It’s no secret that water is a precious resource that’s in high demand, with supply levels diminishing. Granted, the planet is full of water – it covers three-quarters of the earth’s surface – but most of it isn’t usable. Technology may eventually find a way to change this, but for now, usable water is becoming more and more scarce.
Recent pictures of the southwest’s Lake Mead show how serious the situation has become. Experts are warning that it may never be full again. It’s currently at 36 percent capacity, a number that will continue to fall as the reservoir’s rapid decline continues. Current models show its water levels dropping another 20 feet by 2022.
Often, the best we can do is to think globally and act locally. And a good starting point is in your own backyard. Thirty to 60 percent of urban fresh water is used on lawns. By switching from that luscious Kentucky Bluegrass to an artificial surface, you can do your part in minimizing excessive water use.
We’re getting more proficient at making artificial things appear like the real thing. From plant-based Impossible Burgers to porcelain tiles that are the spitting image of marble, reproductions sometimes offer benefits that improve upon the real deal. Artificial grass has improved over time, too. No longer the plastic turf of Brady Bunch fame, today’s artificial grass is about as similar to that 1970s ground covering as an Impossible Burger is to the soybean patty students got from the school cafeteria during that same era.
AstroTurf, the original artificial turf, was introduced in the 1960s, and installed on Houston’s Astrodome baseball field in 1966. With time, the trend for artificial turf fields grew, especially within the NFL. Although known among players for being unforgiving, artificial turf offered durability that natural turf did not. In the mid-1970s, a second-generation artificial turf featured longer fibers, a protective pad below, and sand infill. The third-generation turf, created by FieldTurf, came along in the 1990s, and North America had more than 6,000 synthetic turfs installed by 2011.
The technology has improved so much that modern turf and its lifelike appearance are perfect for residential applications. Third-generation, or infilled artificial turf, commonly begins with a choice of polyethylene fibers, which are monofilament, silt-film, or a hybrid of the two. The fibers are tufted into a carpet, which is coated with a urethane or latex layer. The carpet is rolled and shipped to the site. Once it arrives, the turf is unrolled and glued or sewn together to create the field surface.
The next step is to add the infill. Think of the carpet-like strands of grass in the natural world; with artificial turf, infill acts as the dirt. Consisting of two or three layers, today’s infill is made up of sand—usually silica—and rubber that may come from recycled car tires. It’s installed layer by layer using a spreader that acts like a salt truck on the highway. A brush tractor follows to smooth everything in. Once installed, you’ll have a sustainable, water-free lawn with minimal maintenance, which means no pesticides or fertilizers.
Artificial turf offers multiple benefits—durability and sustainability are among the top. And manufacturers are continuously innovating and improving upon these products. While sport turf manufacturers focus on safety, performance, and durability, residential turf is more like a plush carpet, with comfort and aesthetics driving development.
Opinions vary with artificial turf, due to the wide variation in turf types, maintenance requirements, amount of use and even the installation process. To sample a local installation, look no further than Casey Middle School. During its 2009-2010 renovation, synthetic turf was installed on the school’s playing field. It’s an inviting surface, and one is hard-pressed to recognize that it’s not a natural lawn.
While it doesn’t need to be watered, artificial turf does require maintenance, including brushing and aerating, and infill must be kept at the right level. As with most home projects, a good install team has a huge impact on the longterm durability of the turf.
And finally, the question on everyone’s mind: can dogs pee on it? Why yes, they can. Below the turf sits a base of crushed stone or concrete, so dog urine won’t damage the turf. But if a turf yard is going to double as a doggie litter box, you’ll want to occasionally hose down the preferred area to keep it smelling fresh.