Fifty years ago, dry playground environments evolved from abrasive, hard concrete asphalt or dirt toward alternative safer, engineered surfacing materials. Today, spray parks, water playgrounds, and pool decks are beginning a similar evolution. Traditional surfaces for splash parks include broomed concrete, painted or coated concrete, cement pavers, or tile. The major disadvantages with traditional finishes are that they are hard, abrasive, slippery, or difficult to clean.
Manufactured surfaces can be applied over concrete or other substrates to substantially increase the performance of the wet play area surfacing. Aquatic surfacing falls into three main categories: poured-in-place products, foam rubber tiles, and other products.
Poured-in-place products for aquatic environments are typically made from plastic pellets bound together with a chlorine- and chemical-resistant urethane binder. The installation technique behind these systems comes from dry playground poured-in-place systems and is hand troweled on site by trained, certified installation crews. This system utilizes different technology than traditional playground poured-in-place in the composition of the materials, frequently using a form of plastic pellet rather than rubber and a chemical resistant urethane binder.
Foam Rubber Tiles
Impervious foam rubber tiles are available in individual tiles that can be installed on site by trained, certified installation crews and can be cut on site to fit unique site conditions and design preferences. These tiles adhere directly to the sub-base using contact cement. A primary advantage of tile installations is that a single tile can be removed and replaced if it becomes damaged. These tiles have high slip resistance, impact cushioning, cooler surface temperatures, chemical resistance, impermeability, and anti-microbial properties.
Other products may include synthetic grass systems designed for water play, coatings, and other surfaces. Contact one of our brands to learn what products might be available for wet play applications.
Model Aquatic Health Code
The Model Aquatic Health Code is a set of voluntary standards developed in collaboration with the Centers for Disease Control to provide guidelines and recommendations to improve health and safety at aquatic facilities, pools, and water playgrounds. The Model Aquatic Health Code addresses wet play surfacing by recommending stable, secure walking surfaces within the use area of the pool or wet area.
Coefficient of Friction
Once a frequently used measure of slip resistance, ASTM 1028, which measures the coefficient of friction to determine the slip resistance or slipperiness of surfacing, has been withdrawn. It was widely understood that this standard for measuring water play surfacing safety was not reliable as it was difficult to replicate across various tests and the results did not necessarily predict the performance of the surfacing in real-world conditions.
Drainage is a concern for aquatic areas where water runoff must be planned for. Take extra precautions to ensure that proper drainage is installed to accommodate expected water volumes. Drainage systems and flow through rates of permeable surfacing should be equivalent to or more than water volumes present to prevent standing water on the surface. Standing water on the surface can cause hydroplaning, leading to slipping due to the body in motion losing contact with the surface and instead “floating” on the water present. Impermeable surfacing may also be subject to hydroplaning if on-site drainage systems do not dispose of water at a rate equal to or greater than spray equipment is producing it.
Impervious vs. Pervious
Poured-in-place products can be either impervious or pervious with pervious systems being more common. These typically consist of a concrete sub-base with a light primer and 3/8” system of plastic and urethane binder which is troweled in place. The system is designed to percolate water through it and away from the walking surface towards drains installed under the surface to help prevent standing water near the surface.
Impervious poured-in-place systems are also available from most manufacturers and may be required in some states. Be sure to check your local health codes and other authoritative standards prior to selecting an aquatic surface. Significant variance exists across most jurisdictions.
Facility hygiene is a major consideration for aquatic environments because of its direct relationship to user safety. Bacteria, fungi, and viral infections can be transmitted among individuals through contaminated water. For this reason, facilities should identify products that are non-hospitable for microorganisms. Products that are made from inorganic material perform the best. To help avoid microbe contamination of the surface, the most important consideration is eliminating standing water. Cleaning is another critical consideration. Surfaces should be cleaned regularly to ensure ongoing performance, hygiene, and to inhibit microbe growth. Consult your manufacturer’s recommendations regarding appropriate cleaning products and protocols. Ensure that cleaning agents are thoroughly rinsed from the surface as residue may result in increased slipperiness.
Aquatic environments are inhospitable for some surfacing products because of the high concentration of chemicals, such as chlorine. Therefore, it is important to select products specially designed for these environments. Appropriate products will frequently have specialized coatings, be made from impenetrable materials, or have other innate characteristics to prevent deterioration from aquatic chemicals.