Last year was one of the hottest on record and experts say this summer could eclipse the record numbers we witnessed last season. Our team of experts wanted to see the effects of summer heat on playground equipment and conducted some independent testing using infrared laser thermometers, the results of our tests were surprising.
When it comes to having fun on playgrounds, high temperatures and summer sun can stop the fun in its tracks. Here in the south, summer temperatures can easily hover above 100 degrees and remain at that level and higher for months on end. Aside from the heat making it uncomfortable to play outside, when it comes to playground equipment it can be dangerous.
Commercial playgrounds are made of metal and high density plastics and composites, both of which are susceptible to absorbing and holding heat. Along with commercial playground equipment will be the surfacing which protects its users, typically a rubber surface either monolithic (poured in place rubber) or loose fill (shredded rubber mulch).
Our tests showed that during peak sunlight hours last summer, plastic playground components in direct sunlight on average were about 40 degrees warmer than outside temperatures. Our highest readings were on plastic playground slides that have a majority of their surface area on a semi-horizontal plane, exposing the mass of it to sunlight. Readings for these playground slides were in some cases over 140 degrees. Metal playground components such as slides and decks on average were 20-30 degrees higher than outside temperatures. We believe that the temperature readings are effected more by the orientation of the equipment tested in relationship to its amount of exposure than to the material it’s made out of. Overall, the playground equipment that children are most likely to have skin contact with, such as slides are the primary area of concern, and not surprisingly these types of equipment are likely to be the hottest.
Many people believe that using lighter colors on playground equipment will reduce the surface temperature of the equipment. This is true, but our test showed that the difference in temperature was minimal, only a 3-5 degree difference in temperature between light and dark equipment. The truth is that the molecular composition of the material and its reflectivity index will have more of an effect on the amount of heat it retains than its color will. Playground slides are generally not a high gloss finish and plastic is an excellent medium for heat absorption.
We wanted to also see how various playground surfacing systems retain heat. We examined and recorded temperatures for three types of commonly used playground safety surfacing, shredded cypress mulch, poured in place rubber and shredded rubber mulch. Of the three surfaces, the poured in place rubber playground surfacing was by far the hottest, temperatures for this surface were in line with plastic playground components such as slides, with average temperatures around 35 degrees warmer than outside temperatures, averaging around 134 degrees on a 100 degree summer day. The second warmest playground surfacing material out of the three was shredded rubber mulch. The rubber mulch was on average around 12-16 degrees warmer than outside temperatures, however on impact, the surface temperature was reduced to reasonable rates as the layers of mulch beneath the top layer were much cooler. The playground surfacing material with the lowest average surface temperatures was shredded cypress wood mulch, in par with outside temperatures. As with the playground equipment, the effect of color on surface temperature was minimal. So how then do we protect our children from the heat and potential for injury while they are using the playground? The answer is simple, shade.
Any temperature in excess of 140 degrees is capable of burning human skin. On a hot summer day, playground equipment will meet and exceed that temperature by noon. Shaded areas on playgrounds provide protection and on average keep surface temperatures 10-16 degrees cooler than outside temperatures. Shade is the easiest way to prevent burns on playgrounds, but it also does so much more. Playground equipment and surfacing (especially poured in place rubber surfacing) are highly susceptible to UV exposure, so much so in fact that when a slide breaks, or surfacing fails it is usually due to breakdowns caused by years of sun exposure. Shade not only protects the little ones on a playground, but also the playground itself.
Shade structures come in many forms, from sail shades to hip and ridge and even umbrella shades. Shades can be custom designed to be an integrated part of your playground, or cover the entire playground. In addition to providing cooler temperatures for little ones and parents alike, depending on the shade structure design, they can also be very ascetically pleasing and provide another dimension for a child’s imagination to prosper.
Not all shades are created equal. It’s important to remember that the old saying, “you get what you pay for.” There are a number of shade manufacturers in the United States that provide a high quality shade product that comes with a great warranty, there are far more companies that provide economy shades, typically imported from overseas. These economy shades are likely to fail within the first few years of use. Another fantastic source for shade is trees. Many people want to remove trees on playgrounds, the truth is that trees are your ally for combating heat on playgrounds. Whenever possible you should try to design around and incorporate trees into your playground project. Trees are not only an excellent source of shade but can also beautify a playground.
Our team of playground experts has the shade solutions you need. We can design a shade to fit any space and budget, offering the highest quality shade structure products with the industries best warranty, lifetime. So when you’re ready to cool off, give us a call and we will make sure that you get the products you need at a price you can afford.