Prolonged exposure to direct and intense sunlight can cause playgrounds and play equipment to become very hot. Testing has shown that all common types of surfacing can become too hot for bare skin contact if left in strong sun for long enough – just like a car steering wheel– with some types of solid surfacing measured at temperatures over 70°C (158°F)
Keeping things cool The best way to prevent playground equipment and surfacing (as well as children!) from getting too hot is to provide adequate shading using natural or built shade structures. During the planning process try to make use of shade from any trees with dense foliage and wide-spreading canopies. If installing a shade sail, choose a supplier with a good track record and ask what level of UV protection will be provided. This can be given as an Ultraviolet Protection Factor rating (UPF) or a percentage figure. These should be as high as possible but as a guide at least 94% or a UPF of 15 or greater is recommended.
Protecting our future If sunlight is intense enough to overheat playground equipment or surfacing, then it will also cause damage to children who are also exposed to it. By the time an individual is 20 years old, they have probably already had 80% of the sun damage they will receive during their lifetime. The risk of developing skin cancer later in life strongly relates to childhood UV exposure. Providing adequate sun protection for children in playgrounds is a safety essential that will also prevent potential issues with hot equipment and surfaces.
Selecting the right surface Ongoing safety compliance, maintenance requirements, durability and cost performance over time, are all important considerations when choosing a playground surface. Potential heat issues can usually be managed by providing effective shading, facilitating airflow and minimising UV reflection from surrounding structures. While natural surfacing like grass may not heat up like other surfaces it is almost impossible to maintain to the required critical fall height. Other natural loose fill products like mulch have been known to self-ignite from the interaction of bacteria, dampness and heat.
Limiting UV exposure and heat levels should be primary considerations when designing or renovating a playground: if children are adequately protected from the harmful effects of UV radiation, then the equipment and surfacing will also be protected.
How does Play Matta™ compare to other surfaces?
A study was carried out in Southern California in mid summer to determine just that. We compared common surfaces including Play Matta™ Original, wet pour rubber, synthetic turf, rubber tiles, concrete, asphalt and loose sand. Different colour options were also assessed. We found that, besides differing rates of heating and cooling (Play Matta™ cooled the quickest due to its open construction), the maximum surface temperatures attained were all quite similar, with a bound rubber crumb sample giving the highest point at 71°C (160°F).
Which surfaces felt the hottest?
Due to the amount of energy stored, the concrete and asphalt became hot to the touch at significantly lower temperatures than the Play Matta™ Original tiles.