Artificial Turf: The 5 Ws
There are many factors when thinking about installing artificial turf. The various aspects can seem overwhelming when making this big of a decision, so we have provided a breakdown of the 5Ws (and the H!) of Artificial Turf. Be sure to also check out the Resources at the bottom of the post to learn more.
What Is It?
Artificial turf is synthetic ground cover. It resembles natural grass and is often used in athletic facilities to provide a consistent playing surface that sustains extended use and weather conditions. Artificial turf consists of more than the grass-like fiber that you can see from the stands; it also includes a drainage system, a backing system, and infill, which is similar to topsoil but is made from sand and/or rubber materials (Synthetic Turf Council).
Photo Credit: Synthetic Turf Council
Who Uses It?
According to the Synthetic Turf Council (STC), more than 8,000 artificial turf fields are being used in North America. With less daily (and less costly) maintenance, a higher level of consistency and a greater ability to withstand more usage, artificial turf has become a popular choice in colleges and high schools.
Why Use It?
Artificial turf can withstand more usage than natural grass, ideal if you envision using the field for various types of sports and events (STC). Your athletes may also sustain fewer injuries that would normally occur due to uneven playing surfaces, mud, and similar problems associated with natural grass.
Unlike natural grass, artificial turf will not attract weeds or bugs, eliminating the need for pesticides or fertilizer (momsTeam). You also will conserve water with an artificial field; in 2010, “between four to eight billion gallons of water were conserved” with artificial turf use (STC). That equates to the annuals water usage of up to 55,000 average American families!
What are some drawbacks?
An artificial field typically needs to be replaced every 8 to 10 years, though that lifespan may decrease with higher usage (STC). On a related note, once artificial grass is installed, it’s essentially a long-term commitment. The impact of the plastic turf on the soil makes it nearly impossible to sustain natural grass in the future without years of soil reformation (momsTeam).
It can also be expensive to maintain (though much less expensive than natural grass). The Sports Turf Managers Association (STMA) estimates that maintaining an artificial field can cost approximately $6,000/year, not including equipment, and can require up to 375 of labor hours/year. These estimates vary by field size and usage.
Another element to consider is heat. Artificial turf can heat up faster than natural grass, but this impact can be temporarily minimized by watering the field prior to use (STMA).
Finally, line marking can be permanent on artificial turf, as it can be sewn into the turf during production. This makes it less adaptable for other sports if changing line markings is necessary. With this in mind, however, it is possible to paint temporary lines/logos on the field, but they may more difficult to remove than on natural grass (STMA).
Where Should It Be Used?
Artificial turf is suitable to be used in all settings, but especially when the weather is unpredictable or even predictably hot, in which case artificial turf can be a better, more reliable choice than natural grass (STC).
Another weather note – if you experience lots of rain, artificial turf may be a sound choice. It tends to drain faster than natural grass and maintains its playability. This leads to less maintenance time after rain and also fewer rainouts (STMA).
How much will it cost?
The cost of an artificial field will be greater upfront, but generally pays off in 3 to 4 years (STC). The cost of installing artificial turf varies depending on field size, usage, type of fiber, amount and type of infill, geographic location, irrigation systems, labor costs, and more. STMA provides a typical cost range for $6.50-$11.00 per square foot. A youth baseball field at 60,000 square feet may average out to around $500,000 – but this basic estimate does not take into consideration a number of factors, some of which are listed above.
When I’m ready to install artificial, what do I do?
You may want to hire a consultant who has experience with artificial turf. STMA suggests contacting a sports field manager, sports turf manager, and/or an agronomist to consult on the project. The Synthetic Turf Council also has a list of companies and a Request for Proposal Automator to help with the bidding process.