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If you have a jungle gym, swing set, slide, or playset in your backyard, you know the importance of covering the ground below it with a layer of soft, shock-absorbent material. Not only does this provide a softer landing for when kids jump or fall, but it also helps to keep the area clean and free of mud and grass. The most popular type of ground cover for playgrounds is wood chips. But what makes wood chips popular? You are about to find out.
So, what are some of the advantages and disadvantages of wood chips? Generally, wood chips are a natural product that are biodegradable and environmentally friendly. They are inexpensive compared to other ground cover options and provide good drainage. Furthermore, they are relatively easy to install and maintain. However, one downside of wood chips is that they can be a bit messy, as they tend to blow around in the wind and track into your home on shoes.
If you’re considering using wood chips for your playground, you have come to the right place. This post discusses everything you need to know about them, including how to choose the right type and how to install them.
What Are Playground Wood Chips?
Playground wood chips are small pieces of wood that have been shredded or chopped into uniform size. They are then used to cover the ground beneath playground equipment to provide a cushioned layer.
Wood chips are an organic, natural product that is environmentally friendly and biodegradable. There are two main types of wood chips: playground mulch and shredded hardwood.
Playground mulch is made from softwoods, such as pine or cedar and is designed to be shock-absorbent. You guessed it; shredded hardwood is made from hardwoods, such as oak or maple. It is not as shock-absorbent as playground mulch but is more durable.
What Are the Pros and Cons of Wood Chips?
Wood chips are perhaps the most popular type of ground cover for playgrounds because they offer many advantages, including the following:
Pros of Wood Chips
Some of the advantages of wood chips include:
One of the most important considerations when choosing a ground cover for a playground is safety. Wood chips provide a cushioned layer that helps to protect against falls and injuries.
In fact, research shows that wood chips not only meet ASTM, ADA, and CPSC safety standards but exceed them. Several studies have shown that wood chips prevent playground injuries more effectively than any other playground surface material.
They are also less sensitive to high temperatures, which plays a crucial role in protecting children during the extreme temperatures of summer and winter.
2. Environmental Friendliness
Another advantage of wood chips is that they are environmentally friendly. They are a natural product that is biodegradable and recyclable. Wood chips also help to improve air quality by trapping dust and particulates.
Wood chips are relatively inexpensive compared to other types of playground surfaces, such as rubber or poured-in-place.
Considering they are relatively affordable yet highly effective at protecting children, they are an extremely appealing playground surfacing material.
However, you must often replace the chips to ensure they remain effective at protecting kids against potential injuries.
4. Good Drainage
Another advantage of wood chips is that they offer good drainage. This is extremely important in playgrounds because standing water can lead to slips and falls. Wood chips allow water to drain through, which helps to keep the surface dry.
5. Easy Installation
Wood chips are relatively easy to install. You only need a truck or trailer to transport the chips to the playground and a shovel to spread them around.
You don’t need any special equipment or skills to install wood chips, which makes them a great do-it-yourself project. Complete installation only takes a couple of hours.
6. Low Maintenance
Once wood chips are installed, they don’t require much maintenance. You’ll need to rake them occasionally to keep them level and add more. That’s pretty much it!
Cons of Wood Chips
While there are many advantages of wood chips, there are a few downsides you should be aware of, including:
1. Need to Be Replaced Regularly
One of the main disadvantages of wood chips is that they need to be replaced regularly. They break down over time and eventually turn into dust.
Once this happens, they lose their shock-absorbent properties and are no longer effective at protecting against falls and injuries.
How often you need to replace the wood chips will depend on how often the playground is used. If it’s heavily used, you may need to replace the chips every year or two.
If it’s not used very often, you may be able to get away with replacing them every three to five years.
2. Can Be Messy
Another disadvantage of wood chips is that they can be messy. They tend to track into homes and cars, which can be frustrating for parents and caregivers. Wood chips can also spread all over the playground in windy conditions.
3. They Attract Pests
Wood chips also attract pests like ants, bees, and termites. If you have a problem with any of these pests, you may want to consider another type of playground surface material. Sometimes, these pests can find their way into your home through the wood chips.
4. Dirt and Mud
Wood chips can also turn into mud when they get wet. This can be a problem in playgrounds that don’t have good drainage. The mud can make the surface slick and slippery, which increases the risk of falls and injuries.
How to Maintain Wood Chips
A lot of work often goes into maintaining wood chips. Here are a few tips for maintaining wood chips to keep them looking good:
1. Start with the Right Amount
When you first place wood chips in your playground, the amount you need usually depends on the height of the play equipment.
A general rule of thumb is that you need about 12 inches of wood chips for a 6-foot fall. This will help to ensure that your child is sufficiently protected in case of a fall.
You may need more or less depending on the type of wood chips you use and the height of the playground equipment. Consult with a playground safety expert to determine the right amount for your needs.
2. Use a Tarp
If you’re using wood chips that have been chipped or shredded, placing them on a tarp before adding them to the playground is a good idea. This will help to keep the chips in one area and make cleanup easier. Secure the tarp so that it doesn’t blow away in the wind.
3. Rake Regularly
You’ll need to rake wood chips regularly to keep them level and even. This is especially important after it rains or if the chips get blown around in the wind.
If you don’t rake them, the chips can become matted down, which makes them less effective at protecting against falls.
4. Add More Chips Regularly
As the wood chips break down and turn into dust, you’ll need to add more to maintain the desired depth. This is usually every few months, but it may be more often if the playground is heavily used.
A good rule of thumb is to add a new layer of wood chips when the old ones have broken down to about half their original depth.
5. Clean Up Spills
If you notice any spills on the wood chips, be sure to clean them up right away. Otherwise, they can turn into mud, making the surface slick and slippery.
You can use a hose or a power washer to clean up spills. Just be sure to avoid using chemicals, as they can harm children.
6. Check for Pests Regularly
As we mentioned before, wood chips can attract pests. Check the playground regularly for ants, bees, and termites. If you find any, be sure to remove them right away.
You can use a pesticide to keep pests away, but be sure to choose one that is safe for children and pets.
How to Choose the Right Type of Wood Chips
The type of wood chips you choose will depend on a few factors, such as the age of your children, the kind of equipment they will be using, and your budget.
If you have very young children, you’ll want to choose a softer type of wood chip, such as cedar chips or pine needles. These are less likely to cause injuries if a child falls on them.
For older children, you can choose a harder type of wood chip, such as oak or maple. These chips will last longer and provide more protection against falls.
You should also consider the playground equipment your children will use. If they are using slides or swings, you’ll want to choose a harder type of wood chip, so they don’t break down too quickly.
Finally, you’ll need to consider your budget when choosing wood chips. Cedar chips and pine needles are usually the most expensive, while hardwood chips are generally the least costly.
Now that you know all about playground wood chips, it’s time to decide if they’re the right choice for your playground.
Keep in mind the pros and cons we’ve outlined and how to maintain them when making your decision. And be sure to check out expert recommendations for the best type of wood chips to use in your area.
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