Play Matting - Getting it right for Your Play space
Table of Contents
- What to Look for in Play Matting
- Rubber Tiles
- EVA Foam Mats
- Interlocking Modular Tiles
- Rubber Jigsaw Tiles
- PU Foam Mats
- Final Thoughts
What to Look for in Play Matting
Why should a play space have special flooring? Kids at play like to run, jump, climb, tumble, and wrestle. Improper flooring can make slips and trips more likely and increase the risk of injury during a fall. A hard enough fall onto the wrong surface may result in broken bones, concussions, or other serious injuries.
When choosing flooring material or matting for a play space, it is important to consider its shock absorbency, slip resistance, and anti-bacterial properties. Depending on whether you intend to use the matting in an indoor space or an outdoor space, there are other considerations you will need to account for.
The word shock is used in numerous contexts, including a medical condition or an emotional state. The most basic definition of shock is “a sudden, intense impact.” A physicist might describe it to you in terms of a transfer of energy, either when acceleration suddenly changes drastically or when one object exerts a lot of force on another object. We’re not going to get extremely scientific, but it does help to understand a little bit of physics to understand why shock-absorbent materials are important in children’s play spaces. You’ve probably heard that every action has an equal and opposite reaction. When you exert force on something, it exerts the same amount of force back on you. That’s why your hand might hurt after you slap something.
When you trip and fall, you exert force on the surface as you land, but it also exerts the same force on you. The higher you fall from or, the faster you are moving when you hit, the more force is exchanged. More force leads to a greater risk of injury. Shock-absorbent materials work by directing the energy from the impact away from you and dispelling it throughout the surface you have landed on. This means that the force you exert on the object is not exerted back on you, lowering the risk of injury.
British Standards EN 1177 requires any playground with climbing equipment taller than 0.6 metres to be critical fall height rated. The critical fall height is the farthest distance a child could fall from climbing equipment to the ground and is measured from the highest platform a child can reach or stand on. Surfaces that are critical fall height certified offer enough shock absorption to lessen the severity of a fall from a specified height. Material that is certified for a critical fall height of 1.5 metres will prevent serious injuries if a child falls from a distance of 1 metre, but may not provide adequate cushioning for falls from a platform that is 2 metres above the ground.
Rubber and foam surfaces are excellent shock absorbers and are commonly used in playground surfacing and play matting.
When children are running, skipping, and jumping—as they often do at play—it is more likely that they will slip and fall. Luckily, the right flooring material can help reduce the risk of slips. Smooth, shiny surfaces pose more of a slipping hazard. A slip-resistant surface should allow a child’s feet or shoes to grip the ground underneath them. As your play matting will likely lie on another surface, it also needs to grip that surface to prevent the matting itself from slipping. Slip resistance comes from a combination of weight and texture. A heavier matting is less likely to move around on the ground below it, even if it is smooth hardwood flooring, when children are running and playing on it. Certain textures create more friction, which increases traction and prevents slips. However, if a fall does occur, a surface with too much friction may cause burns and scrapes. It is important to choose a surface that has the right amount of traction and softness. If your matting will be placed outside, you should also consider how well it will absorb water or dry in the event of rainy weather conditions.
If you are installing flooring in a public play space, keep in mind that many, many children will be touching it. Ask any teacher, nursery worker, or parent of young kids—children are germ magnets. In order to prevent your play space from becoming a disease vector, you want materials that are easy to clean and resistant to bacterial growth. Even if you are interested in play matting for your own home, you need to be especially wary of skin infections. The wrong type of matting can serve as the perfect breeding ground for bacteria and fungi. When choosing a material for matting, check if the manufacturer has specified that it is resistant to bacteria and fungal growth. Also, look for materials that don’t require intensive effort to clean or require special cleaning products.
Indoor vs. Outdoor
There are extra considerations you need to account for when purchasing matting materials for an outdoor space. Outside, materials will be exposed to the elements. You will need matting that is UV-resistant and not susceptible to water damage. While it is always best to choose non-toxic materials for children’s play spaces, it is especially important to make sure that the materials you install in outdoor playgrounds will not have detrimental environmental effects. At Gym Flooring, we have play matting options that are specifically designed for outdoor use, so you can be sure they’ll last through years of exposure to the sun, rain, snow, and more. Furthermore, our outdoor play tiles have a self-draining feature built into the design which allows any moisture to escape on the underside.
Whether you are outfitting a commercial recreation space or your home playroom with suitable flooring, you have several options for shock-absorbent, slip-resistant matting. Some of the most common options include rubber, foam, and PVC.
One of the biggest advantages of rubber is its durability. It is very hard to cut or tear rubber, and it easily springs back to its original shape. This means that it can last for up to 10 years without needing to be replaced and can withstand the weight of heavy climbing equipment. Rubber has a very high coefficient of static friction so that it won’t slide around on the floor underneath it, and children are less likely to slip as they are running around. Despite its excellent traction, it is still soft enough that it won’t cause friction burns if a fall occurs. Its ability to spring back after force gives it more of a bounce than some other materials. It also repels water and other liquids and is resistant to mold, mildew, and other fungus.
There are many different types of foam matting available, and many options are relatively inexpensive and easy to find. If you are installing safety flooring in your home or classroom, you can find interlocking puzzle-piece foam tiles from many retailers, and they are light and easy to install on your own. These might be ideal if you are looking for extra padding in the event of normal trips and falls from kids running around. However, if children will be practicing acrobatics or climbing up to 0.6 metres or more, you will want to make sure you are choosing a foam that is critical fall height rated. There are two main types of foam: closed-cell foams and open-cell foams. All foams are highly shock absorbent and do not spring back into shape as quickly as rubber does. This gives them less of a bounce and slightly more cushioning but also means that they may dent under the weight of equipment.
Closed-cell foams include EVA foams (ethylene-vinyl acetate) and PE foams (polyethylene). EVA is sometimes called foam rubber. It does not contain any rubber, but it does have certain properties in common with rubber, including its softness and flexibility. PE rubber is much firmer and can withstand large amounts of impact without rupturing. PE foams are excellent matting material when there is a risk of falling from a considerable height. This is because it is incredibly light, and it is much easier to install a thick enough mat that is still portable. Closed cell foams disperse energy from impacts effectively while still being firm enough to maneuver comfortably.
Open-cell foams like PU foam (polyurethane) create an extremely soft surface that provides a high amount of cushioning. Unlike closed-cell foams, air can easily flow through open-cell foams, allowing them to compress a great deal. This makes it ideal for crash pads, but it is not stable enough to use as a walking surface. Because it dissipates energy so well, it is tiring to walk across. It is also not suitable for those in wheelchairs or with other mobility issues.
PVC, or polyvinyl chloride, is an inexpensive, readily available plastic. PVC is produced in either its unplasticised rigid form or in its flexible plasticised form, both of which can be used to make matting and flooring for play spaces. Many playmats designed for babies are made from flexible PVC. It can also be used as a covering for other padding materials like rubber or foam. Gym Flooring also offers pnterlocking modular tiles made from rigid PVC. While it might not seem as natural cushioning as foam or rubber, PVC is a shock-absorbent material. It is frequently used in vehicles, including airbags and soft dashboards, to help prevent injuries in the event of an impact. PVC provides excellent traction and is often used in the soles of anti-slip shoes. As an added safety feature for your play space, it is also fire retardant.
Once you have selected the type of material you want to use for your play space, the next step is to choose which application you will use. There are many ways to use rubber as the flooring material for an outdoor play space, including wet-pour rubber, rubber mulching, and rubber tiles. Indoors, rubber tiles are the most practical option.
As previously discussed, rubber is a highly shock-absorbent material. Rubber tiles between 30mm to 40mm thick are critical fall height rated for most standard climbing equipment. Our rubber tiles don’t require adhesive and can be easily removed or relocated if necessary. If there is damage to one section of the floor, you can easily replace the affected tiles without having to redo your entire floor. They are made from recycled vehicle tires and are odour-free, making them ideal for use indoors. Rubber tiles also provide a flat surface that is accessible to those using wheelchairs or with other mobility limitations. Rubber tiles are durable and can last up to a decade or more before they have to be replaced.
Of all of the play matting options, rubber tiles may be more expensive than some of the alternatives.
Installation and Maintenance
You can easily install rubber tiles on your own without the assistance of a professional. They are lightweight enough for one person to carry and do not require an adhesive. However, they are heavy enough and have enough traction that they won’t slide around as children are playing. You can also purchase options with connector pieces to join multiple tiles together. They are easy to keep clean with normal sweeping and mopping.
EVA Foam Mats
EVA foam matting is one of the most popular types of floor matting for at-home use. They are available in a wide variety of styles and colours and are easy to source.
If you’re looking to provide a soft surface for your children to play on at home, EVA foam mats are a perfect solution. Used widely in Martial Arts training, foam matting is renowned for its excellent protection and cushioning qualities. EVA foam is also available as roll-out or folding mats. EVA foam is lightweight, so it is easy to install without any professional help, and it does not usually require the use of an adhesive. Whether you choose a folding mat, roll-out mat, or interlocking tiles, it is easy to remove your flooring and store it when you are not using it.
If you choose to use roll-out or folding EVA mats, it may be difficult to exactly match the size of your space. Also, mats that aren’t secured with adhesive may be more likely to slip and move around. Before choosing an EVA mat, check its critical fall height rating. Some of the colourful puzzle piece tiles you may find in a nursery or early primary classrooms may not be thick enough to prevent serious injuries from heavy play equipment.
Installation and Maintenance
It is easy to install EVA flooring on your own without professional assistance. The nature of foam makes it very lightweight, so it is easy to carry. Interlocking foam puzzle pieces are easy to connect to cover a large surface, and even folding mats usually have Velcro so that you can connect multiple mats together and cover a larger surface area. You can keep them clean with a damp rag, gentle cleanser, and disinfectant.
Interlocking Modular Tiles
Most interlocking modular tiles are made from lightweight PVC or rubberised PVC and are available in a wide array of colours.
Like EVA foam tiles, interlocking PVC tiles are lightweight and easy to install. Because they are modular, if one section gets damaged, it is easy to replace the affected tiles without having to redo the whole floor. They provide excellent traction and firm surface, making them a great surface for sports like handball or football. PVC tiles are ideal where there is a risk of children tripping while running but not a risk of falling from high surfaces. PVC does provide better shock absorption than other firm running surfaces such as concrete, hardwood, or blacktop. In outdoor play spaces, PVC tiles offer excellent drainage to prevent the playing surface from becoming slippery.
While PVC does offer some shock absorption, it is not as cushioned as rubber or foam tiles might be. If it is going to be used with climbing equipment, you will most likely have to add additional padding under it to achieve the necessary critical fall height rating.
Installation and Maintenance
Interlocking modular tiles click together like puzzle pieces. They are usually light enough for one person to carry on their own. When cleaning, you will need to check for debris that has become lodged in the gaps of the tiles to make sure there is nothing sharp or pointed children can fall on. Then you can sweep away any surface debris and wipe the tiles down with water and a gentle cleanser or disinfectant.
Rubber Jigsaw Tiles
Rubber jigsaw tiles are excellent for creating a cushioned surface in gyms and play spaces, both in the home and in commercial recreation centres.
Rubber jigsaw tiles provide many of the same benefits as rubber tiles and EVA foam jigsaw tiles. They provide very good shock absorption and slip protection, won’t dent under the weight of exercise equipment or furniture, and are easy to install without professional help. They are more durable than EVA foam, and the jigsaw connections create less pronounced seams than some other rubber tiles, giving you an overall flatter surface. They are heavy enough and provide enough friction that you don’t need to worry about them slipping.
The main drawback of rubber matting is that it is more expensive than some of the alternatives. Because it is a denser material, it will also be heavier than some other materials, even if you are using the same size tile.
Installation and Maintenance
Rubber jigsaw tiles are not so heavy that you can’t lay them down yourself, and they do not require adhesive. All you have to do is line the pegs and notches up and press them together. It is just as easy to remove when you are done. They will last for a decade if properly taken care of and can be cleaned with a standard broom and mop.
PU Foam Mats
PU foam is most commonly found in crashmats made for activities like gymnastics or martial arts.
PU foam provides optimal cushioning. If there is a risk that children will fall from a great height—such as a climbing rope—this can soften a fall from several metres in the air and help protect against serious injuries.
Unfortunately, PU foam does not have many uses apart from serving as a crashmat. It absorbs shock so well that it requires large amounts of energy to walk across, is extremely difficult to run across, and is nearly impassable for those in wheelchairs or who have other mobility limitations. The mats themselves are often large and thick, making them very difficult for one person to move.
Installation and Maintenance
Most PU foam mats are covered with vinyl or a similar material, so they are easy to clean with a damp rag, soap, and water. You can also wipe them down with disinfectant wipes or spray disinfectants and a towel. These mats don’t fold or roll up, so if you need to move them, you will have to stack them in a corner out of the way. They usually don’t cover an expansive surface area.
Play matting is an important feature in any kids leisure space. Choosing the correct material for the type of setting (outdoor or indoors) is important as well as considering the level of usage and the different functions are key to deciding on what will work best for your needs. Rubber and foam matting are popular choices of children’s play areas because of their protection qualities as well as their durability and low maintenance.
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