats Cool?
While there are many ways of preventing playground burns, the surest of them all is to find a way of keeping the playground rubber mats from getting hot in the first place.
Here are some of the proven ways to maintain cool rubber mats.
1. Use light-coloured rubber mats
When setting up a playground in an open area that receives plenty of sunlight, consider using light-coloured rubber mats to reflect away as much heat as possible.
Dark-coloured rubber mats tend to absorb a lot of heat energy, posing a significant risk to kids. Typically, the lighter the playground surface, the less heat it will absorb from sunlight. This is also the reason why it is recommended to wear white clothes on a hot day.
Rubber mats are a popular playground surfacing material and luckily, not all rubber is black. They come in a wide range of colors, including sky blue, tan, red white, grey, and green.
Consider choosing a color like white or tan to help prevent the mats from holding excessive heat that can cause severe burns.
2. Install in a shaded area
Where you install the rubber mats can make a significant difference in surface temperatures as well. If it is possible to install the mats in a relatively shaded area and your kids will be grateful for it.
Since direct sunlight does more to generate a lot of heat, the shade will play a critical role in keeping the surface temperatures quite low.
3. Choose perforated rubber mats
Perforated rubber tiles are another excellent way to keep playground surface temperatures low. With perforated rubber mats, air can easily flow throughout the flooring, which plays a critical role in keeping things cool.
4. Build an artificial shade for the playground
If you have already installed rubber mats and realize that there isn’t plenty of natural shade to keep the surface cool, consider building an artificial shade for the playground.
Some community and commercial playgrounds have tents, awnings, and other shade structures to protect the surface and playground equipment from direct sunlight.
Artificial shades come in handy when constructing a playground in areas that typically experience hot and dry climates. It is relatively difficult to find large, tall trees in such areas to provide natural shade.
Why Do People Prefer Rubber Mats for Playground Surfacing?
The truth is that rubber mats are among the most popular materials for kids’ playground surfaces because they offer many benefits.
Domestic and commercial users usually prefer rubber mats for playground surfacing because they are not only safer and easier to install, but they are also environmentally friendly and easier to maintain.
These surfaces are slip-resistant, and their safety properties don’t wear out with usage hence ideal for playgrounds that attract massive traffic. The rubber is designed to adapt quite well to movement and provide added cushion to reduce the risk of injuries in case of accidental falls.
They are also attractive, stylish and sound-absorbing. They are available in a wide range of colors and can be installed in different ways to form various patterns. The rubber also comes in handy when you plan to construct a playground in residential areas where the noise of playing kids needs to be minimized.
Lastly, rubber mats are durable and cost-effective. They are easy to install, maintain and have a relatively long lifespan. They also have a relatively low replacement cost and are easy to clean.
Safety is the most critical element of a playground. While most playground injuries occur due to accidental falls, severe thermal burns are still a significant risk you need to keep in mind, especially during hot summers.
While rubber mats have a relatively higher specific heat value compared to other playground surfacing materials, you need to keep in mind that they can still get hot and pose a safety risk to your little ones. The best way to prevent the risk of thermal burns at playgrounds is by ensuring the surface doesn’t get hot in the first place.
Choose light-colored rubber mats, construct the playground in a shaded area and if there is no natural shade in the spot where you wish to construct the playground, find a way of having an artificial shade over the playground surface and equipment.