The Grass is Always Greener with Artificial Turf
The fate of the Houston Astrodome hangs in limbo these days, as preservationists fight to keep the “Eighth Wonder of the World” from ending up in a pile of rubble. But no matter the outcome, the colossal structure that wowed the world in 1965 as the first domed stadium will forever be remembered as the place where it all started.
It was a failed experiment to grow grass under a glass rooftop that changed playing fields, and ultimately led to the development of today’s synthetic grass that looks real enough to stain a good pair of blue jeans.
A sunlight-starved grass-playing surface during the first year of play ultimately defined that grass couldn’t be permanently grown under the dome and that a solution was needed.
The Dirt on AstroTurf
Astrodome creator Judge Roy Hofheinz enlisted the help of Chemstrand, a Monsanto Industries subsidiary that developed synthetic fibers to make durable carpeting during the 50s and 60s. At the same time, the Ford Foundation was trying to encourage the company to make an urban sports surface that would help create ways to stimulate physical fitness among young people.
The result was AstroTurf, an artificial playing surface that looked more like green carpet. The velvety smooth field debuted on April 18, 1966, in a game between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Houston Astros.
That moment stands as a hallmark to what would become a new field of dreams in the professional sports industry. But in recent years, artificial turf has been growing beyond the foul lines, and into the residential and commercial building sectors.
New technology offers a more realistic look, right down the blade of grass. Today’s man-made varieties have the shape and feel of the real thing and are a far cry from the unforgiving carpet-style affixed to a concrete base.
Artificial Grass is a Growing Option for Properties
Realistic-looking grass is made from polyethylene-blend fibers that sprout on a polypropylene backing. Surfaces are in-filled with sand, dirt and other materials to give the look and feel of a neatly manicured natural grass, sans the hundreds of hours and thousands of gallons of water to maintain. Some grasses even have brown coloring at the base for realism.
The look is becoming an increasingly attractive option for homeowners, landlords and cities that are seeking landscape alternatives to stand up to persistent drought and high-traffic areas. And it’s gaining traction.
Earlier this year, Wasco, Calif., installed 51,000 square feet of synthetic grass to cut the city’s water bill. Medians along Highway 43 and a new housing development were covered with fake grass, and plans are to put down more on a section of Highway 46.
City Manager Dan Allen says the city will save 1 million gallons of water per year that would have gone to irrigating real grass. Don’t forget the labor savings from eliminating mowing crews.
Multifamily Industry Seeing More Installations of Synthetic Turf
Earthworks President Chris Lee says that the multifamily industry is seeing more and more installations of synthetic turf over grass, and he expects the trend to grow.
“It’s becoming more and more common and more popular, especially with water restrictions,” he said. “We’re seeing it in a lot in new properties, primarily the mid-rise type, in high density areas.”
Synthetic turf has been used in dog parks, where special applications reduce smell and manage bacteria caused by pet feces and urine. But more green areas designed for human use are being turfed, especially those near leasing offices and community centers where first impressions last.
Lee said he has one client who replaced the lawn in front of the leasing office with artificial grass. The idea came from a property in Phoenix that did something similar.
The Pros and Cons of Artificial Grass
The biggest advantage of artificial grass is that watering virtually goes away, plus it’s basically maintenance free, Lee says. There is no need for an irrigation system, the grass never turns brown, weeds aren’t an issue and the lawn looks good in persistent drought or during the rainy season.
Also, artificial grass doesn’t need to be chemically fertilized or sprayed for pests. Occasionally, the turf may only need to be washed down to keep debris from piling up.
On the other hand, artificial grass wears over time and will eventually have to be replaced. The color will fade and it gets hot. Those stories of the playing field being 120 degrees on a hot summer day will translate to the grounds of a common area with artificial grass.
And, it’s expensive. A representative at a Southern California artificial turf supplier said grass and installation goes for $7-$12 per square foot and requires a lot of prep time to lay a sub-base of crushed concrete and dirt.
And, Lee adds that if the sub-base is not installed properly, the smell can be offensive to residents.
“On a hot summer day it will make your eyes water,” he said. “The key is proper installation and not cutting corners.”
Artificial Grass is Here to Last
But a proper application of artificial grass in multifamily is a sight to behold, he says. Much of the product available today looks like real grass – down to the brown undergrowth typical of some types of natural turfs – with varying blade widths and pile heights.
Grasses are available in long and short fiber lengths to replicate anything from a putting green to a lush front lawn. Some have the same width of blades throughout, and others have a mixture of wide and thin blades.
“It’s really ridiculous some of the types of grass that are out there,” Lee says. “They look so real.”
The removable artificial surface at Houston’s Reliant Stadium, which now dwarfs the Astrodome next door, is a much different animal than the carpet used in 1966. When installed in 2013 for high school and college games, groundskeepers applied the finishing touches by trimming blades with scissors so the surface was an even “cut”.
Ironically, the field gets rolled up when not in use and is stored at the Astrodome.
It’s doubtful the dome will hang around as a turf storage facility. But such is progress in the field of artificial turf management, and an open invitation for apartments to create their own field of dreams.
(Image source: Shutterstock)