The Wall Street Journal June 17 2013
Artificial Grass: It's Not Just for Stadiums Any More
After a makeover, synthetic grass is showing up in residential driveways, courtyards & high-traffic areas
Artificial grass, long considered the bad toupee of landscaping, has gotten a makeover. Manufacturers have developed new "yarns" that make synthetic grass look less shiny and more natural.
Today, six companies make artificial grass in the U.S., and residential sales have increased about 30% a year for the past five years, according to the Association of Synthetic Grass Installers.
Homeowners can have a full lawn of artificial grass installed or use it in specific areas: between pavers in a driveway, in a courtyard, around swimming pools and under swing sets. There are even varieties of synthetic grass for pet owners that include a drainage system, says Brian Karmie, co-founder of manufacturer ForeverLawn in Uniontown, Ohio. Companies also offer specialty grass for putting greens, which use tightly curled fibers instead of straight ones to simulate real putting surfaces, says Nick Vena, vice president of synthetic-grass distributor Purchase Green in San Dimas, Calif.
n recent years, synthetic-grass makers have introduced yarns with a lower luster, skinnier blades and a softer feel to make the appearance and feel of the grass more realistic. While artificial lawns only hit the residential market about a decade ago, they've been used in sports arenas regularly since the 1970s.
What is it? Typically made from polyethylene, synthetic grass is made on carpet machines and bound with a polyurethane or latex backing. The grass fibers have short, curled brownish fibers mixed with green and yellow blades that typically are 1¾ inches long. The quality is measured by the product's face weight, or the weight of the fibers per square yard. Artificial-turf face weights range from 40 ounces to 93 ounces. High-end residential lawns typically use 80- to 93-ounce face weights.
Installation takes about two days: one day to excavate and grade 3 inches to 5 inches of soil, and another day to roll out the carpet and affix it to the ground. Then a sand infill is brushed into the grass to weigh it down and increase its durability, says Bryce Bartlett, director of sales for synthetic-grass installer Conservation Grass of Dallas.
Pros: There isn't a lot of maintenance—no mowing or watering required—, and most artificial yards last 15 to 20 years. Homeowners with pets may hose down the lawn once a month with a cleaning solution that eats odor-causing bacteria. Owners can brush the blades with a broom to get them to stand up straight if the lawn starts to look matted down. Some states, such as Arizona and California, offer water-conservation rebates for installing synthetic grass.
Cons: Prices can be high, with large, high-quality lawns costing as much as $100,000. Also, the grass gets hotter than natural grass; on a 100-degree day, synthetic grass can reach 108 degrees, says Tony Vena, CEO of Purchase Green.
Price: The lowest-price, 40-ounce face weight is about $1.50 a square foot; the lushest face weight, of 93 ounces, about $4.50. Costs, with labor, range from $7 to $20 a square foot. With labor, costs typically range from $12 to $20 a square foot.