What is synthetic turf?

These days, lush green fields that stretch out as far as the eye can see aren’t necessarily made of the natural grass that we’ve come to assume they are. Instead, there’s a high chance they’re actually synthetic turf, a ground cover which resembles real grass and can be used in the same ways, albeit with certain distinct advantages.

What is synthetic turf

While to the naked eye, synthetic turf looks almost indistinguishable from real grass, it has the advantages of being able to offer a consistent look and feel all year round and being durable enough to withstand all types of weather.

Synthetic turf is also an excellent, low maintenance alternative for those who are unable to commit the time and effort necessary to maintain real grass as water and fertilisers are not needed to upkeep it.

Synthetic turf can be produced in all shapes and sizes, and fibre pile heights can range from 9 mm for sports turf to 45 mm for leisure and landscaping purposes. Unlike real grass, it does not have to be cultivated or maintained in a specific manner in order to yield a particular appearance, but can be customised according to its uses.

With a lifespan of up to 15 or 20 years, during which time there should be no colour fading, synthetic turf offers a convenient, sustainable alternative to real grass that is much easier to use and maintain. It’s thus no wonder that so many establishments, from Disneyland to FIFA, have been using this environmentally-friendly alternative to labour-intensive real grass fields.

This guide aims to offer an overview of the qualities and functions of synthetic turf, so that users may make an informed decision when choosing between synthetic and organic grass.

Characteristics of synthetic turf

Characteristics of synthetic turf

Synthetic turf has evolved over the years to become far more realistic, both in terms of use and feel. It has also made gains by leaps and bounds in terms of durability, how frequently it can be used and safety. Here are some of the most distinct characteristics of synthetic turf.

  • Synthetic turf is composed of several layers – Synthetic turf is usually composed of a drainage layer and a backing system made of multiple layers, as well as grass blades infilled with grains of sand. Grass blades are perforated every 30cm to facilitate drainage, and porous stitching is employed to enable drainage to seep through and to ensure no water is retained.
  • Synthetic turf contains sand filler – Typically, synthetic turf is infilled with sand filler. The dried kiln sand is considered the most effective kind of filler. Rubber is no longer used due to its toxicity and undesirable properties such as an unpleasant smell. The blades of grass stand above the infill material.
  • It can be safer than natural grass – Few people realise that natural grass fields can become unsafe when they’re overused or made to withstand inclement weather. Synthetic turf is more durable than natural grass and can offer greater safety in the long term.
  • It can be used more frequently than natural grass – There are limits on how frequently and under what conditions natural turf can be used. Synthetic turf can be used much more frequently at well over the three to four times a week that natural turf can be used. In addition, it can be used in wet weather without being ruined or presenting any safety hazards.
  • It can be used all year round – The use of natural turf is subject to the limitations of the seasons, and during the months which see little to no grass growth, a natural field is usually unusable. Synthetic turf, on the other hand, can be used all year round.
  • Length of grass blades varies depending on the requirements of the activity – One great thing about synthetic turf is that it is highly customisable. The length of grass blades depends on the activity, with shorter blades of approximately 9 mm typically being used in sports turf and longer blades of up to 45 mm used in gardens and landscaping.
  • Synthetic turf is made in a similar manner to carpets – The manufacturing process for synthetic turf employs the same equipment that is used in the creation of carpets. Synthetic turf is also put together in a similar manner to carpets—first, the base is constructed, then grass is stitched onto the base.

Uses of synthetic turf

Uses of synthetic turf

Synthetic turf not only replicates the functions of natural grass but is also capable of fulfilling many uses that are beyond the limits of organic turf. Because of its low-maintenance and durable nature, synthetic grass can be used in conditions that would be too harsh for natural grass.

Below are some of the many uses of synthetic turf.

  • Sports turf – Synthetic turf is exceeding popular for use on playing fields and has been adopted by some of the world’s top athletic associations. In fact, games featuring NFL teams and FIFA World Cup matches all regularly take place on synthetic turf. Other types of sporting fields on which synthetic turf is commonly used include tennis courts, badminton courts and hockey fields.
  • Golf courses – The huge amounts of grass needed on golf courses has prompted the use of synthetic turf, which can result in significant cost savings and ease of maintenance.
  • Schools – Sports fields in schools and colleges are often made of synthetic turf.
  • Parks – Synthetic turf is often used in landscaping in parks and gardens.
  • Homes – Homeowners often don’t have the time or resources to maintain tracts of natural grass. Synthetic turf is used in gardens and on rooftops and balconies to beautify homes in a sustainable manner.
  • Tourist attractions – Famous tourist attractions such as Steve Wynn’s Las Vegas resorts and Disneyland beautify their surroundings with synthetic turf.
  • Public spaces – Otherwise dour public spaces are given a lush makeover with synthetic turf. For instance, spaces by highways and airport landing strips can be beautified in a low-maintenance way with synthetic grass.
  • Hotels – Hotels need to get good mileage out of their lawns, and synthetic turf enables establishments to maximise the number of functions that can be held in their green spaces.

Why choose synthetic turf?

Characteristics of synthetic turf

Severe climatic conditions and the high cost of maintaining natural grass have made synthetic turf an increasingly popular choice over the past few years. The quality and appearance of synthetic turf has increased dramatically since its origins in the 1960s and 70s.

Here are a few reasons more and more people are opting to use synthetic turf over natural grass.

  • Can withstand severe climatic conditions – Real grass is at the mercy of the environment, and in the event of severe climatic conditions, it can become unusable and unsafe. Synthetic turf, on the other hand, is much more resilient.
  • Can be used more frequently – Real grass needs time to recover from being used, and should be left to regenerate at least three to four days a week. Synthetic turf faces no such restrictions and can be used daily.
  • Cheaper and easier to maintain – Cost savings on maintenance are a huge reason many people opt for synthetic over natural turf. While the upfront costs of having a synthetic field installed are higher, over a span of about 3 to 4 years a synthetic turf field will usually pay for itself. Users of synthetic turf never have to worry about mowing or irrigating the lawn, for instance.
  • Conserves water – Natural turf needs a lot more water than synthetic turf, and opting for the latter can conserve a considerable amount of water.
  • Elimination of harmful pesticides and fertilisers – Natural grass needs to be kept healthy and alive, often with the use of pesticides and fertilisers that are harmful to health and the environment and which can be eliminated with the use of synthetic turf.
  • Looks just like real grass – Synthetic turf is more realistic than ever these days, and most people are unable to distinguish between synthetic and natural grass. Fibre quality has improved dramatically over the years. Synthetic grass is not 100% green, but mimics real grass by containing various shades of green as well as some brown or yellow blades.
  • Can replicate the functionality of real grass fields – Anything natural grass can do, synthetic grass can do with greater resilience and durability.

How synthetic turf is made

How synthetic turf is made

Synthetic turf consists of several layers. At the bottom is a natural subgrade, topped by a layer of geotextile, above which is a layer of drainage stone containing a drainage pipe that allows fluid to drain out of the turf. This is then topped by a levelling layer, an energy pad and then a backing layer with weepholes that enable moisture to seep through.

Finally there is the layer of infill, which is typically made of sand, and then the visible layer of turf fibres designed to resemble grass. Kiln sand is regarded as one of the best infill materials for synthetic turf, in practice there are variations on colour – you can get green sand also.

Impact on the environment

Impact on the environment

Synthetic turf’s positive impact on the environment has been well-documented. While natural grass does have certain advantages such as an ability to purify the air, its upkeep also produces many negative effects on the environment.

Here are some reasons synthetic turf is better for the environment.

  • Water conservation – A lot of water is needed to maintain natural turf. To put things in perspective, a typical natural grass sports field usually consumes a whopping 500,000 to a million gallons of water per year. On the other hand, substituting one square foot of natural grass with one square foot of synthetic grass saves about 55 gallons of water a year. When you consider that the average soccer field measures about 45,000 to 117,000 square feet, you realise the extent of the water that could be saved by using synthetic turf.
  • Pesticides and fertilisers – Natural grass needs to be kept healthy and safe from harmful critters. Pesticides and fertilisers can not only harm the environment but also be hazardous to health. Neither pesticides nor fertilisers are needed if synthetic turf is used.
  • Water pollution – Excess pesticides and fertilisers are a huge cause of water pollution as they contaminate water runoff. Synthetic turf does not contribute to this problem as it needs neither pesticides nor fertilisers in its maintenance.
  • Noxious emissions – Mowers are needed to keep natural grass from becoming overgrown, and these devices produce a significant amount of pollution. A push mower produces the pollution equivalent of 11 cars, while a riding mower produces as much pollution as a shocking 34 cars. Mowing is not required in the upkeep of synthetic turf.
  • Grass clippings – Grass clippings produced by mowing are a large component of the solid waste found in landfills. As synthetic turf does not need to be mowed, it does not produce grass clippings.

Safety

Safety

By now, it is common knowledge that synthetic turf is a safe alternative to natural grass. Scores of studies have been undertaken that show synthetic turf does not present any risks to health.

In Australia, safety standards for synthetic turf are strict and all fake grass products must be lead-, chemical- and toxin-free. Unlike many imported products, Australian synthetic turf is generally not made of nylon, which heats up fast in hot weather and can cause discomfort. To avoid overheating, cool turf, which is made using different fibres that are more resistant to heat, is usually used in Australia.

Here are just some of the many pertinent findings documenting the safety of synthetic turf.

  • A 2010 study by the Connecticut Department of Public Health found that the use of synthetic turf playing fields posed no health risks to children or adults.
  • A 2009 report by the California EPA found the health risks posed by inhaling the air above a synthetic turf field to be negligible.
  • A 2008 staff report by the US Consumer Product Safety Commission found the use of synthetic turf to be safe for people of all ages, including young children.

Synthetic turf and sports

Synthetic turf and sports

Sportspeople who have concerns that synthetic turf will negatively impact their performance can breathe a sigh of relief.

Synthetic turf has been found to actually increase the amount of time sportspeople can spend playing and practising, thereby actually enhancing their performance. This is because unlike natural grass, synthetic turf can be used on a daily basis and in all seasons and climatic conditions. For instance, natural grass can be used no more than 680 to 816 hours a year over a three-season period, while synthetic turf can be used about 3,000 hours a year with no seasonal limitations.

Synthetic turf has also been found to have no measurable impact on player injury rates vis a vis natural turf. In terms of traction, slip resistance, rotation, stability and abrasion, synthetic grass has been found to meet the requirements of some of the world’s most prestigious sports associations.

In fact, a 2010 study conducted by Norwegian and Swedish researchers found that synthetic turf brought players no greater risk of injury than natural grass. Studies carried out by FIFA and NCAA arrived at similar conclusions.

Cost and installation

While synthetic turf tends to be more costly to install upfront than natural grass, the added cost can be recouped within about 3 to 4 years. The actual life expectancy of synthetic turf varies depending on what it is being used for and the kind and amount of maintenance it receives, as well as the type of synthetic grass being commissioned.

The colour of synthetic turf is generally stable, even in strong sunlight. Synthetic turf undergoes UV stabilisation to ensure the colour remains vibrant for a minimum number of years.

In order to have synthetic turf installed, it is best to hire professional contractors who work with a landscape architect or independent consultant.

Quotations for purchase and installation of synthetic turf are usually made on a per square metre basis, which can vary depending on the size of the job or the area of turf being installed. A quotation will typically include the price of the turf itself, installation and a warranty. Always check with your vendor that the supply of all components including grass, sand infill, nails, pins, joining tape and glue is included.

Installation typically involves the excavation of the site in question and the removal of dirt. A crushed rock base is then supplied and installed, followed by a compacted base. The grass is then installed by securing it to the base, and sand is applied and distributed evenly throughout the turf. Following successful installation, the site can then be cleaned.

Although this process may sound complicated, installation is actually a quick and easy affair, and before you know it your synthetic turf will be ready for use.

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