Artificial grass has come a long way since its origin in the 1960s. This has been made possible due to the massive leaps in technology and material used to manufacture it, as a result of which synthetic grass is now almost identical to natural grass in terms of touch and comfort. It has been making its presence felt in all kinds of indoor and outdoor spaces.
Synthetic turfs for sports have come a long way too. More and more athletes are now vouching for artificial turf, stating that it provides a much better surface to play on than natural turf.
It has made a big impact in drought-prone regions where maintaining lawns is an expensive and often wasteful affair. All of the above combined has led to a tremendous rise in its popularity and demand worldwide. This upward trend is expected to continue over the coming years as more and more people discover and realize to the full extent the usefulness and convenience of synthetic grass over natural grass.
In this report we look at the rising numbers in the use of artificial grass and discuss in detail the reasons behind this popularity. We wrap up with a glimpse into the future, which should see artificial grass manufacturers around the world making merry due to a high demand for the product globally.
It all started around 1960. Researchers had been looking for some time to provide a more cost-effective, easily manageable and synthetic option for natural turf. It was around then that David Chaney and his team at Research Triangle Park designed the first polyamide fiber to be used as synthetic grass.
This was a major accomplishment and led Sports Illustrated to announce Chaney as the man “responsible for indoor major league baseball and millions of welcome mats.” Chaney later went on to serve as the Dean of North Carolina State University College of Textiles. For all means and purposes, he can be hailed as the father of synthetic grass.
However, it was not until 1965 that artificial grass burst into prominence. The field of the newly built Astrodome in Houston, Texas, the world’s first domed stadium, had been covered in natural grass. To make sure it got the requisite amount of sunlight the Astrodome was built with a transparent roof to let the sunshine through.
There was one problem though. The glinting sun on the roof was a big problem for players when catching fly balls. When the roof was painted over to prevent this, the grass no longer received sunlight.
Things came to an embarrassing tipping point in the second half of the season of 1965, when large patches of dead grass on the field had to be painted green.
As a solution, the stadium owners and engineers decided to replace the natural turf with the world’s first ever artificial turf. A green carpet made of nylon, this turf was installed for the baseball season of 1966 and a new age was born. But due to a limited supply, only the infield was replaced by the time of the Houston Astros’ home opener in April ’66. This was the first instance of a synthetic playing surface being used for a Major League sport.
Taking It to the Next Level
But the turf was still not allowing for a full range of physical mobility. Teams and players often complained about various injuries occurring due to the hardness and odd bounce of the synthetic turf. It was around 1970 that synthetic turf carpet was introduced to Europe.
Made from a different synthetic fabric, polypropylene, it was cheaper than nylon and softer, reducing the risk of injury among players. The first generation of synthetic turf with closely packed tufts is what we now refer to as carpets.
Decorative artificial grass found its roots, no pun intended, in the initial years of the 1980’s. This was when the artificial sporting surfaces were being challenged left right and center because of their proclivity of causing injuries to players.
It was then that the use of this product, because of its bright façade and ease of maintenance, went into fashion. Commonly used then in pool curbs, nurseries, shop windows, plays, etc. this type of grass was made out of thin threads of polypropylene (PP) of about 7mm height. It was not comparable to natural grass in terms of touch or comfort. Its aim was merely decorative and installation was basic.
It was in late 1990’s and early 2000’s, that the softer, less abrasive, more resistant fibers made of polyethylene (PE) made an appearance. It was boom time for artificial sporting turf, and its use in homes and landscaping jumped.
With rapid leaps in materials and technology we have finally been able to begin mimicking natural grass in touch and comfort. There are now upwards of 8000 artificial turf fields in the US and thousands of homes, institutions, businesses and municipalities that are using artificial turf in landscaping.
Industry Growth and Trends
The use of artificial turf around the world has come a long way from being used just for sports. Its use in homes, for decorative purposes or in landscaping, has seen a huge leap over the years, as is apparent from the figures. Rapidly improving quality of synthetic grass has been one of the biggest contributors to sports in the recent years.
The collapse of the housing market has not affected the synthetic grass industry. More and more people are adopting the use of artificial turf in homes, businesses and institutions. The fact that it requires little to no water, very little maintenance and longevity (it can last for 15-20 years), and thus is cost-effective in the long run has worked vastly in its favor.
Fibers for synthetic grass were usually one of two forms, monofilaments or slit-film tape. Monofilament fibers are single strands while slit-film fibers are cut from sheets of polymers to a predetermined width and later perforated by design. But the durability and quality of the turf are not merely dependent on the fibers. It also has a lot to do with the turf construction, face weight, and infill choice and amount.
The science of artificial turf has come a long way since its beginning in 1960 when it was but an abrasive nylon carpet. Polypropylene too was used; its stiffness rendered it best suited to support longer polyethylene fibers and minimizing infill migration.
When the softer polyethylene fibers came about in late 1990’s it pretty much fulfilled the needs of end users everywhere. Now crumb rubber from recycled tires has become the biggest component in making the infill for synthetic grass, making it an even more ecologically sound idea.
Global Market Usage : (Pie-Chart – Info Form: http://www.asgi.us/59.htm)
The demand for synthetic turf has been on the up and up all over the world. Europe and Asia present two of the biggest markets albeit accreditation for synthetic grass manufacturers outside of Europe and the US is difficult. But this in no way has dulled the desire of people to have their very own synthetic lawn.
Synthetic turf is well and truly on its way to taking over. Consider this: synthetic turf covers about 50 million acres in the US, with an annual estimated value of $40 billion. This places artificial turf third in total acreage in all of the United States. It finds a place of pride in more than 700,000 playing fields and 17,000 golf courses and is a $40 billion industry!
Aesthetically pleasing use of synthetic grass can add up to 15% to the home property values. Having started out for sporting purposes, almost one-third of the synthetic grass market around the world now caters to landscape and recreational uses.
These changing trends in the use of synthetic turf can primarily be attributed to the new materials and technology being used to develop the new generation of synthetic turf. The softer strands of today with their accurate, grass-like coloring are a far cry from the hard green turf used when synthetic turf first appeared.
Drawbacks of Natural Turf
Natural lawns, contrary to popular perception, are not a natural occurrence. Synthetic grass is also one of the best ways to go green if you are living in an arid region, or want to cut down on the use of fertilizers and pesticides. EPA estimates that up to 7 billion gallons of water is used for landscaping every day. This is one-third of all residential water consumption. Lawn maintenance equipment guzzles up to 17 million gallons of fuel every year.
EPA found that a push lawn-mower emits as much pollution in an hour as 11 cars and a riding mower emits as much as 34 cars. Add to this another EPA statistic: 33.2 million tons of yard trimmings were generated in 2009. When decomposing they generate methane, a harmful greenhouse gas. According to American Green – The Obsessive Quest for the Perfect Lawn, a homeowner will spend about 150 hours each year maintaining his lawn. The average homeowner spends more per acre to grow his lawn than it takes per acre to grow corn, rice or sugarcane.
An EPA report titled ‘Sustainable Landscaping’ mentions that American home-owners use about 3 million tons of synthetic fertilizers every year, over and above 70 million pounds of herbicides and insecticides, on their lawns. 40%-60% of these chemicals find their way in our local water systems.
It is understandable in a situation like this if people choose to go for synthetic turf. Southern Nevada Water Authority estimates 1 sq foot of artificial grass saves 55 gallons of water per year. Many municipalities have also begun to offer cash rebates for those willing to dig up their lawns and install faux lawns.
Benefits of Faux Turf
As of 2012, the total amount of synthetic turf installed in North America manages to save more than 3 billion gallons of water. But water conservation is not the only benefit. Crumb rubber, manufactured from recycled tires, is now used as infill for synthetic grass; this has caused over a 100 million used tires to stay out of landfills.
Artificial grass also eliminates the need for any kind of pesticides or fertilizers thus reducing the amount of chemicals that make their way into the water table. It eliminates the need for any lawn maintenance equipment thus reducing the dangerous emissions, a key ingredient of smog.
Using synthetic turf has also helped environmentally conscientious builders and specifiers with Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) project certification from the US Green Building Council. It helps builders in the areas of water-efficient landscaping, recycled content, rapidly renewable material and innovation in design.
Installation of Synthetic Turf
Installing faux grass is a thing of ease provided you follow the instructions.
• Clear any existing grass or vegetation on the area you want to lay the synthetic turf
• Once ready apply crushed stone aggregate and sand layer for a finished surface
• Make sure the base is completely level; a plate compactor is useful for this step. Any undulation in the surface may cause the synthetic grass applied on it to come unstuck
• The crushed stone will also aid in drainage. Ensure that there is a slight slope for proper drainage
• Once the weed barrier is laid, roll out the grass on top according to measurements
• Try and create the exact shape of the area by cutting minimal pieces of the synthetic grass
• If you need to seam two separate pieces together use a 10”-12” indoor / outdoor seaming tape or special artificial grass glue available with your dealer
• Make sure the perimeter area is clean. You can use timber batons to screw or tack the grass near the perimeter
• Ask your dealer if your grass would require infill. If yes, make sure you evenly apply the material on top of the turf
Rise of the Synthetic Lawn
Everyone, from home-owners to pet resorts, from private elementary schools to day-care centers agree that there is no discernible visible difference between natural grass and today’s top-quality synthetic grasses.
With more and more areas around the country being affected by drought maintaining a lush lawn has become an expensive affair. Also, the rising awareness of environmental degradation has led people to reduce the use of chemical-based fertilizers and pesticides.
Primary reasons for adopting a synthetic lawn are mentioned below.
• To enjoy a lush, green lawn all year, regardless of the weather and with no yard work.
• People who travel a lot cannot always make sure that their grass will survive their absence. Synthetic lawn provides the perfect replacement for them
• It gives more playing time with less maintenance for sports fields
• People whose health or age does not permit them to put time and energy in the upkeep of their yard enjoy taking care of a turf lawn far more
• No need to buy gas for lawn equipment
• No need for expensive sprinkler systems
• The synthetic grass is environmentally responsible, especially in drought-plagued regions of the US
• Pet-owners, troubled with their lawn being raked up every time they put their dog out, find this to be a very handy option
• There is no chance of kids or pets tracking mud inside the house
• It does not allow for pests to survive as there is no water or food for them in the synthetic lawn
• It is the perfect adornment for rooftops, balconies or patios
• It matches perfectly to the contours of your lawn and pavers leaving no room for unseemly edges
• Vastly reduced maintenance costs
• Synthetic turf does not harbor harmful bacteria or potentially dangerous insect infestations
• Synthetic turf has been noted to reduce the number of injuries to players
• Many players have come on record saying they prefer to play on synthetic surfaces as it makes the ball move as it should
• It is the perfect surface for repeated use, unlike natural grass
• Proper run-offs provided around synthetic grass can help in conserving water
• It lasts for 15-20 years
A heightened sense of environmental awareness is compelling many customers to look for options that provide a cradle-to-grave cycle, thus reducing the carbon footprint. Synthetic grass has been certified by more than 75 independent and highly credible studies from groups like:
• US Consumer Product Safety Commission
• US Environmental Protection Agency
• New York State Department of Environmental Conservation
• New York State Department of Health
• California Environmental Protection Agency
With varied colors, its decorative uses are also increasing rapidly. Placing them between path stones, adding a little bit of green space in the driveways and even colorful decorative edging around pools and other areas where grass can’t grow. With modern drainage systems being attached to these synthetic lawns they are rapidly becoming one of the most sought-after replacements to natural grass.
The Future of Synthetic Grass
Some of the biggest institutions in the US have begun adopting the use of synthetic grass, especially in areas facing a severe dearth of water. Notably, Disneyland and Steve Wynn’s Las Vegas resorts sport lush green synthetic lawns. Rising challenges in procuring water have made synthetic grass a front-runner among people to deck up their lawns.
Not surprisingly the synthetic lawn market has proven to be recession-proof, over and above being weatherproof. Owing to the many recurring costs of natural lawn, many prefer the one-time investment and little to no maintenance synthetic grass offers.
Many sportspeople have also expressed that it might even be better for upcoming players to play on synthetic turf to get a better grip on the basics. The fastest growing segments for synthetic grass are landscape and leisure sports, growing at an annual rate of 30%-35%.
New York City Parks and Recreation Department is one of the largest users of synthetic grass and artificial turf in the US. It has resulted in many asphalt laced areas to be complemented by soft, green surface materials that decrease injuries and enhance the look of the space.
With designers and architects continuously finding different ways to use synthetic grass, it has managed to find its way in everyone’s life. Many have found uses for it in the form of wallpaper, or head-rests for beds, among other things. Manufacturers have also found ways to weave in fiber optics into synthetic turf, essentially converting synthetic playing fields into huge jumbotrons.
Rapid growth of technology has helped synthetic grass yarn grow with leaps and bounds making it more acceptable in sports and homes alike. Primary stakeholders of this technology like FIFA and UEFA Champions League have taken great interest in it, giving it a much-needed boost. Stronger fibers which are more environmentally friendly, sustainable and yet high-performance solutions are being developed as well.
It is undeniable that synthetic grass is the turf of the future. With more and more sports associations and home-owners opting for synthetic grass surfaces for sporting as well as domestic use, the demand for quality faux turf is only going to rise.
There are still a number of unexplored markets for synthetic grass around the world. Its uses in terms of home carpeting, as wall-paper, for carpeting at events and other decorative purposes are yet to be delved into deeper. Rapid upgrades in technology are helping make synthetic turf approach as close to natural turf as possible.
Various standards and tests devised by the industry ensure that they are durable and safe for those that use it. Asia and Europe, two of the largest potential markets for synthetic turf, are up for the taking for those ready to do the requisite labor. For those in the industry, it is time to reap the fruits of faux grass and look forward to a bright future.