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LEEDership in Playground Development

by Leslie Yager, LEED green associate, Tom Norquist, IPEMA play advocate and Robert Heath, past chairman, ASTM playground surfacing committee




It is important to understand that products cannot be LEED certified or accredited. Only projects can be certified and individuals accredited.
Oxford Garden
Rain bird
Playworld Came America

By now, most people have heard the terms LEED, environmental impact, and recycled materials, but may not know their interrelationship to the design, construction and maintenance of playgrounds.

The purpose of this article is to provide the building blocks necessary to understand these terms and correctly apply them in your playground projects, which, in turn, can help you gain LEED points for your overall building project.




Engineered wood fiber is a loose-fill product that can be made from clean, virgin timber, wood chips, bark free whole tree chips or trim scrap from secondary wood processors. Wood from recycled pallets and bark mulch are specifically excluded.

The following definitions may be helpful in understanding the terms used in this article:

  • LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) is described by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) as "a third-party certification program and the nationally accepted benchmark for the design, construction and operation of high performance green buildings." There are no products that are LEED certified. Many products, such as playground equipment and surfacing, can help a building project qualify under the LEED rating system.
  • Pre-Consumer Recycled Content: This refers to the recycling of scraps, trimmings, and other by-products that were never used in the consumer market. These materials are produced by manufacturers and processors.
  • Post-Consumer Recycled Content: This refers to the recycling of products and packaging that have completed their designed use in the consumer market and would be disposed of as waste. These materials are collected in recycling programs and include such items as paper, aluminum, steel, cardboard, plastic and glass bottles and rubber.
  • Regional Materials: This refers to products extracted, processed and manufactured within 500 miles of the product installation.
  • Heat Island Effect: This is defined by USGBC as "thermal gradient differences between developed and undeveloped areas."

When considering the design of an environmentally-friendly playground, it is important to consider all of the materials used in its construction. Building a playground or a play environment is an excellent way to earn LEED points towards your overall building project. Playground equipment and surfacing, by themselves, cannot be certified but will contribute towards LEED certification points for the completed project. However, the materials used can help an overall project obtain the desired level of LEED certification. These often-overlooked components can add up to 8-14 points for surfacing and 8-12 points for equipment.




There are, of course, a variety of surfacing material choices for playgrounds, but the surfacing material must be tested and certified by independent testing agencies to meet guidelines such as ASTM F1292, F1951, F2075 and ADA compliance. Many materials incorporate pre- and postconsumer recycled materials that earn LEED points for a project.


The materials used to construct the playground may fall into many different LEED credit categories, including:

  • The amount of pre-consumer and post-consumer recycled content (LEED Materials and Resources MR4 - Recycled Content).
  • The location of extraction, manufacturing and shipment (LEED Materials and Resources MR5 - Regional Materials).
  • Materials that will reduce the absorption of heat (LEED Sustainable Sites SS7.1 - Heat Island Effect Non-Roof).
  • Water management techniques allowing rainwater collected from the playground area to be used for irrigation or nonpotable uses within a building (LEED Water Efficiency WE1 - Water Efficient Landscaping & Water Efficiency WE2 - Innovative Wastewater Technologies).

The designer and specification writer are integral in constructing an environmentally friendly playground. The following surfacing and equipment considerations should prove helpful as a guide during the design.

Playground Surfacing Considerations
Proper playground surfacing design consists of several components that can assist in gaining LEED points, drainage, containment and surfacing materials.




Playground projects can garner 8-14 LEED points for surfacing and 8-12 points for equipment.

Drainage
A state-of-the-art playground surfacing incorporates a well-designed drainage system. Typical drainage systems include trench, French and geo-composite drains. There are two ways to use the drainage system you choose to help gain LEED points. First, the drain system itself can incorporate environmentally-friendly materials like recycled concrete or crushed masonry for backfill, and recycled materials in the discharge piping or drainage matrix. Second, the water that is drained from this system could be discharged into the stormwater system or be stored for use in landscape irrigation and/or in a building's nonpotable water needs.

Surfacing Materials
There are a variety of choices in surfacing materials for playgrounds. A key consideration at the outset is ensuring the surfacing material is tested and certified by independent testing agencies to meet the guidelines such as ASTM F1292, F1951, F2075 and ADA compliance. Many materials incorporate pre and postconsumer recycled materials that can gain LEED points for your building project.

  • Engineered wood fiber (EWF) is a loose-fill product that can be made from clean, virgin timber, wood chips, bark free whole tree chips, trim scrap from secondary wood processors. Wood from recycled pallets and bark mulch are specifically excluded.
  • Rubber mulch is a loose-fill product that is made from cleaned, metal free recycled automotive and truck tires.
  • Rubber tiles are manufactured from both pre- and post-consumer recycled rubber materials, such as automotive and truck tires and fall down from rubber manufacturing processes. The rubber is bound into tiles in a factory process.
  • Poured-in-place materials can include both pre- and post-consumer recycled rubber materials, such as automotive and truck tires, fall down from rubber manufacturing processes and are often available in a variety of colors (such as lighter and/or reflective colors) that can be used to help reduce the heat island effect.

Containment
With drainage and surfacing in place, designers, owners and operators must contain the surfacing materials. Using recycled materials in the containment structure can help gain you LEED points. Containment materials can include landscape timbers, recycled polyethylene (plastic) borders or concrete curbs, utilizing fly ash or blast furnace slag as an aggregate, each of which is a recycled product.

Playground Equipment Considerations
The same considerations apply to playground equipment materials. There are a variety of choices that offer varying degrees of LEED points. Some common choices include:

  • Steel: Recycling steel from cars, cans, appliances and construction is a great way to reuse a durable, safe material for playground equipment components, such as slides, decking, steps and roofs. The Steel Recycling Institute www.recycle-steel.org/appliances.html estimates steel is the most recycled material in the world.
  • Recycled and recyclable aluminum. Aluminum from cans, packaging and siding can be used for structure uprights, posts and castings.
  • Recycled and recyclable polyethylene (plastics). Both pre-consumer recycling, such as scrap and trim plastic and post-consumer recycled plastic materials, can be used to build decks, slides, containment and curbs.

All playground structure materials have inherent advantages and disadvantages. For example, conventional wood structures are attractive, but are not environmentally friendly. Steel and aluminum materials can be recycled over and over again without losing their strength or physical properties. Polyethylene (plastic), by contrast, can be recycled only a limited number of times before it loses its strength and physical properties. Choosing lighter colors for the playground materials and surfacing can reduce the amount of heat that can be absorbed, thereby reducing the temperature gradient between the developed areas and the playground.


Additional Considerations
There are several additional ways to gain LEED points when designing and building playground structures and surfacing. First is the way materials are packaged. By employing live-bed trucks to transport surfacing materials, and banding the supports of playground structures together and returning the banding materials to the manufacturer for reuse, you minimize the use of packing materials that would otherwise be sent to a landfill. (LEED Materials and Resources MR2 - Construction Waste Management).

Also, taking care to choose products that are harvested or extracted, manufactured and shipped within 500 miles of the project site allows you to gain points for using regional materials (LEED Materials and Resources MR5 - Regional Materials).

About IPEMA and the Voice of Play
The Voice of Play www.voiceofplay.com is an initiative that promotes increased quality and quantity of children's play sponsored by the International Play Equipment Manufacturers Association (IPEMA).

IPEMA www.ipema.com is a nonprofit, membership, trade association that represents and promotes an open market for manufacturers of playground equipment and surfacing.

About the U.S. Green Building Council
The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) is "committed to a prosperous and sustainable future for our nation through cost-efficient and energy-saving green buildings." USBBC reports it has 78 local affiliates, more than 20,000 member companies and organizations, plus more than 140,000 LEED professionals. USGBC states it is the "driving force of an industry that is projected to contribute $554 billion to the U.S. gross domestic product from 2009-2013." USGBC leads a diverse constituency of builders and environmentalists, corporations and nonprofit organizations, elected officials and concerned citizens, teachers and students. USGBC is the developer of the LEED Green Building Certification program and the Greenbuild International Conference & Expo.

For more information on LEED in playground development, contact Les Yager at yager-consulting@hotmail.com or USGBC at www.usgbc.org.


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October 15, 2019, 10:27 pm PDT

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