When considering the installation of a playground or swing set, one of the most common questions pertains to the kind of material to place under and around the play area. Of course, it’s not uncommon for people to build their backyard playgrounds on top of the existing grass or dirt and leave it at that, but for maximum safety and less worry, it’s best to have a surface that can provide some sort of cushion for the inevitable falls, tumbles, and trips that kids take while playing.
There are several different options when it comes to playground surface materials, but one of the most popular and cost-effective is pea gravel. In this article we’re going to take a look at pea gravel and see whether or not its a good fit for your childs playground.
What is Pea Gravel?
Much like it sounds, pea gravel is a name for little round rocks that are roughly the size of a green pea. Since the stones, ranging from ⅛” to ¼” in diameter, are free from sharp edges, they make ideal playground material.
Chances are you’ve played on pea gravel during your own childhood, or at least have seen it used in public parks or school playgrounds. It varies in color since it is made from many different kinds of rocks. It’s also common to find pea gravel used in outdoor walkways, gardens, and landscaping formations.
It has been in use for several decades because of its many benefits, especially as a playground surface. But, it is not free from drawbacks and should be compared to other options when considering how to surface the area around your playground or swing set.
Is Pea Gravel Safe For Playgrounds?
According to the National Playground Safety Institute, the answer is yes. Pea gravel is safe for use in playgrounds both public and private. In fact, it is much preferable to dirt, grass, or concrete.
But there are some stipulations and minimum requirements to be met in order to keep your playground safe, which are included in the following sections.
How Many Inches of Pea Gravel do You Need for a Playground?
Pea gravel must be maintained at a depth of 12 inches around equipment in a 6-foot fall zone, according to the National Playground Safety Institute. A fall zone is an area around playground equipment where children are likely to need cushioning from falling off a slide, swing, or other climbing and playing equipment.
Since pea gravel, like most other playground material, compresses and shifts over time, it’s inevitable that you’ll have uneven depth around your playground. All this means is that pea gravel requires some regular maintenance in order to keep the recommended 12 inches of depth.
Using a shovel or rake to spread pea gravel around evenly is all it takes to help your children avoid injury while playing on your swing set or playground.
Benefits and Drawbacks of Pea Gravel
While pea gravel has been deemed safe for use in many playgrounds, there are some other things to take into consideration before deciding whether it is right for you.
Benefits of Pea Gravel
Cushioning and Shock-Absorption – As stated above, pea gravel does well to absorb falls when maintained at the proper depth of 12 inches or more.
Sanitation and Hygiene – Pea gravel doesn’t support the growth of microbial organisms and bacteria, making it ideal for children’s playgrounds. Unlike sand, pea gravel is not an attractive waste ground for cats and other animals, helping to keep harmful germs away from growing immune systems.
Drainage – Pea gravel is ideal for facilitating drainage, which is why it’s used in landscaping as well as a playground material. Proper drainage helps to keep your playground free of mud and standing water.
Easy to Find and Install – Since pea gravel is so popular, it’s easy to find and install. It is available in bags in most hardware or gardening stores, as well as in bulk from stone yards and landscape supply depots.
Cost-Effective – One of the main reasons for pea gravel’s wide use is its cost-effectiveness. It’s cheaper than most other common playground materials and doesn’t require constant refilling because very little degradation and breakdown occurs.
Drawbacks of Pea Gravel
Age Appropriateness – Pea gravel can present a choking hazard to young children. If you’ll have children under 5 playing in or around your playground, you may want to choose a material that doesn’t present a choking hazard.
Requires Regular Maintenance – Since it tends to shift around, pea gravel does require regular maintenance in the form of shoveling or raking in order to maintain the proper depth for shock-absorption.
Limits Mobility – For those with disabilities, pea gravel can make moving very difficult. If you need to comply with the American with Disabilities Act, you’ll have to put solid walkways around your playground or use another material.
How Much Does Pea Gravel Cost?
Pea gravel is one of the cheapest materials approved by the National Playground Safety Institute for use around swing sets and playgrounds. Costs vary depending on how much you purchase, but the general range falls between $30 and $50 per ton. Or, if you’re purchasing in smaller quantities, you can get 50-pound bags of pea gravel for between $4 and $8.
In order to determine how much pea gravel you’ll need for your particular project, you’ll have to have the width, length, and depth that you desire. Remember that for best results, a depth of 12” is suggested.
Most suppliers can help you determine how much pea gravel you’ll need for your project as long as you have the numbers described above. There are also pea gravel calculators online that you can access.
For most backyard playgrounds, pea gravel is a great, cheap option that not only helps prevent injury, but also helps to keep the playground free from standing water, mud, microbial organisms, and animal waste.
Some regular maintenance is required to maintain the proper depth, but the upside is you won’t have to buy more pea gravel very often as it doesn’t degrade easily.
Pea gravel is a choking hazard for young children. As a result, other options should be considered if kids under 5 will be playing in the area. Also, pea gravel limits mobility for those with disabilities, which should also be taken into account.