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Tue, Oct. 22

Ask the Contractor: Artificial turf brightens landscape, saves water

Artificial turf may be fake grass, but it sure looks real. (Courier file)

Artificial turf may be fake grass, but it sure looks real. (Courier file)

We are starting to pay more attention to water conservation and considering replacing some of our grass with artificial turf. Opinion please. — Rod and Mary, Prescott

If a sea of green is your color when it comes to landscaping, you may want to install artificial turf. Synthetic grass is a logical alternative to seed or sod in the four-season, semi-arid climate of Yavapai County and a super element for conserving water.

While not wholly maintenance-free, synthetic products offer the most eye-catching quality of all: a year-round blanket of green. Even within hours of a winter snowfall, the lush ground cover quickly resurfaces under blue sky and exuberant rays of sunshine. Drought-proof, it also hedges your landscaping bets against dry spells and miserly monsoons.

“Artificial turf is a great solution if you enjoy a lawn area and saving water,” said Matt Keppel, owner of Guardian Landscape. “You can have a maintenance-free and water-saving area for entertainment and leisure.”

Thousands of homeowners, businesses, municipalities and government entities nationwide use synthetic grass as an attractive landscape solution that saves time, money and water, according to the Synthetic Turf Council (STC). The average American household uses 320 gallons of water per day, about 30% of which is devoted to outdoor uses. More than half of that outdoor water is used for watering lawns and gardens. Nationwide, landscape irrigation is estimated to account for nearly one-third of all residential water use, totaling nearly 9 billion gallons per day. The estimates for commercial water use on landscape creation and maintenance could even be higher.

Outdoor water use varies greatly depending upon geographic location. In dry climates such as Arizona, a business’s outdoor water use can be as high as 60%. In addition, some experts estimate that as much as 50% of water used for irrigation is wasted due to evaporation, wind or runoff caused by inefficient irrigation methods and systems used by commercial business and residential lawns and landscape.

The average homeowner’s traditional grass lawn is one of the most water intensive parts of the home. It’s estimated that 60% of some homeowners’ outdoor water bill is generated from watering the lawn.

Artificial grass lawns do not require water to stay green, lush and beautiful all year. This water savings can mean many things to homeowners who decide to utilize artificial turf in their landscaping. First, it can save money on water bills.

“The No. 1 benefit is the water savings,” said Ray Hernandez, owner of Hacienda del Ray Landscaping LLC. “While keeping a green-looking lawn, no water is needed. It adds value to the landscape design. When most landscape designs are mostly rock, we add color to our designs with synthetic turf.”

Demand for artificial grass in landscaping and recreation grows each year by 10% to 15%, according to Houselogic.

With synthetic lawns, homeowners can eliminate mowing, edging and trimming a lawn from their “honey-do” lists, while also banking money otherwise spent on fertilizers, weed killers, and lawn mowers and trimming tools.

According to Ted Steinberg, author of “American Green: The Obsessive Quest for the Perfect Lawn,” the average American spends 150 hours each year maintaining natural grass.

Having your weekends free from lawn mowing and not worrying about overgrowth while on a weekend getaway not enough motivation for you? You also could think about additional reasons to install artificial turf beyond satisfying your need for low-maintenance green. STC promotes cost-effective and ecofriendly landscape solutions, styles to replicate familiar native grasses, protection from fading and deterioration, and environmental savings such as reduced overall water usage, less trash for landfills and the elimination of toxic chemicals for fertilizing and weeding.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), about one-third of all residential water use across the country goes to landscape irrigation, amounting to more than 7 billion gallons a day. The 33.2 million tons of yard trimmings sent to landfills in 2009 comprised the third-largest component of municipal solid waste. Then there are the impacts of decomposition, including the release of methane gas.

All synthetic grass consists of filaments of nylon, polyethylene or polypropylene — colored to look like grass and threaded into porous backing that permits water to flow through the product. Each of the three polymers offers strength and durability, resilience, softness, color retention and resistance to moisture, odors and Ultra-Violet (UV) light. Blade length, width, weight and luster are considerations when choosing a yard covering, and all of those factors play a role in pricing. The task is akin to selecting carpet for your home’s interior.

Synthetic grass has a lifespan of about 15 years, depending on what’s chosen and the terrain where it’s placed, Keppel explained. The area’s four-season climate and hilly topography do not generally create any special issues with synthetic turf: “I personally have never had any problems, but (they) could include the undermining of the base work from erosion or erosion also causing debris to build up on the surface.”

Although more expensive than natural sod to install, synthetic turf “would pay for itself within four to five years, compared to the maintenance that goes with the sod,” Hernandez said. “We have installed these turfs in almost all applications and throughout the Quad Cities up in the pines and in the high desert, on slopes and flat ground. It’s easy to care for. It can be raked with a plastic leaf rake, blown with a leaf blower, and hosed down if needed to wash away any pet odor.”

Most of the products used, Hernandez added, “are American-made and have 10- to 15-year ‘no color fade’ warranties from the manufacturers.”

During installation, artificial turf is laid on a drainage layer of compacted gravel or similar material and fastened along the perimeter. Infill made of crumb rubber from recycled tires or washed silica sand is placed over the turf to provide even weight distribution, and thus, minimize expansion and contraction with temperature changes.

Besides not being completely maintenance-free, artificial turf “does not have the same benefits of a natural lawn, such as cooling and the amazing smell,” Keppel said. Consumers also should recognize that it heats up in direct sunlight and cannot be recycled.

When weighing the pros and cons of synthetic grass, speak with a knowledgeable landscaper able to provide helpful advice. It’s a project best left to the experts, who have greater access to product lines and broader experience ensuring perfect installations. Then, give your lawn the green light with artificial turf.

Remember to tune in to YCCA’s Hammer Time every Saturday and Sunday mornings at 7 on KQNA 1130AM/99.9FM or 95.5FM or on the web at kqna.com. Listen to Sandy and Mike talk about the construction industry, meet your local community partners and so much more.

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