Palo Alto Weekly

Real Estate - February 26, 2010

Artificial turf:

This grass is always greener

by Susan Golovin

Maureen Gorman says that hailing from the Midwest, she and her husband Alan Sykes were accustomed to neatly trimmed rolling green lawns. They were therefore not pleased with the irregularities in the backyard lawn of their home in Palo Alto.

"There are a lot of oaks back there," Gorman said. "The lawn underneath the trees never got enough sun, so it was swampy, and the exposed areas were totally sunburned."

She decided to explore using artificial turf after seeing it on the field at her daughter's soccer game.

Gorman's approximately 1,700-square-foot back yard is now surfaced with Field Turf, a product from Heavenly Greens in San Jose.

"We chose the yellow/green sample and it looks really beautiful, especially in sunlight," she said. While they were at it, they also decided to put in a one-hole putting green.

"Many people think that we just lay down the turf like carpet," said Troy Scott, vice president of marketing at Heavenly Greens.

In fact, he said, the installation requires excavating down three to four inches and removing all sod, dirt and rocks. Next, a permeable base-rock drainage layer is tamped into place. The turf, which comes in 300-foot-long and 15-foot-wide rolls is then laid.

The next layer is infill. It consists of cryogenic rubber — actually recycled tires mixed with sand — and is laid on the turf to weigh it down and prevent buckling as well as protect against UV damage. The infill also encourages the blades to stand.

"You always need an edging," said Scott Ose, design specialist at Polygrass in Fremont. "Otherwise, the heavier base rock will spill out from the turf."

This border can be concrete, plastic or metal, and the turf is attached with either landscape staples or spikes. Wood deteriorates and is not recommended.

Scott estimated cost of artificial turf at $15 to $20 per square foot. The putting green is more expensive due to deeper excavation and a more nuanced product. The putting green turf also has a shorter warranty — eight years, compared to 15 for Field Turf.

Gorman's project cost $32,300, a figure that clearly shows that any savings on water and landscapers are long term. Do-it-yourselfers can purchase the turf for about $4.99 per square foot, but the installation, especially eliminating visible seams and creating such niceties as the rounded perimeters of Gorman's flower beds, most often requires a professional.

Susan Vogel is a landscape architect who says she paid $13 per square foot to install a turf provided by Polygrass of Fremont in her 30-foot by 12-foot back yard and two strips along her front driveway.

"My water bill is now one-third of what it used to be," she said. "And yard maintenance used to be $125 per month and now I just pay $40 per month for my roses and trees." Gorman said that her backyard oaks are now in a healthier situation since they do not thrive with excess water.

Unfortunately, despite considerable water conservation, the Santa Clara Valley Water District has not followed the lead of other districts who offer rebates to home owners who install artificial turf. "We keep checking," Scott said.

Benefits to the environment include "zero pesticide and elimination of mowers," he said, adding, "Our product is 100 percent recyclable." As for concerns about lead levels, Scott said, "There is more lead in your soil than in our artificial turf."

Recently there have also been concerns about the increased incidence of certain staph (MRSA) infections in professional athletes linked to abrasions sustained while playing on artificial turf. Ose points out that the high-use playing-field environment, saturated with blood, sweat and saliva, should not be compared with domestic situations.

"Field Turf has university-level studies to show that MRSA is a non-issue for our athletic turf, and it's never been an issue with any residential turf," Scott added.

Artificial turf, however, does require some maintenance. "The perimeter needs to be treated for weeds, and in the spring seeds can germinate in the infill," Scott said. Gorman finds that regular rakings are necessary. She says that she prefers this to using a leaf blower not only because it is more thorough but also because leaf blowers get hot and could melt the turf if set down by mistake.

Both Gorman and Vogel have pets, and both find that soiled turf can be hosed down without any lasting effects, the sooner the better for ease of removal.

"Basically you can pour bleach on the turf and it won't discolor," Scott said. He recommends that clients retain an existing sprinkler system, explaining that, just like hardscape, the product does heat up in the summer. Sprinklers also expedite matters during the pollen season.

With a good drainage layer artificial turf does not retain water. This eliminates the problem of tracking in muddy footprints. Gorman said that her daughter has enjoyed camping out in the backyard without having to worry about dampness.

So, does it look real?

"You can choose a two-tone turf that looks like it's just been cut, or a solid green," Scott said. PolyGrass has a product that actually has brown "blades" sprinkled in for a more realistic appearance. Susan Vogel said she's a "huge fan" and that "people cannot tell the difference."

As for Gorman, she said that it gives her enormous pleasure to look out and see her beautiful lawn, which has provided a great backdrop for prom pictures.

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