Is it Time for Artificial Grass?
Increasing drought and advancing technology are ‘growing’ its popularity
By Jim Walker
Severe drought and the accompanying restrictions on outdoor irrigation may have you seriously considering removing your browning lawn. And, while you can artfully transform that suddenly-uncovered space into a pretty cactus garden or other xeriscape, that doesn’t leave much space for the kids to play soccer, or the dog to cavort and do business. Of course, you can probably get by with xeriscape for all or most of the front yard, but leaving the backyard “active zone” in lawn only solves part of your water-use problem. And, most likely, between the drought, pounding cleats and the dog, your heavily-used backyard flat space probably doesn’t satisfy the definition of “lawn” anymore, anyway. It might look more like no-man’s land between the 1917 trenches.
Your solution just might be artificial grass, AKA artificial turf. Now, before you knee-jerk-imagine your grandad’s “turf,” you should know that more and more of your neighbors are happily making use of it, as well as local sports fields and other outdoor spaces. The advances in technology and technique have made artificial grass a very viable option for ground covering, whether in hard-use areas or ornamental. The advantages are, of course, significant reduction in water use and associated cost, but also a huge reduction in maintenance and the expenses that go with it. And it will stand up to hard use much better than lawn.
Of course, there are some things to consider, and the end result might be that artificial grass isn’t for you. But, with increasing drought, it is time to take a serious look at it. With the help of Steve Rice, President of Lawn Kings, we will try to address those significant issues. He has been in the landscape business since 1999, and owner of Lawn Kings since 2009, and the installation of artificial grass is a specialty now. In fact, the varieties of artificial grass his company and many others use were developed with guiding input from Rice, and are sold under the company name of Titan Turf Supply. “Artificial turf is my passion,” he says.
Photo courtesy Lawn Kings
Estimates are that every square foot of grass that is replaced with artificial turf saves approximately 55 gallons of water per year. So, replacing 1,000 square feet of lawn with turf would save 55,000 gallons of water in a year! While that might only save you a couple hundred dollars in a year at current water rates, it would go a long way toward reducing the strain on our water systems – especially if everyone conserved like that.
“I absolutely love that, helping save our water,” Rice said. And he noted that new SCV communities are being built with reduced water use in mind, and his company is a large part of that. “We are helping the community grow through this opportunity.”
Rice noted that when you replace a lawn with artificial grass, there are significant reductions in costs beyond water. “Primarily, there is less maintenance involved,” he said. There is no mowing or fertilizing, and weeds are almost non-existent. The turf has a barrier that prevents most weeds from coming up. And, for the few types of weeds that might, his company does a thorough inspection and pre-installation eradication.
Additionally, you should check with your local water agency on the possibility of there being an active rebate for removing lawn and installing artificial grass.
Rice said, “For 600 to 1,000 square feet of coverage, the average cost of installing artificial grass is $7 to $9 per square foot, and usually closer to $7.” And he has the statistics, and a table that shows that your investment in artificial turf will be recouped in about three years. “Ours comes with a 15-year warranty, and should last 20 years,” he added.
When people discuss artificial turf, they commonly imagine it as being too hot to use on a summer day. While this may have been true in the past, modern artificial grass incorporates advances (many of which Rice is responsible for) that greatly alleviate the problem. “We have focused on how to get the temperature down, through the structure, texture, color and spacing of the blades,” he said. This includes “Heat Reflective Technology,” which limited space here prevents going into detail about.
Another common knock against artificial grass is that it doesn’t offer the same pleasing aesthetics as real grass. This is really no longer true. For example, Lawn Kings offers nine types of turf that should please the eye of even the most discerning viewer. These vary the “yarns,” blade lengths, thatch, spacing and colors to create living-grass-like looks. “We implant our special ‘brown blades’ so that the grass looks lifelike and not too green,” Rice said.
Beyond the savings of water, there are other environmental issues people might be concerned with. For one thing, since there is no need to fertilize artificial turf, there are no toxins from fertilizer entering the soil or running off in the watershed. However, artificial grass is polypropylene and manufactured, with the associated considerations. But Lawn Kings turf is US tested to ensure there are no unacceptable levels of lead or other contaminants. And, Rice noted, approximately 90 percent of the turf that is eventually removed is reused by other installers, so doesn’t go to a landfill.
Modern artificial grass is actually quite permeable to water, as are the layers of substrate it is put down over. “Our grass drains at 30 gallons per square yard an hour,” Rice said. And he explained that, with Lawn Kings, “this includes turf, on top, anti-microbial (green color) infill between the grass blades, Zeolite infill also between the grass blades but under the first infill, then there is the double layer backing for the turf, with weed barrier underneath, then another layer of Zeolite and then three inches of crushed rock that is compacted down to hold the nails that are installed approximately every six inches apart, and staples for the seams. Then the native soil below. The crushed rock helps hold the nails but more importantly provides a stable surface that prevents expansion and contraction from different weather and temperature with the turf, to not stretch the turf and provide better drainage than the native soil, as it acts like a French drain, since it’s mixed with gravel.”
If you have a homeowner’s association, you will need to get approval for any significant change in your yard that is visible to your neighbors. This will probably include the removal of your lawn, as well as the installation of artificial grass. This used to be more difficult, but consciousness of drought considerations, state government controls on HOAs and changing mindset are all in play now. Still, be sure to get permission before you make significant changes. And Rice said he can provide everything the association needs to make an informed choice. Usually, they have some requirements that will be fully satisfied. “I’ve never had an area simply say, ‘No,’ he said.
For more information visit www.lawnkingsinc.com.