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Synthetic grass: What you need to know

by Madelein
Synthetic grass: What you need to know

Most South Africans are passionate about being outdoors and associate it with lush green fields of grass.

However, times are changing and trying to find ways to be more environmentally conscious and responsible toward scarce resources such as water and electricity have become more important than ever. This is one of many reasons why synthetic or artificial grass is becoming so popular.

Although artificial turf has been used on sports fields for years, it is fast becoming the latest craze in residential, commercial landscaping and interiors. Synthetic grass suppliers have managed to convert many sceptics to the benefits of this product and the reasons why it makes environmental sense. With recent developments in the field, newer artificial grass feels and looks much like its natural counterpart.

To help decide whether the world of artificial turf is right for you, we explore the benefits of synthetic grass, its installation and maintenance costs and other considerations.

What is synthetic or artificial grass made from?

Artificial grass (also known as AstroTurf, Fake Grass and Synthetic Grass) consists of synthetic, grass-like fibres or yarn – typically nylon, polyethylene, or polypropylene – coloured and made to look like real living grass, then used to cover various surfaces.

Modern technological advances mean that today’s artificial lawns consist of several layers, which include backing, cushioning, two to three drainage layers and infill that are often made from substances like recycled rubber tires or natural cork. The material also undergoes a special treatment with UV inhibitors and stabilisers to prevent it from fading or changing colour.

Previously, artificial grass was mostly used in sporting arenas, but it is now becoming popular for residential lawns and commercial applications through its ability to withstand wear and tear, UV light along with no need for irrigation with very limited maintenance.

Is installing artificial turf right for you?

Installing artificial grass, although not cheap, can be done quickly and may be the perfect solution to ending lawn woes for good. However, it may not be the right fit for everyone. The location of your property, your budget and the advantages and disadvantages must be considered.

Keep in mind that not all synthetic brands are created equal. If it is a lower quality material or if the artificial turf installation is not done by turf pros, it will likely show wear and tear much sooner, and the maintenance cost can easily escalate should the artificial grass need to be re-installed.

What are the options for artificial grass and what should you consider?

Pile height options available

  1. Short:
    Artificial grass shorter than 30mm doesn’t not look as natural as grass that is a bit longer. However, slightly shorter choices have some benefits and uses that make them a great option for applications such as putting greens and pet areas.
  2. Medium
    Most artificial grass averages between 30mm and 37mm. This ensures that there is enough height to the pile to create a full, natural look without the pile becoming so heavy that it is unable to stand up on its own. Choosing a pile within this range will most likely result in an end result that you will love, although you have to weigh the pros and cons of longer versus shorter pile, depending on what the area will be used for. Correct infill is also very important to support the grass fibres.
  3. Long
    Avoid buying artificial grass that has a pile that is greater than around 37mm as the grass will become heavy and look very flat. The heavier the blade, the more artificial it looks.

Wide spectrum of colours available
Artificial grass can easily be customised in different colours or patterns, making it amazingly simple to add lines on the grass for your particular sport or to represent the local team. Pink is not typically a colour you would select for your lawn, but it can effectively brighten up a play area. The colour options are almost endless.

Typical features

Currently there are numerous types of synthetic grass on the market. The following are factors to consider when selecting your artificial grass type:

  1. Bend Test: If the backing is bent and twisted, it should not break.
  2. Detex: Thickness of the blade. The thicker the blade, the more durable
  3. Backing: The Easigrass range has double-backing
  4. Stitch Rate: Amounts of stitches per cm
  5. More stitches = density = durability = quality
  6. Gauge: Space between the stitches. The smaller the gauge, the more stitches, the denser the grass.
  7. Silica Sand: Protects the grass pile and backing. It keeps the grass cooler and creates a more realistic look and feel when walking on the grass.
  8. Crusher Dust: 50mm base for optimised stability which will allow for natural ground movement and assists in water drainage.
  9. Weed Barrier: Prevents weeds from growing and forming networks underneath the base, which can compromise the stability of your base.

Benefits of artificial grass

Synthetic grass has come a long way since its inception in the ’60s. It is now possible to install artificial grass without the fake grass look. With water conservation concerns on the rise and a growing awareness of the environmental impact and health issues associated with the fertilizers and pesticides that typical natural turf lawns require, it’s easy to see why more people are receptive to the idea of swapping their turf grass for synthetic grass.

Some of the main benefits or pros of artificial grass compared to that of natural grass are:
• Attractive all year round as it is not impacted by changing weather patterns.
• Does not require any watering – saving a scarce resource.
• No pesticides or fertilisers needed to keep synthetic turf looking good.
• Low to almost no maintenance – does not need cutting, mowing, or trimming, saving on time and electricity.
• Only needs sweeping and sanitisation to keep clean.
• Can easily be placed in shaded areas and will not create patchy spots from wear and tear or be affected by pest damage.
• Quick and neat installation.
• UV-Stabilised so it will not burn or fade in the sun.
• Non-Absorbent Fibre will not retain moisture or pet smells.
• Heat- and Frost-Resistant.
• Non-Flammable and stain free.
• Available in a variety of grass blade colours.

Need to know:

While there are many advantages to artificial turf, there are also some issues to take into consideration when choosing the right type of grass. These are:
• Synthetic turf fields can have high installation costs.
• Polyethylene is a petroleum-based product that is not biodegradable and will typically need to be replaced in 8 to 10 years.
• If not properly sanitised, it can host bacteria.
• Some elements can be harmful to people or the environment, if not responsibly installed.
• It gets hotter than natural turf – between 20 and 30 degrees warmer than the air temperature. **This can be limited with correct installation methods
• Artificial turf is rougher than live grass and could cause rug burn.

How has the South African synthetic grass industry grown?

To giving you further insight into the synthetic lawn currently available in South Africa, we spoke to some of the leading suppliers about their offerings.

Easigrass
Hennie van Der Merwe, Owner of Easigrass Pretoria/Midrand says, “Whether you need artificial grass for interior or exterior use, be it in a residential, sports, leisure, commercial, retail or an educational/play environment, we will help you select the best product.”

Easigrass specialises in artificial grass and offers a wide variety of options and professional guidance in selecting the correct option best suited to your specific needs

Issues like maintenance must be planned for during the initial stages. Special considerations such as a damp rear garden or a lawn suffering from a build-up of moss can easily be remedied with the right treatment. Practical maintenance steps include:
• Removal of all waste matter and vegetation off the top of your lawn to one point where it is collected and disposed of.
• Inspecting the condition of the grass to establish if any maintenance should be done.
• If necessary, an intense clean to remove any airborne spores or weeds that have lodged in the outer edges. Products are also available to sanitise and to restore the turf’s hygiene, keeping it healthy and looking fresh.
• Revitalising the artificial grass’s pile, ensuring that your lawn is tip-top for another 6 months. Check with your supplier as additional charges for specialised maintenance may apply.

Turftech
Philip Prinsloo, sales manager for Turftech says, “Artificial turf has developed a great deal in terms of options available for landscaping and for use in both professional and re-creational sports. Unfortunately, the market has recently become flooded with cheap imitation grasses that do not last.”

He says good tips for selecting the best turf specific to your needs would be to:
• Compare the specification sheets between suppliers to determine the quality by looking at the stitching rate, warranty period and whether the turf is UV stabilised. Good quality turf typically includes an 8-year manufacturer’s warranty.
Important elements to consider for professional installations are:
• Correct base preparation with the right percentage of slope to ensure surface drainage in case of rain and to avoiding puddling.
• Using the correct 300mm seam tape and glue as these are critical to guarantee the installation’s sustainability.
• Avoiding normal hardware glue as it becomes too hard upon drying, causing the turf to rip.
• Knowing that 90% of artificial turf must be infilled with Silica sand once the turf has been installed to help protect the fibres and regulate the turf temperature, as both are important to ensuring a durable finish.

Phillips adds one final word of advice, “Carefully review contractor references to guarantee a professional installation.”

Conclusion

Maintaining real turf lawns takes time and money. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that landscape irrigation accounts for a third of residential water use, which is approximately nine billion gallons of water a day. Water usage is not something to be taken lightly, and with more and more municipalities implementing water restrictions, choosing an alternative lawn option may be the route for your property, based on its location and access to water.

Available in an array of blade lengths, colours and textures, the new generation of synthetic grass can fool most people into thinking that it is the real thing.

All images courtesy of Easigrass

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