The latest generation of synthetic turf is a grass-like ground cover that replicates lush natural grass in appearance and function. When used on athletic fields, it provides a consistent year-round, all-weather playing surface built to withstand extended use without downtime for recovery. As a landscape cover, synthetic turf provides a low maintenance, weed-free surface that doesn't need to be watered or fertilized, and is available in styles that look like the grass types that are prevalent locally.
Most synthetic turf systems installed today include a drainage layer, a multi-layered backing system, and resilient "grass" blades that are infilled with a granular filler to resemble natural turf. "Infilled" means that the man-made grass blades are interspersed with a top soil created with sand and/or granulated recycled tire rubber or other infill materials that provide the necessary stability, uniformity, and resiliency. Each blade customarily stands above the infill material. The typical blade length and system characteristics are determined by the specific activity requirements. In some applications, the synthetic turf system includes a pad or elastic layer underneath the turf, often in combination with lower pile height and less infill.
Synthetic turf is a smart solution for playing fields and landscape that have become unsafe and unsightly from overuse or severe climatic conditions. A grass field simply cannot remain lush and resilient if it is used more than three to four days a week, or in the rain, or during the months when grass doesn’t grow. This fact, coupled with an escalating need for durable fields that accommodate multiple sports teams and activities, the high cost of maintaining a grass sports field, and the need to conserve water, have prompted a rising number of schools and parks to turn to synthetic turf to meet their program needs. Today’s synthetic turf is designed to simulate the experience of practicing and playing on the best grass fields. Demand has grown to the point where more than 8,000 multi-use synthetic turf sports fields are now enjoyed in North American schools, colleges, parks and professional sports stadiums. About half of all NFL teams currently play their games on synthetic turf and, since 2003, over 70 FIFA U-17 and U-20 World Cup matches have been played on synthetic turf soccer fields.
Synthetic grass for landscape, golf and other recreation applications is the fastest growing segment of the synthetic turf market. Over 35 million square feet of synthetic grass for landscape and recreation use was installed in 2012.
Thousands of homes, businesses, golf courses, municipalities, parks and tourist attractions like Disneyland and Steve Wynn’s Las Vegas resorts have turned to synthetic grass to provide a lush, attractive landscape solution that requires minimal resources and maintenance while saving millions of gallons of water each year. It is also a smart way to beautify public spaces such as highway medians and airport landing strips that would otherwise be difficult and expensive to maintain. Synthetic grass reduces city maintenance costs, freeing tax dollars for other purposes. Synthetic turf also promotes greater utilization of land, as you can do more with the same space surface than with natural grass. Rooftops once deemed unusable for high rises and residential buildings can now feature inviting green area. Hotels that had to restrict the use of lawns for parties and events can now schedule as many functions as they can book.
Synthetic turf has a measurable, positive impact on the environment. Depending on the region of the country, a typical grass sports field requires between 500,000 to a million gallons of water or more each year. During 2010, between four to eight billion gallons of water were conserved through its use. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the average American family of four uses 400 gallons of water a day. Therefore, a savings of four to eight billion gallons of water equates to the annual water usage of over 27,000 to 55,000 average American families of four. Tax credits and rebates are being offered to residential and corporate users by an increasing number of local governments in light of the tremendous impact on water conservation. The Southern Nevada Water Authority estimates that every square foot of natural grass replaced saves 55 gallons of water per year. If an average lawn is 1,800 square feet, then Las Vegas homeowners with synthetic turf could save 99,000 gallons of water each year or about $400 annually. In Atlanta, homeowners could save $715 a year, not including much higher sewer charges. The estimated amount of synthetic turf currently installed has eliminated the need for millions of pounds of harmful pesticides and fertilizers, which has significant health and environmental implications. For example, according to the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources, polluted storm water runoff is the number one cause of water pollution in their state, with common examples including over fertilizing lawns and excessive pesticide use. In addition, synthetic turf helps reduce noxious emissions (the EPA reports that a push mower emits as much pollution in one hour as 11 cars and a riding mower emits as much as 34 cars) and reduces grass clippings, which the EPA states are the third largest component of municipal solid waste in landfills.
More than 50 independent and credible studies from groups such as the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, and statewide governmental agencies such as the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, New York State Department of Health and the California Environmental Protection Agency, have validated the safety of synthetic turf (see Position Statements to learn more). Recent highlights include: In October 2010, the California Office of Environmental Assessment completed its multi-year study of air quality above crumb rubber infilled synthetic turf, and bacteria in the turf, and reported that there were no public health concerns. In July 2010, the Connecticut Department of Public Health announced that a new study of the risks to children and adults playing on synthetic turf fields containing crumb rubber infill shows "no elevated health risks.” The California EPA released a report dated July 2009 which indicated there is a negligible human health risk from inhaling the air above synthetic turf. Independent tests conducted by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and New York State Department of Health, released in May 2009, proved there were no significant health concerns at synthetic turf fields. In July 2008, a U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission staff report approved the use of synthetic turf by children and people of all ages.
The STC recommends that you hire a team of professional contractors who are STC members and, if possible, STC Certified members, that you select with the help of a landscape architect and engineer or independent consultant. Visit the Buyers' Guide and Member Directory to help with your search.
Synthetic turf sports fields are typically warranted for eight years, but their life expectancy will depend to a great extent on the amount and type of usage and the maintenance it receives. When it comes to landscape applications, synthetic turf can last much longer than fields.
A synthetic turf field usually has a higher upfront cost, but the field often pays for itself over 3-4 years, proving to be a highly cost-effective investment. Synthetic turf fields are typically utilized for about 3,000 hours of play per year, with no "rest” required, the equivalent of three to four well-maintained natural turf fields. In addition, synthetic turf maintenance costs are two to three times less than natural turf, since no mowing, irrigation or chemicals are needed. Because of its consistent availability, a synthetic turf field is also a reliable source of rental revenue for schools and communities. According to Cory Jenner, a landscape architecture professional in Syracuse, N.Y., the cost of installing and maintaining a synthetic turf sports field over a 20-year period (including one replacement field) is over three times less expensive per event than the cost of a grass field over the same period of time. This is because many more events can be held on a synthetic turf sports field. "Financially speaking, artificial turf is more cost-effective over time,” Jenner said. This cost per event advantage is validated by other authorities and field owners.
No, there are a variety of different types of synthetic turf products and systems. Visit the Buyers' Guide & Member Directory to browse synthetic turf manufacturers and system builders.
Yes, one of the important advantages of synthetic turf is its ability to hold up under very heavy use. While natural turf shouldn’t be played on during or immediately after a rain storm, after the application of pesticides and fertilizers, or during the months when grass doesn’t grow, synthetic turf is always ready for play. Regular maintenance is important to enable synthetic turf to withstand the heavy use that it is often subjected to.