When do I recondition my playground rubber surface?

A question that we get at least a few times a day is how frequently do I need to be sealing, rebinding or conditioning my playground rubber surface. The fact that you already know that you have to recondition your playground rubber surface puts you ahead of the curve. Most owners/operators are under the impression that this type of surfacing is maintenance free. Now that we know you have to recondition, the next logical questions is how often? 

 We always get people asking us if we offer a maintenance contract to recondition the playground rubber surface according to a predetermined schedule, whether it's every year or every other year. Our answer is "No we don't." and we don't recommend you sign a contract like that and here is why:

To answer the question of why such contracts are a bad idea we have to explain the physics of reconditioning or "Rebinding" your playground rubber surface. The surface is comprised of a base layer called "The impact attenuation layer" or the buffings layer. It is made up of shredded SBR rubber bonded together typically using a base layer aromatic binder. That layer is capped by what's called a "wear layer" usually made with EPDM or TPV rubber granules bound together with either aromatic or aliphatic binders. The binders are broken down by UV rays as time goes on and foot traffic helps granules come off. This is where the process of rebinding or reconditioning becomes critical. You are simply rejuvenating the play surface and replacing the binders it lost with new binders. The conditioning agent in this case is nothing more than a diluted version of the aliphatic binders used in the install in the first place.

The question that comes up sometimes is: Can you just dilute binder myself and  roll it over the surface to rejuvenate it? The answer is a categorical NO. You will ruin your play surface that way. The proportions of binder vs dilutant is something that is better left to a professional chemist. In addition, most of the dilutants available on the shelf are very harmful to the environment and to your surface. We have even seen contractors use diluted aromatic binders as sealants. Besides the obvious that it will harden the play surface, the whole color of the surface will become a shade or two darker. 

Back to your main question, imagine a system that does not need any binders, because it still has plenty. And imagine that system getting more binders on top of the one it already has. A few things can easily happen. The system loses its porousness so it is no longer water permeable. The second thing which happens all the time, is the play surface becomes harder, because adding binder to binder does exactly that. 

To avoid this problem we tell our clients: Instead of conditioning on a schedule and trying to fix a problem that doesn't exist, go out there and do the shuffle test. Shuffle your feet on a few areas on your play surface. If you are easily dislodging rubber granules, then, and only then is the time to recondition your surface. Should you have any questions about reconditioning your playground surface, give us a call at: 203-659-0456