Last Modified: April 1, 2024

Engineered Wood Fiber

cushion fall For Play Areas

Close up of engineered wood fibre

By Ben Parrot - Landscape Gardener & Amateur Geologist


Known as Cushion Fall in the UK, engineered wood fiber (EWF) has established a dominant presence in American playgrounds, partly because it is one of the most economical and safe playground surfacing options available, particularly in the category of loose fill surfacing materials. Together with its natural appearance, this optimal combination presents EWF surfacing as a very appealing alternative for applications in both domestic play areas and public playground surfaces.

In this article, we take a deeper look at EWF, including the pros and cons of choosing an engineered wood fiber playground, a comparison to some common alternatives, and the maintenance issues to bear in mind when planning to use EWF.

Playground with ewf chips. Jpg

Key Takeaways

  • Economical: A durable and cost-effective material for most applications.
  • Pros & Cons: EWF is an all-round solution suitable to most play areas.
  • Alternatives: We compare some common play surface materials.
  • EWF Calculator: Our online estimation tool can help you to accurately order for you project.
A natural piece of wood the origins of ewf. Jpg

What is Engineered Wood Fiber?

Engineered wood fiber playground mulch is a loose fill, finely processed wood derivative specifically tailored for playgrounds. Unlike play grade wood chips for play area or landscaping bark mulch, engineered wood fiber mulch is produced via carefully controlled refinement processes and must pass an extensive amount of rigorous quality checks. Manufacturers also regularly perform testing to ensure that maximum safety fall height standards are met for use in playground.

Cushionfall is available in the UK from a limited number of suppliers but it is not used anywhere near as widely as EWF is in the USA.

Engineered Wood Fiber Cost Advantage

For any size of playground engineered wood fiber can be a very cost-effective solution. When compared to most other materials, these natural wood fibers can be installed at a significantly lower cost, and can last for many years, especially with proper maintenance and care.

When comparing the most common playground surfacing materials; engineered wood fiber mulch, play bark, bonded rubber mulch for playgrounds, and wet pour rubber, there are significant differences in cost:

  • Engineered Wood Fiber (EWF): The most economical choice with the average cost ranging from $1.50 to $3.00 per square foot. For a 400 square foot area, you would spend between $600 to $1,200 on EWF. However, this does not include installation or site costs.
  • Play bark: The next most economical choice with the average cost ranging from $2.00 to $4.00 per square foot. For a 400 square foot area, you would spend between $800 to $1500.
  • Bonded Rubber Surfacing: More expensive, costing between $10-$15 per square foot. For the same 400 square foot area, you would spend between $4,000 to $6,000.
  • Wet Pour Rubber Surfaces: The most expensive option, ranging from $16-$25 per square foot. This means a 400 square foot play area could cost between $6,400 to $10,000.

It's important to note that these prices are just for illustrative purposes, and based on a few suppliers quotes. Actual costs can vary depending on factors such as labor, materials, and location.

Wood fibre chips around climbing roopes in a play area

Pros & Cons of Engineered Wood Fiber for Playground

Using engineered wood fiber for playgrounds offers several advantages that have made it a popular choice, with a whopping 75% of schools in the USA utilising the material. However, it's important to consider any issues when planning your playground surfacing.

Durability and Longevity

Approved engineered wood fiber safety surfacing is field tested to withstand years of play under various weather conditions – from extreme heat to biting cold, from heavy rain to gusty wind, and even snow. It also has excellent drainage properties, ensuring rapid water removal and drying. When maintained according to manufacturers instructions, you can expect at least eight years from EWF.

Safety Enhancements

Safety is paramount in play areas, and engineered wood fiber surfacing products are the safest natural alternative available. Its structure, unlike conventional wood chips, offers very high impact absorbing qualities to cushion against falls. Moreover, its meticulously refined texture 'knits' together to minimize potential slipping hazards. Just make sure that your EWF is certified by the International Playground Equipment Manufacturers Association (IPEMA) and also meets ASTM standards.

Child playing in a wood chip playground. Jpg

A Level Playing Field for All

An engineered wood fiber surface is also an inclusive choice for playgrounds due to its compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements for mobility aids and wheelchair access. This means that playgrounds using EWF playground mulch as a surface material are not only safe and enjoyable for all children but also inclusive and accessible for those with mobility issues.


While there don't seem to be too many downsides, engineered wood fiber products do you require constant maintenance, especially as they can be easily displaced in high-traffic areas. This can spread to nearby walkways and create potential slipping hazards.

EWF, like most loose fill surfacing material, can also pose a potential choking hazard for small children, and may also get into the eyes, mouth, or hair of children, although the harm is mostly minor.

There are also some on substantiated claims that, when exposed to moisture, EWF can be subject to microbial or bacteria growth. We are currently following up on this and will report our findings in due course.

Children playing in a park image by anja from

Comparing Surfacing Materials

EWF vs. Rubber Mulch

Aside from the cost advantages of EWF over rubber mulch or rubber wet pour, even the best engineered wood fiber surface cannot match the superior level of fall safety protection, or the negligible amount of maintenance required, of a recycled rubber play surface. However, when EWF is installed and maintained at the correct depth, it provides the same level of fall protection, but without having the potential risks to health posed by rubber as it degrades.

EWF vs. Pea Gravel

Pea gravel, a common sight in many playgrounds, poses potential choking hazards for younger children and lacks the level of cushioning from impact falls that EWF offers. Additionally, it does not provide for easy wheelchair accessibility, unlike a wood fiber playground.

EWF vs. Play Bark or Play Chip

Play bark and play chip is specifically processed and tested to ensure safety for children's play areas. They are screened for size uniformity, eliminating overly large chips and dangerous wood shards, but they do lack the refined processing EWF undergoes. Although the fall safety differences are fairly minor, play chips don't knit together in the way that EWF does, which is one of engineered wood fiber's great advantages as a surface. They are also not wheelchair accessible like EWF.

There are also regular garden wood chips, which are neither tested or screened, which makes them unsuitable for playground surfaces.

Ewf compared to rubber chippings pea gravel and play bark chips

Engineered Wood Fiber Installations

While EWF boasts resistance to various weather conditions, post-rain compaction can diminish its shock-absorbing traits. Periodic raking can restore its loose-fill characteristic.

Engineered Wood Fiber Playground Surface Depth

Despite its benefits, EWF requires constant upkeep to maintain ADA compliance in public playgrounds, leading to significant long-term maintenance costs. High-traffic areas also often show wear, reducing effectiveness if not managed.

The material's depth, crucial for public safety compliance, varies between 6-12 inches depending on equipment height. EWF requires regular checks and replenishment as it settles over time, and will need complete replacement every few years or so for compliance.

For domestic applications, these issues are mostly non-existent, although routine inspections to check levels and clear the area of foreign objects are required.

Handling green wood chippings

Engineered Wood Fiber Playground Calculator

An engineered wood fiber calculator is an invaluable online tool for determining the appropriate amount of EWF needed for your project. Our tool considers factors like playground size, desired material depth, and safety requirements, ensuring a safe play environment while avoiding unnecessary expenditure on excess materials.

Tree stumps after tree shredding


What is Engineered Wood Fiber?

A specialized wood product, engineered for various playground surfaces and other playground equipment and playground surfacing used, emphasizing safety, durability, and aesthetics.

How Much Does EWF Cost?

Prices vary based on supplier and region, but its long-term durability often presents cost-effective benefits which we cover above.

How Deep Should Engineered Wood Fiber be for Playground?

Recommended depths vary with the playground surface and equipment height, typically ranging from 6 to 12 inches per square foot of playground surface test equipment top.

Is Engineered Wood Fiber ADA Compliant?

Absolutely. Properly installed EWF meets ADA compliance, ensuring safe and inclusive a play area for all children.

There are many wonderful types of wood chippings products available for your play area or mulching needs. Check them out!

About the author 

Ben Parrot is a landscape gardener and amateur geologist. He is the founder of Outdoor Aggregates, with the mission to create the first encyclopaedia for decorative aggregates. From natural stone through to decorative bark, these aggregates are critical to garden and landscape design, universally.

The problem: There isn't any place where all the different types of decorative landscaping materials and construction aggregates can be found, nor are the specifications of each type readily available. So, enriched by his extensive experience, and inspired by the timeless elegance and raw beauty of stone and rock, etched by nature's artistry over millennia, Outdoor Aggregates was born.