Is fake grass the lawn of the future?
It's environmentally friendly, requires no mowing or fertilizing, and all you have to do is hose it down when it's dirty. But are you ready to give up the smell of freshly cut grass for synthetic turf?
Like many proud homeowners, John Chen doesn’t need much prodding to brag about his lawn. The Seattle business owner will wax poetic about its perfect shade of green, its flawless uniformity and the way it neatly frames the flagstones leading to his front door. In the summer, Chen likes to pad around the yard barefoot, watching his three children dash through the grass and hurl themselves down the family Slip ’N Slide. But Chen’s favorite thing about the lawn? It’s made of plastic. (Bing: Find a plastic-grass dealer)
In a tiny but growing number of patches in suburbia, low-maintenance yard mavens are rolling out a high-tech version of the stuff that used to adorn concrete balconies — and are calling it their lawn. Don’t laugh. The makers of the grass — who go by such monikers as Perfect Turf and ForeverLawn — say artificial lawns are one of the few landscaping businesses that have turned out to be recession-proof. Neighbors may be puzzled by the sight, but makers say they’ve been hard at work on the fake fuzz, developing new grasses with multicolor blades and even extra padding for tush-friendly picnicking. “We want to replicate grass and then some,” says George Neagle, vice president of sales and marketing for industry bigwig SynLawn.
Article continues below
- MSN Lifestyle: Ground cover for garden pathways
Certainly, both the economy and environmental issues work in faux grass’s favor. Though far more expensive than real grass to buy and install — it can cost up to three times as much as natural turf, or roughly $6,000 to $8,000 for a typical lawn — the lifetime savings add up. After all, the lawns require no seeding, fertilizing or trimming; homeowners do little more than hose down the grass when it’s dirty and occasionally break out a rake to fluff up any matted patches. The industry also plays up its environmental benefits, including fewer pollution-spewing mowers, a reduction in harsh chemicals such as fertilizer or insecticide and, most important, less water use. In drought-prone regions, municipalities like Los Angeles County have even provided tax rebates for residents who remove areas of natural lawn.
Many people still find ersatz grass about as appealing as covering their yard in Velcro. Indeed, critics say that despite industry advancements, plastic lawns haven’t completely lost their stubby, neon-hued look. In some areas, the stuff is so controversial that towns have banned it and neighborhood associations have fined homeowners who refuse to remove it. And artificial lawns still have a few rough patches; just ask pet owners, many of whom report that the turf makes their animals’ waste especially, well, fragrant.
- Bing Cube: What does a truly healthy lawn look like?
So is faux grass the lawn of the future — or a glorified plastic carpet? Below, the latest in the turf wars.
- On our blog, 'Listed': Tired of brown grass, owners turn to painting it
There’s a reason, of course, that artificial turf used to be seen as little more than “Brillo pad on a sponge.” That’s how Annie Costa, executive director of the Association of Synthetic Grass Installers, describes the earliest incarnation of the stuff, which debuted on football fields in the mid-1960s. Critics decried it as stiff and bristly, dangerously slick when wet, and unforgiving if you fell. But today’s residential turf has changed dramatically. Companies make it more porous for better drainage and soften up the base with sand or rubber chips. The latest grasses attempt to echo the real thing down to the tiniest detail, like using a mix of green tones on the individual blades, adding “dirt” by applying a tan tone to the “thatch” base or even weaving in bits of brown yarn to mimic bits of dead grass. Many companies model their products on specific regional species of grass, each with multiple versions: close-cropped for lawn neatniks and longer varieties for those who like a lush look. SynLawn offers 37 residential varieties — five different fescues alone.
When David Lewis of Lake Elsinore, Calif., went synthetic, he opted for longer blades and a darker green color — a look he could never achieve with his natural lawn, which on 100-plus-degree summer days turned to dust, and on rainy days a mud pit. Tired of resodding twice a year — not to mention the endless mowing and watering — the 39-year-old business owner was more than happy to plunk down $5,000 to see installers peel away his old lawn. Now, he says, his two dogs and two small kids can romp and roll around without tearing up the turf, or suffering the plastic rug burn of yore. And perhaps best of all is how grassy it looks.
“People have to go up close to it,” he says, “before they say, ‘Wow, this isn’t real.’”
Manufacturers credit the new “you coulda fooled me” look to the marvels of science. SynLawn’s Neagle, for one, tends to lapse into sports-car speak when describing the “blend of aesthetics and performance” offered by the company’s latest creation, a dense grass it calls Syntipede, which includes such space-age–sounding features as “Biocel backing” and “Enviroloc technology.” In fact, SynLawn is working with a turfgrass pathologist and other specialists at the University of Tennessee to develop a dedicated research center, where they will test plastic grass with gizmos like weatherometers and mechanical balls covered in little cleats.
But for some, even the latest improvements aren’t enough. Les Bernstein learned this the hard way when the $4,000 artificial turf he rolled onto his Raleigh, N.C., yard raised a stink with his homeowners association. Bernstein says it declared the lawn a violation of its covenant and insisted he yank it out or be fined up to $100 a day. Despite his protests — including a petition to the governor — he ultimately gave in. The association declined to comment, but at least one board member, Sheila Volpe, who confesses to being partial to real fescue grass, said the synthetic stuff, in general, just looks too phony. So where’s Bernstein’s lawn now?
“Rolled up in my driveway,” says Bernstein, sighing.
And Bernstein’s neighborhood is far from the only one skeptical of the plastic grass trend. In Texas, a controversy over one Old East Dallas resident’s lawn even provoked an anti-turf editorial from The Dallas Morning News, which referred to the faux grass as “Frankenlawn.” The paper also questioned the green credentials of a company that replaces living grass with plastic. Indeed, this, combined with the fact that fake lawns must be replaced every eight to 10 years, has raised the eyebrows of many environmentalists.
And even with recent improvements, the grass itself still has some kinks. Heat remains a problem, with a hot day capable of turning an artificial lawn from a lush oasis to a foot-frying carpet of torture. Lawn temperatures can be as high as 30 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit above the air temperature.
- On our blog, 'Listed': Secrets to keeping your lawn lush
Fake turf can sometimes require a surprising amount of care, says Kansas City, Mo.-based landscape architect Jeff Bruce, who works with both natural and artificial grass. Bruce says homeowners who allow their turf to get too dirty may find themselves back to weeding because plants sometimes take root on top of the plastic surface. And David Lewis discovered another turf flaw, thanks to his two dogs. If he doesn’t hose down the animals’ waste within 10 minutes or so, the smell becomes unbearable — far worse than it was with natural lawn, he says.
Pet smell or no, the industry rolls forward. SynLawn says it now touts a temperature-controlled yarn called Heatblock to minimize the burn factor and anti-microbial agents to repel mold, while companies like FieldTurf and PolyTurf have come out with lines of recyclable turf aimed at minimizing green plastic rolls in landfills. And all the companies say they’re working hard to rid fake grass of its tacky reputation. Back in Seattle, John Chen doesn’t seem bothered by the stigma; what really excites the frequent business traveler are his new, mower-free weekends.
“I’d rather spend those hours with my kids,” he says.
I was surprised of that these laws made my garden looked more attractive than ever! Thanks to Socalgreens.com!
As a CCN and botanist, I prefer to have a natural, chlorophyll producing lawn. But in reality, so many locations are starved for water, that an artificial turf could go a long way in helping to cut down on the high and lows of the local water table. And that is the only reason that I would consider artificial turf over the real thing.
Don't forget, however, that lawns are natural plants, doing all of the good things for our environment that any other living botanical display can do. Depriving a large section of a neighborhood of the extra health-boost couldn't be a good thing. Also, a natural lawn is always cool to the touch, and to the surrounding air. An artificial lawn will store heat and then, radiate it back into your immediate environment--not good in summer.
So, take each landscaping case as it comes. Some areas may benefit from artificial turf, while others not so.
I have had Synlawn for 4 years and I have two dogs. We LOVE it! If the dogs make a mess - guess what? Just pour on some dish soap and hose it down! It's perfect for my small yard - no muddy feet in the house and no bugs! My Jack Russell doesn't even dig at it and that's something...
It costs about the same as a roll of turf at Home Depot, it's guaranteed colorfast for 5 years and it won't die. I think more people and especially businesses should have it installed. It's a great investment and while your neighbor is spilling gas all over his new Nike's and sweating like a pig when he mows - you can be sitting on a nice comfy chair with a cold beer looking at your perfect lawn...
Most people ragging on the artificial turf and claiming to be ENVIRONMENTALISTS should calm down. If you had an issue with replacing nature with non natural things then you wouldn't have a drive-way, or a house ... you'd be living in a mud hut with a dirt/grass path leading up to it. You wouldn't have your chainlink or wooden fence surrounding the area, you would have a natural hedge.
Personally the only time my daughter gets to spend outside is when she rides her bike down the sidewalk of our neighborhood because I have a 90lb dog that stays in the backyard, and it is impossible to keep a yard together with a dog like that out there, water or no water, it's not happening. You can research that as much as you'd like.
If people want it, then they want it, if you don't then that's fine, buy a horse, live in a Teepee and grow your own garden and harvest some cattle, some of us would like to just live our lives.
HEY ECO IDIOTS WAKE UP!!!!!!! Plastic grass is NOT eco-friendly. For all of you who believe in global warming, grass with its faster growth rate uses more energy thus creates more oxygen. As for watering, the water should soak into the ground keeping soil alive. (Ever see earth worms in parched soil.) It also provides food for pests such as rabbits.
How can you call a petroleum based plastic lawn "green" or environmentally friendly? You don't have to use a gas powered mower on real grass - there are good, human powered mechanical mowers out there. You don't have to use fertilizer or pesticides, and if you use low maintenance native grasses, you don't have to water at all, unless you're experiencing unusual lack of rainfall. In addition, french drains or rain barrels can contribute plenty to yard irrigation. I think it's so hypocritical when people in CA call themselves environmentalists, drive 1-2 hours to and from work in their hybrids or EVs (which contribute to shortened energy supply) so they can live in the suburbs, wearing their plastic shoes, and now want to have plastic lawns.
On a separate note - I don't think an HOA should be able to say boo about your plastic lawn if it isn't expressly prohibited in the original agreement or covenant. But if it does - you have the right not to move into that neighborhood.
I think that this stuff is okay for small patches that people are going to see mostly from a distance and which no one walks on (or, in the case of dogs, uses). But, for larger expanses, I think that xeriscaping is the way to go.
If one has children, I think that rubber chips are a great option, also.
But, fake lawn to me is best mostly for ornamental patches that would be hard to mow anyway. Those lawns that have squares of grass punctuated by squares of pavers would, I think, be the best option for something like this.
Lawns never made sense to me, anyway. I think this is an Anglophile thing with people wanting to feel like they are landed gentry in Britain with rolling, lush lawns. I'd rather have a low maintenance xeriscape any day. If it doesn't grow by itself without extra special care, I pull it out.
1. zxgswoop - I'll look at our site, if things aren't clear, I'll update them. Different areas of the country use different amounts of fresh water for landscape irrigation - and thankfully for all of us, people are watering their lawns less almost everywhere. I was using Maggie Choi's numbers from the University of New Mexico, but I will relook at what we have on our site. Don't want to mislead anyone and I thank you for pointing that out.
2. Heat effect: not sure where you are coming from on this, that's just not how it works. Turf ONLY gets hot in the sun and it dissipates heat extremely quickly because of all the surface area created by the thousands of blades. We have tested this, our customers will attest to this and from personal experience I can assure all readers that synthetic turf (any company's) will not hold heat into the night - that just is not possible. Caveat: IF your neighbor was foolish enough to get a rubber infilled turf installed on their lawn (normally only used for athletic fields, "landscape turf" does not have any rubber infill) then there is a possibility that the rubber could retain some heat into the evening.
3. Environmental impact: this is a big one. People, do your own research on the web. The great majority of environmentalists will tell you that the 15+ year savings in fresh water, in not pouring fertilizers and pesticides in your lawn (which end up in our water supply), in not mowing/edging your lawn (2-cycle engines are huge air polluters) - all these savings far outweigh the possibility of the turf ending up in a landfill one day. Plus, it's not happening on a large-scale now, but the blades of the turf are recyclable and some turf is 100% recyclable. Finally, grass is not a big producer of oxygen. I read somewhere - and forgive me, I don't have time right now to find the source - that all the grass in the world only produces 3% of the oxygen. We don't feel syn turf should be used everywhere and replace all grass, just in places where it makes sense. The loss of our Amazon rain forest is the big threat to our oxygen supply, not replacing 1-2% of the US grass with synthetic turf.
4. Green. Synthetic turf should never be called a "green" product, which by definition means it is made of recycled materials. There is only about 15% recycled content in the average turf product. The industry is working on a 100% recycled plastic turf, but no one has figured out how to do it yet and make a good quality product. Based on the above, it is fair to call synthetic turf an "environmentally-friendly product" but not green.
5. a1s19: Road medians. You are 100% correct. We did our first ones two years ago and feel that road medians, parkways and road shoulders are a great application for synthetic turf.
6. Soil destruction: properly installed, synthetic turf should be installed over a crushed rock base. If natural grass is ever to be installed in place, the rock would be removed and 2-3 inches of fresh top soil would be added to replace the excavated rock. The rock also keeps the heat away from the soil, so we have not seen the effects that some spoke about, but they might not have had their turf properly installed.
Got to run - I'll check this thread again and try to add any other information I can. Thanks.
My main problem with the plastic lawn is the negative environmental impact. You are removing all that co2 processing, living, breathing nature and replacing it with some out-gassing, petroleum based, chemical field. The impact of plastic lawns on the soil is devastating. There is one house in my neighborhood that has a plastic lawn, I walk by in the cool evening, except it is not cool in front of that house. The radiant heat coming of that lawn is unbelievable. It was probably 89 degrees during the day, it's 72 degrees out in the evening,and it's feels like it's 95 in front of that house. It's like a blast furnace coming off that lawn. After the 8 years of baking the soil like that, it will be completely devoid of any beneficial nutrients or organisms. That soil is now completely sterile and nothing will grow there.
@ perfectlawn - your numbers are skewed. Go take a look at the USGS survey of water use in the US. 64% is irrigated agriculture, 22% is public use.
Just think if everyone had it, we'd be living in a sterile world with no oxygen that's 30-50 degrees hotter than it is now.
What's next, plastic trees because you don't want to prune?
Artificial turf makes rain run off the property intead of being absorbed by the soil it falls on. This contributes to run-off which creates flooding - just as asphalt surfaces do.
Maybe manufacturers could perforate the plastic in someway so that drainage can occur.
This article fails to mention that synthetic grass retains heat more efficiently than a thermal blanket and contributes to global warming by keeping heat in the lower atmosphere. Natural grass converts heat energy as part of it's growth process into more grass. Synthetic lawn just retains heat and keeps it where we live.
Better to plant a tree, keep the native grass and use no petrochemical fertilizer, and use native plants for the lawn and gaerden to reduce water consumption.