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Synthly the Best: Why Synthetic Turf (Part 1 of 2)​

We recently renovated our back yard, shaping what was a simple expanse of lawn into a true extension of our home. From an ample bluestone patio, we installed paths of pea gravel leading to a dining terrace, framed by boxwoods, plantings and trees, highlighted by café lights, while keeping a better-proportioned part of the lawn. In the year since, we’ve enjoyed the results even more than expected, hosting birthday and dinner parties and a number of friend gatherings.

But there is one thing I wish we had done differently.

We should have replaced the remainder of the lawn with synthetic turf.

Why didn’t I do it? Several reasons. The most obvious ones: up-front cost and hassle. The lawn was already there, and it was easy to leave some of it. And to be honest, I just wanted an all-natural garden and landscape. As a purist, I insisted that it was better to keep the Zoysia turf and continue with mowing and maintenance.

This year alone, regular maintenance has included fungus and fertilizer treatments, weed spraying, soil aeration and top-dressing, and it’s been mowed and edged regularly during the growing season. All of this for about 500 square feet. Sure, it’s what you do for a healthy lawn, but for such a small area it seems a bit…excessive.

It would have been so much easier to have replaced it with synthetic turf and saved all of that effort.

Though initial cost may seem like an obstacle, and you may feel like I did about the idea of “AstroTurf” or anything fake in your landscape, there are numerous benefits to synthetic turf, and they are only multiplying. Over the past several years it has become a frequently installed element in our work. About one in four projects incorporates synthetic turf – a trend we’ve seen continue to grow. So, if you are on the fence about synthetic turf, this blog story is for you. After researching synthetic turf and seeing how it transformed some of our clients’ yards from unusable to functional and attractive, I am now an advocate of it and a big believer.

In this, the first half of a two-part story, we’ll dig into the essential features and benefits of synthetic turf. In the second half of this story found here, we tackle the question of cost and savings head-on with hard-hitting datapoints!


Synthetic Turf: All the Good Reasons Why

Synthetic turf offers a number of compelling advantages over natural grasses, and considering them together it’s not a stretch to call it a fantastic lawn choice.

Water Conservation. Because synthetic turf isn’t living, it doesn’t require watering. A 1,000-ft2 lawn needs between 30,000 to 70,000 gallons of water to irrigate annually. Installing synthetic turf is estimated to save approximately 55 gallons per square foot each year. With global warming, water restrictions, and the cost of water in Atlanta, this isn’t something to be casually overlooked.

Reduction in Landfill Contribution. Yard trimmings account for the third-largest component of municipal solid waste in landfills. The EPA estimates 33.2 million tons. Synthetic turf allows us to say goodbye to yard bags!

Get Three Hours a Week Back. The average homeowner spends 150 hours per year maintaining a lawn. If you’re like me, you save it for the weekend, which means you’re out there nearly three hours every Saturday or Sunday. Now, I’m a gardener; it’s my hobby. But even so, there are plenty of other gardening projects I’d rather do with three hours than mowing, edging and blowing the lawn!

Versatility Plus Uniformity. No natural light? No problem! Because synthetic turf doesn’t require light, water, or nutrients like natural grass, it can be used nearly anywhere–even those muddy wet spots. Say goodbye to the pain of growing warm season grasses in Atlanta: low-light, damp, and wet areas where you just can’t get grass to grow are perfect for synthetic turf. And for those perfectionists out there like me, this also means no more ruts or bare spots. Synthetic turf allows for smooth, even, level lawns. Year-round.

Pet-Safe and Kid-Friendly. Synthetic turf is much cleaner than traditional lawns and prevents muddy paws and tracking of debris inside. It dries fast and is ready for use often just minutes after a rain. Most messes can be cleaned with a good spray from the water hose and fleas don’t like it. That’s potentially another lawn service you can scratch off the list!

Temperature Management. While it’s true that synthetic turf can get hot, new products like coated silica sand in fills help reduce temperature fluctuations. Coated silica sand works much like the human body does, using a process called thermoregulation. As the coated sand heats up, stored water evaporates, releasing heat and reducing turf temperatures. When used with coated sand infills (like HydroChill), synthetic turf surfaces can be up to 30 to 50 degrees cooler than standard synthetic turf surfaces. And when we install synthetic turf, we often add or redirect existing irrigation heads to spray turf areas. It’s a great way for kids to play in the sprinklers and it helps keep the turf cooler during the dog days of summer.

Reduced Noxious Emissions. According to the EPA, a push mower can emit as much pollution in one hour as eleven automobiles, while a riding mower puts out as much as 34 cars! Lawn mowers produce high levels of carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons, and nitrogen oxides that add to the creation of ozone, a key ingredient in smog. By eliminating the need to mow, synthetic turf helps control environmental pollution. Now you can keep the ’68 Camaro AND feel like you’re being responsible.

Great for Green Builders. More and more we are seeing requirements for energy-efficient design and construction. Environmentally conscious designers, developers and builders can specify and use synthetic turf in their projects as part of their efforts to achieve certification in Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) by the US Green Building Council. 

Increased Drainage (No, We’re Not Joking). Unlike what we recall from playing miniature golf on a rainy day, synthetic turf can actually drain faster than normal turf grasses when the proper base materials are used. Much like pervious pavers, synthetic turf has a substantial gravel base with water storage capacity. It is imperative that turf rolls with perforated backing are used to allow water to seep through to the drainage layers where it can slowly permeate the surrounding soil. This isn’t typically the case in putting green installations where any subsurface water movement (no matter how small) can undermine the surface. However, in most residential and commercial applications, we install perforated turf whenever possible to allow for water infiltration and reduced runoff.


Now, About the Cost… 

Yes, there is an upfront investment in installing synthetic turf and many find it expensive and cost prohibitive. That’s why, in the second half of our story we walk through how to evaluate the decision and provide an example based on real-life data points. More next time! 

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