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I, as well as our playground installers, get this question quite frequently; Which safety surfacing system is better for my playground? Poured in place rubber, or rubber tiles. Pricing for either can be quite similar these days based on the quality of the tiles and the quality of the workmanship of the poured in place installation. So, it’s not an issue any longer. However, there some factors that can set either one for success or failure. Through this post, I hope I will shed some light on those and hopefully help you in the decision making process.
Let’s start with playground rubber tiles. You can find tiles for every fall height these days. They come in various sizes and shapes. You have your straight rubber tiles that are generally glued on the sides so they adhere to each other. Sometimes, they are not even glued. They are just packed next to each other and glued down on the surface below or bordered with either railroad ties, concrete edging or other types of systems that keep them from sliding away from each other. You also have interlocking tiles that lock on each other. Either way, in my opinion, tiles are best when installed on a hard and flat surface such as concrete, or really smooth asphalt. If the asphalt has cracks that protrude up, it won’t work very well. If the cracks are just gaps in the surface of the concrete; in other words, there is no sudden change in the elevation of the concrete, then it should be fine. All being said, It is better to have them glued down. This will ensure minimum lateral movements of the tile. If beveled edges are used (and they should be used to minimize tripping and for ADA access) extra strong binders should be used to install the beveled edges, since those are also acting to block the movements of the tiles.
I know that there are installers out there who will put rubber tiles on packed crushed stones or stone dust. And this is fine if there are no drainage issues and the tiles are well bordered. My experience tells me that if the substrate moves, the rubber tiles will sag and buckle at the corners. This is a choice that the installer should make only after careful inspection of the soil and drainage in the playground site.
Poured in place rubber installations on hard surfaces such as concrete and asphalt are preferred as well. But because this is a hand troweled system, it tends to be more forgiving than tiles if installed on a well-compacted substrate. So it can be done when you don’t have concrete on asphalt. Care must be taken to remove all organic material before starting to pour the rubber. A common mistake we see in the field is remnants of wood mulch are left on the site and the poured in place rubber is installed on top of it. As the mulch disintegrates, it creates a vacuum, causing the rubber on top of it to sag.
Design opportunities have traditionally been more associated with poured in place rubber than rubber tiles, although there are manufacturers today who will have many designs laid out on tiles, and will even make your own design, but that will cost you. Logos and other lettering are easily done with poured in place systems but will generally also add to the cost. So, I can safely say that color and design issues are no longer a factor in why you should go with one vs. the other.
Now, let’s talk about maintenance. A poured in place surface definitely needs more maintenance than a rubber tile surface. Tiles are pressed at factories and don’t need top coat maintenance. Poured in Place rubber surfaces do. Please see my post about Poured in place repair to learn more about this.
Finally, the shape and equipment in your playground can play a big role in labor cost when determining which surfacing system will work better. If you have an irregular shaped playground with a very convoluted play set already installed with lots and lots of footings, this will force the installer to spend a considerable amount of time cutting and fitting the tiles. This will result in waste in material and will take a lot longer to install. So, this would be a perfect application for a poured in place rubber job. If your playground dimensions work with the size of the tiles, so that there is very little waste, and you have the required subsurface. Then Rubber tiles are good candidates.
If you are still confused about which system will work best for your playground, feel free to ask at firstname.lastname@example.org