To begin with, there are 2 main issues to be dealt with when building a playground: preparing a safe playground flooring and gathering necessary equipment. The first issue is much too often overlooked, despite the fact that it is the flooring which plays a deciding role when a child is falling down. Falls are the main cause of accidents on a playground! Grass or natural soil are usually not sufficient to cushion the impact of a child’s fall.
The equipment is another factor and here the money should not be spared. Obviously, the existing playing equipment can be used if it is in a good condition and regularly maintained. When buying new equipment, one should choose a reliable manufacturer whose equipment complies with international safety standards. The manufacturer should inform you which equipment can be installed in a DIY manner, and what needs to be carried out by a professional company.
Calculating playground area
Let’s start with designating a safe playground area, which should be large enough not only to fit all the equipment, but also to comprise the impact area, which is where a child can fall. Remember that the impact area is to be free of obstacles. In order to be able to calculate this area, we need to know the critical fall height of the equipment. For example, if the maximum height from which a child can fall is 2 m, the ground has to be covered with protective playground flooring certified to attenuate the impact from 2 metres. Moreover, the flooring should reach 1.8 m behind the edge of the equipment in question. The formula to calculate the impact area is: 2/3*critical fall height + 50cm.
This means that one should always pave the playground with safety flooring reaching 1.5 to 2.5 metres behind the equipment.
Another important safety requirement is that the maximum fall height is 3 metres. So, make sure none of the equipment where a child can stand or climb is higher than 3 m. Finally, let’s not forget about common sense which should guide you in the first place when building a private playground.
Preparing the subfloor
Once you have looked at the location of the existing equipment or installed the new one (following the manufacturer’s instruction) and once you have designed the total playground area, it is time to prepare the subfloor. If you build a DIY playground it is much easier if the subfloor is bound (e.g. concrete, paving stone, asphalt, tiles). In that case, you can lay safety flooring directly on top of it, without the need to prepare the base course. If you choose rubber playground mats which are interlocking, you will not even need to glue the tiles.
If your subfloor is unbound, for example it is soil, sand or grass, you need to prepare it first to make it load-bearing and solid. The best and most economical way is to prepare a grit or gravel bedding. Level the existing area and place a layer of about 15 cm of sharp-edged gravel, which should be compacted and levelled. Now you can pave the safety playground mats directly onto the gravel bedding. Rain water will seep through the porous mats and through the gravel layer to the ground. This solution is ecological and very practical – there will be no puddles and children can use the playground in any weather!
Low-maintenance playground flooring
Rubber mats are the most practical flooring solution for a safe DIY playground. Apart from the fact that they are childishly easy to install, they require practically no maintenance. Playground mats are made from a permanently elastic material (polyurethane-bonded rubber granulate) which means they are absolutely weatherproof. They will not rot or crack, and they will last for about 15 years or more. If there is any problem, individual mats can be lifted or exchanged.
Other playground materials are either very expensive or difficult to maintain. Especially sand, grass or wood chips need constant maintenance, exchange and replenishment. The expenses related to this can be overwhelming for a community or neighbourhood. Especially that the layer of these loose fill materials has to be quite thick to provide the necessary fall protection.
With rubber playground mats it is very easy to provide the fall protection necessary on a particular playground. The manufacturer always informs you what the critical fall height for each safety mat is, and which one is suitable for installations on unbound subfloor. Rubber granulate mats are easy to cut on site and they have small formats to make DIY work a little bit easier.