Artificial grass is more than what you see professional athletes run around on during a football, baseball, or soccer game. While the first practical application was for a school recreation area, the usefulness and ubiquity of synthetic turf have exploded the last 50 years in a manner its creators may never have imagined.
Artificial Turf: A Brief History
A long time ago – okay, the early 1960s – in a galaxy far, far away – not, ours, in a research lab in the United States state of North Carolina, researchers in lab coats and protective goggles got together and wondered how they could make tougher grass. Eventually, they pooled their collective intelligence and decided the solution was not simply greener grass, but a different kind of turf altogether. Tougher, stronger, and maybe even something that was not green. They decided on artificial grass, realizing that a turf made of plastic would be more durable, easier to maintain, and could be put down in areas that real grass would never grow.
By the mid-1960s, their hard work paid off as synthetic turf began popping up on recreation fields across the United States. Indoor and outdoor, not only for professional athletes but children entertaining themselves on school and community playgrounds.
What You Should Know About Synthetic Grass
Without fake grass, millions of fans around the world – soccer, American style football and baseball, and of so many other spectator sports – would be forced to watch their favorite event outdoors. In the torrential rain. High winds. Extreme heat and humidity. Even blizzard-like conditions. Thanks to efforts in the early 1960s by researchers in North Carolina, in the United States, synthetic turf revolutionized viewing habits and brought major sports to the safety of indoor stadiums. What to know about artificial grass.
- Monsanto developed the first synthetic grass more than 50 years ago. It was installed at a preparatory school in Rhode Island in 1964 but gained instant popularity when it became synonymous with the Houston Astrodome, constructed in 1966 as home to Major League Baseball’s Houston Astros.
- Synthetic grass has been refined and improved over the years but is made the same as it always has been. Mostly automated systems take white and green plastic pellets, ultraviolet stabilizers, and additives and melt them all together. Other machinery mixes and stretches the goo into strands, where it is cut into something that looks like yarn. From there, strands are cut again to mimic the appearance of individual blades of grass. Mesh fabric is attached for backing, with holes punched into it for draining.
- Fake grass appears natural because it comes in some many shapes and colors. For sports, the obvious color of choice is green, but for other applications – children’s playscapes, fenced-in areas for pets, pool decks, outdoor patios – consumers can choose from slate blue, adobe, grey, black, stoplight-red, white, and many others. Manufacturers will often sell custom colors to suit a consumer’s need. The shape of individual blades of fake turf is varied, too. Why not choose from the following shapes: oval, diamond, letter-shaped patterns (V, W, C, O, and M), and still more than you can imagine.
- Artificial turf, whether in your front yard or backyard, will wear and fade over time. Depending on its usage and exposure – an outdoor putting green in the bright sun – artificial grass will last about 10 to 15 years.
- Will fake grass increase the value of your property? There is no conclusive evidence one way or the other. Keep in mind that a consumer who had synthetic grass installed for a consumer application may have a different idea of what “value” means. If you want your own putting green or are sick of cutting your lawn, then artificial is the way to go.
- Synthetic turf, when combined with a weed barrier during installation, will prevent weed growth in many cases – but is not guaranteed for the life of the product. If you do notice a weed, simply pull it out or apply a few sprays of weed killer.
The first-generation of fake grass was revolutionary, factory-made and designed to be cheaper than real grass. The 1970s brought the second generation: lifelike, with blades made to stand up. Today’s plastic grass, the third generation, is nearly indistinguishable from real grass and has extra cushioning.
Why Choose Artificial Turf?
Researchers took an interest in the benefits of synthetic grass because they saw an immediate need in commercial applications, especially on athletic fields around the world. Natural grass was prone to changes in the weather, could easily be damaged, and needed constant maintenance.
When it comes to organized sports, artificial turf has three major benefits. It holds up during all-weather conditions; fake turf is more durable, with each application good for about 500 hours of use, compared to around 100 for real grass; and synthetic grass is ready to use as soon as it has been installed, no wait time necessary. In fact, artificial turf that has been certified by the Fédération Internationale de Football Association is guaranteed to last 3,000 hours before needing replacement. Why else is fake grass so popular for sporting events or high-traffic activities?
- To clean synthetic turf, brush or sweep debris away.
- Artificial grass is a profit generator. When used indoors, it affords a proprietor the option of 24-hour events.
- Once installed, it sees a return on investment within three to four years.
- It does not have to be watered and does not require possibly-dangerous fertilizers to be applied for maintenance.
- It is as safe as natural grass and does not affect performance for sporting or other physically intensive events.
- Synthetic turf is often installed with cushioning beneath the surface, protecting participants from injury if they impact the grass during a sporting or other event.
More consumers are choosing artificial grass for residential applications, particularly in high heat areas where rainfall is infrequent or where communities have instituted water usage limits.
- Fake grass does not need to be water and requires little to no maintenance during its 10 to 15-year lifespan.
- Natural grass is prone to fade or change color based on the weather. Of course, real grass is lush and green if constantly water and cared for, but synthetic turf is designed to maintain its color year-round – rain or shine.
- Artificial grass is often made from recycled plastic but, more importantly, has a very small carbon footprint. The fake stuff is environmentally friendly. It does not need sun, water, or fertilizer to grow, and can most often be cleaned with a broom or leaf blower.
- Artificial turf is cost efficient over time when you factor in how much you may spend on water and fertilizer for the real version. It also takes less time to replace compared to growth cycles for natural grass and can be recycled and used again.
One of the biggest advantages of fake grass is that it can be installed in areas where real turf cannot and would never grow. An outdoor setting with high heat and humidity and little rainfall is a perfect example. Also, consider how many times you have gone to a miniature golf course where synthetic turf has been installed on slopes and dips of odd angles and different dimensions. Real grass would never grow in such an environment, and maintenance would be a grounds keeper’s nightmare.
Where Can Artificial Turf be Installed?
Synthetic grass can be installed virtually anywhere that real grass can grow, and a good many places where it cannot.
- Major sports applications. This includes American baseball and football, Canadian football, international football (soccer), La Cross, rugby, field hockey, tennis, and golf.
- Tennis courts (indoor and outdoor).
- Track and field areas.
- Residential applications, including front and backyards and patios.
- Children’s play areas.
- Dog parks.
- Areas for outdoor events, like weddings, concerts, or company or employee events.
- Miniature golf courses, putting greens, and golf driving ranges.
- Commercial or residential patios, including roofs or other viewing areas.
Other popular applications include landscaping, especially in the south and the western United States, or other high heat and humidity and low rainfall climates. Airports are another location where the fake grass is taking root, with fiber optic lights embedded in the artificial turf for lighting and advertising.
The utility and versatility of synthetic grass are one of its major selling points, along with low maintenance. It is growing in popularity, even in residential applications where natural lawns have always been highly desired.
Yes, There Is Some Maintenance Involved
But compared to the expense and effort it takes to maintain real grass, upkeep of synthetic turf is pretty minimal – a big advantage for many consumers and decision makers. Fertilizing, watering, mowing, aerating – all maintenance steps of the distant past.
Like any other investment, you want to make sure you get your money’s worth from synthetic turf and can enjoy it year-round. How often you take maintenance steps depends on your own set of circumstances.
If you have installed artificial grass as a children’s play area in your backyard, for instance, it may be subject to the same challenges you would face with real grass. Constant use by children, incursion from pets or other curious visitors, and leaves or other natural debris. In a case such as this, you may have to clean your fake grass as needed, same as a regular lawn.
Synthetic grass installed in an area that kicks up a lot of dust, such as an employee gathering area outside a manufacturing plant, may need to be brushed or hosed off. Accidental spills from oils or chemicals would also need to be cleaned up.
Taken together, each of these factors adds up to some level of care each week or month. On a weekly basis, artificial turf can be brushed or hosed down with water, or even washed with mild soap as needed. Monthly upkeep could mean using a rake or brush with plastic bristles to get rid of heavier debris like dirt, rocks, or other items.
How Much Does Fake Turf Cost?
In many cases, the value of artificial grass is subjective, but there are real expenses involved. A real lawn may cost anywhere from $5 to $20 per square foot for installation; a fake lawn could cost $2 to $8 a square foot, according to HomeAdvisor.
When you are thinking of real grass, the major expense is in the materials (grass seed, weed inhibitor, and water), labour (which could be significant if excavation is involved which uses heavy machinery), and the pre- and post-work involved.
The cost of synthetic grass boils down to mostly two factors, the material you choose, and the name brand of the selected product. Polyethylene is the least expensive material for fake grass, about $1 to $2 square foot, but also has the shortest life-span of all choices. Next up is Polypropylene, slightly more expensive at $2 to $3 a square foot. Finally, synthetic turf manufactured from nylon could cost about $3 to $4 per square foot.
Sod may be less expensive to install than synthetic grass, but the maintenance of real grass is the deal breaker for many decision makers. If you were to install fake turf in a 500 square foot area, the cost over seven years would be about $6,250, but sod would come in around $6,290, again based on estimates supplied by HomeAdvisor.
Also keep in mind that the health of real grass depends on many factors: The weather, regular watering, cutting, the use of fertilizers, usage, and dangers from animals and bugs.
The popularity of artificial grass is not projected to level off or decline anytime soon. With the rise in recreational and community-based sporting events, installing a synthetic turf that does not need maintenance and can last 15 years is in demand worldwide. When thinking of ease of upkeep, you can see why fake grass is becoming a default choice for the elderly, disabled, or anyone else with little time, money, or the ability to keep a real lawn lush and green year-round.