Everything You Need to Know About Synthetic Turf
We’re not so pleased about these unattractive brown lawns; they’re not doing a thing for us or our neighborhood. Neither are cheap-looking do-overs with those unattractive succulents spotted here or there. We miss the natural beauty and feel sad the results of our love and hard work are going or gone.
While many homeowners are watching and waiting, and solutions seem far from numerous, are you wondering about synthetic turf (artificial grass)? Here’s what you need to know.
Installing synthetic turf means no need to water, mow, weed, fertilize or treat for brown or dead spots. Maintenance and corresponding costs diminish. Bugs and pests go away. So do pesticides and related allergic reactions. No muddy paws, deer, squirrels or bunnies feasting on the fruits of your labor or beautiful spread. No air pollutants from gas-powered mowers and trimmers. Lots of durability. Long term cost-benefit. Our good-citizen duty, ecosystem-supporting responsibility, is met.
The downsides? Significant upfront cost. No cooling effect like natural grass, heat is held. Water runoff. Some people think aesthetics are compromised.
The rest? You didn’t create it, nurture it and grow it together with mother nature. Gardeners will have to somehow adjust to keep their business strong.
1) Is it allowed? Each municipality has its own regulations. Some restrict or prohibit the use of artificial turf in your front yard. Some HOAs prohibit it for aesthetic reasons, even if your city or water district allow or encourage it. Check first.
2) Is it safe? In a word, Yes. Today’s generations of synthetic grass perform better and are more beautiful and comfortable than their predecessors. And they continue to improve. Lead, common in older turf, is no longer found in the supplies from reputable manufacturers. For the residential user, synthetic grass is considered very safe.
3) Who to buy from? Buy from only a local, reputable provider that has many years worth of satisfied turf customers. Make sure the seller stands behind their product. Seek out manufacturers and installers who have decades of experience, not just a few years. In the event of problems, a local manufacturer may more easily be able to address your concerns, than a non-local one. Review carefully the product and installation warranty. Though most manufacturers give an 8-year warranty, good quality turf systems can last many years longer. Ask for references and view local installations that have been in use for a few years.
If a business’s primary goal is the sale of product, labor may be a secondary priority or of less importance. This is no favor to the consumer. It’s not a win to buy good product that isn’t properly installed. Hire an installer who is a licensed landscaper with a history of proven expertise in grading, drainage and other factors critical to the successful outcome of your investment.
4) Which turf materials? Turf quality and durability is defined by the following 5 features:
a. High quality yarns.
b. High density fibers.
c. A strong, multi-layer backing.
d. Good infill.
e. Proper ground preparation.
Most synthetic turf systems include a drainage layer, a multi-layered backing system, and grass blades, called “yarns,” with granular infill of clean sand or other material to provide stability and comfort.
Most all turf grass blades are made from polyethylene (the softest and most versatile), polypropylene, and nylon. Turf products might be made from a single yarn or a combination of different yarns. Most of these yarns come from China and the U.S. Cheaply made yarns use low-grade resins with poor UV stabilizers that can result in turf fading or melting. Double check.
Backing material coatings used in the U.S. are made from urethane, which is considered more durable than the latex (considered more environmentally friendly) used by Asian and European manufacturers. Cheap latex backings can disintegrate causing product failure.
Different infill materials serve different purposes. For example, sand, most commonly used, is pure and sanitized. It’s made from a quartz base and comes in large and small granules. Durafill is acrylic coated sand that inhibits the growth of bacteria and softens the edges of the sand for greater comfort. Crumb Rubber is made from recycled tires and is good for sports fields and commercial playgrounds. Organic infill is a mixture of coconut husk fiber, rice husk and cork.
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5) What does it cost? Synthetic grass comes in different varieties, colors, and quality. The turf materials alone range between $2-$5 per square foot, plus tax, delivery, etc. Materials and supplies may include weed barriers, weed killer, road base, bender board, seaming tape, nails and glue, piping and edging for proper drainage.
The estimated cost of a professionally installed turf system is approximately $5-$20 per square foot. Labor can include design concepts, plans, removal of existing plants, other vegetation and their root systems, excavating, installing base and drainage layers, applying and securing turf, etc. Also, there are operational costs such as public dump fees, delivery fees, waste hauling expenses, and costs for permits, insurance, etc.
Never underestimate the importance of proper installation. Grading, drainage and other factors can make the difference between a successful project and one that ends up costing more in the long run. Hire a licensed landscape contractor with substantial turf experience and expertise to reap the best and most long-term benefits.
Various estimates from different sources show the break-even point, at which a synthetic turf system’s initial and maintenance costs equal the cost of a natural grass lawn, is about 5 years. Most good quality turf installations should last 10-15 years. Even when artificial turf does finally need replacing, the subsequent installation cost is much lower. The ground preparation has already been done.